Will Clinton's Plan to Beat Bush Work?
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The day before President Bush formally announced his bid for a second term, former President Bill Clinton told a gathering of his old Democratic Leadership Council chums that Bush could be beaten in 2004. The trick, he said, is for the Democrats to craft a workable agenda on health care and the economy, pound on Bush's economic failings, and make national security and the war on terrorism their issue as much as Bush's. And they must do it fast.
Clinton should have added one more thing: The White House is still less the Democrats' to win than Bush's to lose. They must count on and mercilessly play up every Bush fumble and bumble on the economy, the terrorism fight, and hope for more racial and gender gaffes by the Republicans. But even if any of those things happens, there are even more formidable obstacles they must overcome to have a prayer of dumping Bush from the White House.
The first is money. No matter whether the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately backs the recent decision by a U.S. appeals court to scrap much of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, Bush will still be awash in cash. The law doubles the amount individual donors can give to a campaign.
Even more, his tax cut lather to corporations and the super-rich, his gargantuan boost in military spending, and his hand slap of corporate crooks guarantee that the money spigot will be open wider than usual to Republicans. So wide open that Bush's finance people talk giddily of him raising nearly one-quarter billion dollars. This would smash the record $100 million he raised in 2000.
He may spend even less of his king's ransom campaign fund on his reelection bid than his Democrat opponent. During the campaign, he can roam the nation at will on White House business, making highly publicized, well-orchestrated political appearances at taxpayer expense. He can speak as the president governing the country and not as a politician running for an office. He'll remind the crowds that he dumped Saddam Hussein, and since the 9/11 terror attacks has kept terrorists away from America's shores. These are the issues that trouble Democrat's the most, and are the single biggest reason Bush's popularity rating has soared back toward the heavens.
Then there's voter cynicism. Even without the legal wrangle between Democratic presidential contender Al Gore and Bush in Florida in 2000 that soured many voters, and the allegations of black voter fraud nationally, millions of eligible voters have long since thrown up their hands in disgust and rage at a system they regard as corrupt and suffocated by special interest groups. They continue to stay away from the polls in droves.
The overwhelming majority of those turned-off potential voters are minorities, low-income workers, and immigrants. They are the natural constituency for the Democrats. While Republicans say they will they will pour millions into bagging more Latino and blacks for Bush, the likelihood is that this won't yield much. Whichever Democrat will probably still grab the usual 80 percent of the black vote and a majority of Latino votes. The big question, though, is not the percent of the minority vote the Democrats will get, but how many minority voters will show up at the polls on Election Day.
Also, while Democrats engaged in a shameful orgy of bashing and scapegoat of Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader for stealing votes from Gore and tipping the election to Bush, most of those who voted for Nader would not have voted for Gore anyway. They regarded him, just as Bush, as a corporate shill and deal-making party hack. If large numbers stay at home this time, either through anger or apathy, no matter what the Democrats say, and Bush does or doesn't do, the Democratic contender can't win.
There also won't be a Pat Buchanan or Ross Perot in the race this time. In 1992, Clinton had Perot. In 1996, he had Buchanan. Both had money, and national name recognition. Perot hammered on big government and waste. This appealed to moderate, middle-class whites, and cost Bush Sr. more than Clinton. Buchanan's unabashed shoot from the lip, hard right rants appealed to many conservative Republicans. They turned out for him in droves in some early primaries. That groundswell cost Republican contender Bob Dole more than Clinton. Neither Buchanan nor Perot will be around in 2004.
Though the odds against a Democrat are large, there's no such thing as inevitability or incumbent invincibility in politics. Whichever Democrat eventually emerges from the eight men and one-woman pack may yet find his or her political legs on the issues, net a lot of campaign cash, reap the political windfall from a near economic collapse, or a Bush foreign policy mishap. That worked for Clinton in 1992. But 2004 is not 1992, and the Democrat that faces this Bush isn't named Clinton.