Democrats Need Dean's Message to Beat Bush
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Howard Dean may be out of the presidential race, but if the Democrats have any real hope of beating Bush, they'll need his message. Dean showed that a party outsider could rise from political obscurity to effectively challenge the Democratic Party shot-callers, raise bushels of campaign dollars mostly through an aggressive use of the Internet, and whip up the passions and activism of disaffected and hostile Bush opponents by pounding him on Iraq and his failed domestic policies.
Dean refused to follow Clinton's script in his winning 1992 and 1996 presidential campaigns. That means talk and act tough on national security, the war on terrorism, and greater defense spending and preparedness, and put forth modest positions on health care, social security, and trade, environmental, and labor protections. These issues weigh heavily on minorities and the poor, but they are not regarded as racially polarizing, or alienating to the white middle-class.
Instead, Dean showed that it was OK for a top white Democratic presidential candidate to openly talk about race and poverty issues on the campaign trail, and prod other Democrats to do the same. He publicly backed affirmative action, DNA testing for prisoners and expanded prisoner rights, vigorously opposed racial profiling, vowed to appoint judges and an attorney general who will enforce and uphold civil rights laws, and strengthen civil liberties protections.
He broke from the insulting and patronizing practice of Democratic candidates trotting to black churches for votes and Amen Corner photo-ops.
He met with black elected officials, business leaders and community activists and spelled out his positions on racial policy issues. He also took much heat from them that the Democrats engage in plantation politics. That is they say and do as little as possible about racial issues, but still demand that blacks loyally vote for them from fear that the Republicans will wreak even more political damage on them.
In 2004, Democratic presidential candidate Senator John Kerry or Senator John Edwards will bag the majority of black and Latino votes. But the crucial question is how many minority voters will show up at the polls on Election Day.
If large numbers stay at home this time, because of anger, apathy, alienation or disgust at the Democrats, no matter what either Kerry or Edwards says, or Bush does or doesn't do, neither Democrat can win. The Democrats will need every black and Latino vote they can get, especially in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio and Michigan.
Even if blacks and Latinos stampede to the polls to vote for Kerry or Edwards, this still won't be enough to put them over the top. White males make up forty percent of the nation's voters. They have provided the margin of victory for Republican presidents Nixon, Reagan, and Bush Sr., and Bush. In 2004, polls indicate that more than 60 percent of white males nationally and seventy percent of those in the South will vote for Bush. Democrats must pry a percentage of their votes from the Republicans. This will enable them to be competitive in one or two of the Southern states. That was Dean's point when he said that Democrats must reach out to Confederate flag waving, pick-up truck gun rack display good ole' boys. Al Sharpton and the other white Democratic presidential contenders lambasted him as a closet bigot for saying that. In his successful presidential campaigns, Clinton pulled a few states out of the Republican orbit.
However, this did not significantly dent the Republican's Southern political armor. In 1992, Independent presidential candidate Ross Perot grabbed much of the white male vote that would have gone to Bush. Sr. Yet, this gave Clinton his narrow win.
Then there's the issue of money. Kerry or Edwards can and will raise lots of it, but they still won't match the expected quarter billion dollar campaign war chest that Bush will raise from oil, gas, insurance, and corporate special interests. They have fed at the Bush trough through his tax, and giveaways, and gut of labor and environmental protections. Bush won't have to spend large chunks of his campaign loot to win, either. He has the bully pulpit of the presidency to pump his agenda, free access to the conservative media to spin, duck, dodge, distort, and deflect public attention from embarrassing issues or potential scandals such as Vice President Dick Chaney's ties to Halliburton, Bush's dubious National Guard record, the failure to find WMD in Iraq, and the mess of the economy. The presidency also gives him a national platform to tout himself as the man who can win the war against terrorism.
Dean tapped into the deep anger and disgust of millions with Bush's policies. But Dean also tapped into their anger and disgust at the Democrats for pandering to those policies. Kerry or Edwards can tap into their anger and disgust too, but they must embrace Dean's message to do it.