TCS Daily

The Party of Purposeless Candidacies

By Uriah Kriegel - March 11, 2004 12:00 AM

Think back to January 2000. Al Gore just won the New Hampshire primary, thereby becoming effectively the inevitable Democratic presidential nominee. Coming on the heels of the roaring nineties, and basking in the glow of quasi-incumbency, his prospects for the general election looked outstanding.

Under Clinton and the Third-Way ideology of the Democratic Leadership Council, Democrats proved they could be fiscally responsible, having presided over a strong economy and leaving a gigantic surplus now almost forgotten. They proved they can be tough on crime and dead serious about seemingly cold-hearted welfare reform. And they showed that education, tolerance, and the environment do not have to be compromised in order to propagate wealth and opportunity.

With this background behind him, Gore should have won the 2000 election handily. Bitter Democrats have belabored the Florida fiasco ever since November of that year, but they forget that Florida or not, Gore should have won that contest hands down.

Why did he fail? A friend who was closely involved in that year's campaign -- first with Bradley's and later in Gore's -- says: "Gore just couldn't make the case why he should be president."

A common joke during that election cycle was that Gore thought you should vote for him for the reason that he really, really wanted to be president. But there was a grain of truth in that: Gore couldn't explain to the nation what it was exactly that he stood for, what his vision was, and why a Gore presidency was important for America. That, most than anything else, was the reason Gore blew it in 2000.

Now Democrats are busy nominating John Kerry. What does Kerry stand for? Mainly for not being Bush. What is his vision for the country? To take America away from the dangerous path it is on -- the path, that is, charted by Bush. Why is a Kerry presidency important for America? Because the alternative is a Bush presidency.

That, at any rate, is all I can make of the Kerry candidacy so far. Because of the force of the "Anyone but Bush" sentiment among Democrats, the issue of the point and purpose of Kerry's candidacy is likely to be ignored throughout the campaign. Among Democrats, everybody knows the purpose of Kerry's candidacy: regime change in America, as some on the left like to put it.

During the Iraq debate, almost all Democrats sided with the hawkish line that we should invade Iraq without too much hesitation. And yet there was a widespread feeling among Americans that Democrats aren't being entirely forthcoming about their real position on the war. They side with the hawks because it is politically imperative, but they are doves at heart and would not take on Saddam's regime if they could really call the shots.

Now that gay marriage is a hot issue, many Democrats claim that they are in favor of civil unions but against gay marriage -- a stance that is, rhetoric aside, largely indistinguishable from Bush's. And again, Americans can sense that Democrats are simply not being truthful: that deep inside they find nothing wrong with the notion of a holy homosexual union.

Does anyone really believe that Kerry thinks gay marriage is morally wrong? Give it a minute's thought, and you'll find the notion preposterous. Like Sen. Kerry probably is, I, too, am fully in favor of gay marriage. So I cannot help being dismayed by Senator Kerry's pretense.

It's difficult to avoid the sense that Kerry has nothing in particular to which he is willing to anchor firmly his bid. There is nothing he seems to believe in consistently and unambiguously, except that he should be president. Or perhaps that the president should not be a Republican, and certainly not Bush.

This is, in effect, the bottom line of the whole "electability" hoopla. But Democrats, bitter and self-absorbed as they have been, risk repeating the chief mistake of the Gore campaign. The intellectual organs of the Left have long painted a crass caricature of the GOP as a bunch of racist, greedy, stupid white men. The durability of this caricature is the main reason Democrats don't understand Republicans, and don't get why America votes Republican as often as it does.

The Kerry nomination is not as disastrous to the Democratic Party as a Dean nomination would have been. But it does run the risk of casting it as the party of purposeless candidacies.

Uriah Kriegel recently wrote for TCS on prioritizing security.


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