Why Kerry Lost In 2004
He came, he saw, he spoke, and 51% of the voting American nation selected George Bush anyways.
Why did this happen? The problem is that the Democratic Party has reached a crossroads -- they can not and will not make the fundamental changes necessary to move the country forward in the direction they want to take it.
But what are the problems?
The number one problem with the Democratic party is that the rest of the country is deeply religious. You see less of that in the urban and suburban areas, but rural america goes to church and believes what they are being told.
Mr. Steve Gilliard writes on November 4 2004:
We lost, not because of him or us not working hard enough, but because a lot of people who voted think gay marriage is a threat to their lives.
And he's exactly right. The fundies got the vote out by jumping up and down and saying that if they don't put a stop to homosexual marriage, the entire country is going to hell.
Mr. Gilliard misses his own point with his very next sentance:
Which is insane.
Insane it may be, but it is a fact of life
. For all the complaining that rural america is being drained of its people, there are still enough of them out there attending church every week and getting "guided" by their clergy that the conservative right has an incredibly deep support base, much deeper than the left.
Now while Deomocrats may think that religion is a bunch of hooey, they are dealing with a large part of the country who disagrees. Therefore, the Democrats need to appeal to the religious right on their own terms. Religious people tend to view things exclusively through the filter that their religion -- usually as interpreted by their local clergy.
Precisely how they will do this without alienating the more "enlightened" members of their constituancy is beyond me.
Be For Something, Not Against Something
The man behind the curtain of the Democrat's election campaign was revealed fairly early in their repeated, dogged, almost urgent need to eliminate Ralph Nader from the ballot. Mr. Nader's presence exposed Mr. Kerry's single powerful claim to electability -- he was not Bush
Mr. Kerry himself failed to portray to the American people what he was for. It was very clear what Mr. Kerry was against. However, most people are not swayed by repeated arguments that the current way forward is bad unless the complainer can put together a convincing alternative.
In the hands of the bloggers and other pundits, the negativity was stomach-churning. Candidates were portrayed as the devil incarnate, their supporters as idiots. There was no room for compromise; no admission that the other side may have a point or two, or that your candidate might be lacking in some area.
The Republican supporters were a lot more flexible than Democrats. They'd admit Bush's shortcomings, but his faith and his assurances on the War on Terror made everything else secondary.
The politics of negativity has to be put aside.
Platform is everything
Mr. Bush has a gift for the simple message. When he speaks, one does not get the sense that he has been prepped and pre-written (although he is undoubtably both); he comes across as a regular person who speaks simply and plainly. When presented by such a person, a platform is reduced to simple ideas (like we good, they bad
By contrast, Mr. Kerry frequently assumed his audience had a firm grasp of many of the longer words in the english language. Mr. Kerry understands that these are complex issues with complex interactions, and these lead naturally to complex solutions.
The problem is that the american voter doesn't want complex solutions. He wants something simple that will take care of his problem. You got an answer? No work required on my part? Well, giddy-up!
Until the Democrats can speak about their solutions in simple, easilly understood terms -- that are clearly differentiated from the Republican platform -- they will lose out.
Ralph Nader is a symptom that the nation is craving alternative choices. The Democrat party claimed that it was too important to defeat Bush to permit the addition of alternatives -- that it had to be Bush or Not Bush.
The problem with this argument is that it is self-perpetuating. Even had Mr. Kerry won this time, the argument would be that electoral reform would risk the installation of Another Bush.
Those in control have no real motivation to change the electoral process, because they demonstrated the best ability to exploit the current system and get elected.
If Democrats really had their heads about them, they would be in favor of more potential parties, not fewer. If the Republican support base could be fractured into smaller parties by giving the more extreme voters somewhere else to hang their flag, the Democrats would stand a better chance. Elections would come down to being about issues and ideas, which is where the Democrats excel (once we look beyond their communication problems).
The War Isn't The Issue
The Democrats tried to make a big deal out of Iraq and how badly things are goign there. The problem with this issue is that Mr. Kerry couldn't explain what he would do differently in the immediate short term which would make things better.
The US can't cut-and-run. Iraq is a hole the US has dug for itself, and no amount of 'digging up' will change that. And lacking any better ideas, it is little wonder that american voters chose not to change horses in mid-apocalypse.
Similarly, attempts to play up fears of a draft did not go anywhere. The odds of any individual going to Iraq are pretty slim. Americans generally think themselves pretty lucky. Your average young person would take their chances, assuming that even if they were selected they could 'clever' themselves out of any draft. Older Americans are not swayed by these arguments, thinking that young people could use some dicipline and respect and maybe the Army is just the way to get that done.
Finally there is the question of proportionality. Much is made of the number of soldiers killed in Iraq. Societies in general, and the USA in particular, always accepts some excess injury and death if it permits the majority of them to carry on with business as usual. You only need to look at the number of people killed on american highways and by gun incidents to understand this. Yes, it is tragic for those unlucky enough to be involved, but for the rest of the country life goes on without incident.
There's not much else to say here. Things the Democrats really need to do:
- appeal to religious people on their own terms
- be Something instead of Not Something Else
- have good ideas which can be expressed simply
- support electoral reform
- don't get side-tracked by issues you can't really do anything about
With these ideas, the Democrats should have a better foundation for the future. Ignoring them will only result in more of the same.