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Friday, July 16, 2004

How Kerry Can Win (or at Least Avoid Losing) 

Via Zemblan patriot J.D.: Kevin Phillips, author of American Dynasty and Wealth and Democracy, argues in The Nation that John Kerry can win in November by targeting the Republican "unbase" -- the 20 to 25% of GOP voters who have previously supported candidates like Perot and McCain, and for whom "election reform, opposition to the religious right [and] opposition to upper-bracket tax biases and runaway deficits" are key issues:
While attempts to harness "Anybody but Bush" psychologies and to attract voters without saying much that is controversial might win Kerry a narrow victory, this strategy would be unlikely to create a framework for successful four- or eight-year governance. Deconstructing the Republican coalition is a better long-term bet, and could be done. The result, however, might be to uncage serious progressive reform . . . .

Even by the campaign's own polls, it is precisely the Perot-McCain states that Kerry most needs to win. For Democratic and left-tilting progressives, the second benefit is luring voters drawn to the outsider economics of Perot and McCain, not to the insider calculations of big donors and fundraisers like former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. It is the Perot-McCain constituency, more than the elite Democratic entente, that could best catalyze a bipartisan progressive coalition. A partial analogy, at least, can be made to the role that GOP progressives like George Norris, Hiram Johnson and Robert La Follette Jr. played during the 1930s in launching the New Deal. Convincing John McCain to run for Vice President in a Kerry fusion ticket would have been the strongest tactic, but Edwards is a persuasive alternative. Now for Kerry to repeat the boldness and refreshing candor would be an important further change of pace . . . .

However, let it pass for the moment that Bush was put in office only by a 5-to-4 decision of the Supreme Court, hijacked the Democrats' mini-cycle, fought and botched the first father-and-son war in US annals and convinced 55-60 percent of Americans that the nation is on the wrong course. There is a more stark yardstick that even cautious Democrats should understand: In 1991-92, George H.W. Bush, prior to his defeat, fell from a record high job-approval rating of 90 percent after the Gulf War to a low 30s summer bottom before the election. His son, who hit the low 90s right after 9/11, by early June had fallen to 42-43 percent, another fifty-point decline. No elected President has ever done this; the Bushes have done it twice. Maybe it's the gene pool . . . .

To win this election decisively, John Kerry is going to have to feel the same outrage that Howard Dean felt, and he's going to have to express some of it with the same merciless candor that the Republican dissidents have employed against two generations of Bushes. In today's circumstances of a nation on the wrong track, most swing voters--especially wavering GOP men who grew up on John Wayne movies--will not be content with pablum. The Edwards selection seemed assertive, but if Kerry reverts to equivocation, he could face the ultimate epitaph on a political tombstone: Here lies John Kerry, the first Democratic nominee to lose to a Bush President who'd already dropped fifty points in job approval and earned the snickers of half the world.

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