November 6, 2002
TAPPED VS. THE AMERICAN PROSPECT:WHAT HAPPENED? (TAPPED, 11/06/02)
Your correspondents have just crawled into work with a bit of a hangover -- from the election results, and from the whiskey consumption they inspired. There are a lot of numbers coming in; you'll be hearing a lot of explanations, and to be truthful, Tapped doesn't have any grand explanation. So let's start with a few obvious things. One, as the Prospect's Harold Meyerson points out in his analysis, the Democrats had no leadership, no message, no plan. There was just no there there. Two is the simple fact that this was a marginal election, with lots of very close races, and the Republicans had a popular president using his bully pulpit effectively -- as well as more money than the Democrats and more energy, as well.
Debacle: Without vision, the party -- well, a Senate majority -- perishes. (Harold Meyerson, 11/06/02, American Prospect)
[P]erhaps the Democrats' paradigmatic candidate was Texas' great Latino hope, gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez, an oil and banking gazillionaire who dropped about $60 million of his own money into his campaign, and who also failed to craft a message of his own. Like McBride, Sanchez assailed his opponent, Republican Governor Rick Perry, for the state of the schools, and also for being beholden to the state's imploding insurance industry. He had nothing to say, however, to the hundreds of thousands of dirt-poor Latinos, who would have gained greatly from a living-wage law that the legislature had passed but that Perry had vetoed; the issue was not on Sanchez's radar screen. Nor was he on Texas'; Latino turnout fell understandably short of the Democrats' projections and the Republicans won both the gubernatorial and senatorial contests in Texas going away.
Or maybe the paradigmatic Democratic candidate was California's own Gray Davis, who eked out a scant five-point victory over Republican Bill Simon, a candidate of industrial-strength ineptitude. Davis took office in 1998 with a stunning 20-point victory, but he spent the first three-and-a-half years of his term estranging the Democratic base by vetoing countless pieces of progressive legislation, and estranging almost the entire state by his relentless focus on fundraising. In the past couple of months, he was compelled to shore up his base by signing some groundbreaking liberal bills, but it was barely enough to pull him through. For the most part, though, Davis spent his $60 million campaign boodle on relentless attack ads against Simon, driving a disproportionate number of late-deciding voters to the Green Party's candidate. [...]
The first order of business for Democrats is clear: They must dump the utterly discredited masterminds of their disaster. Dick Gephardt, Tom Daschle, and Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, a let's-make-a-deal businessman and fundraiser of no discernible strategic savvy, went up against a popular president by crafting an indistinct message for undefined candidates. Labor leaders from AFL-CIO President John Sweeney on down should throw their considerable weight behind the efforts to drive these money changers from the party's inner sanctum.
Were there extenuating circumstances that account for the Dems' defeat? There are always extenuating circumstances. Corporate money poured in at the end to pay for commercials that vilified the Democrats; the drug companies alone spent enough money to cure cancer had the thought occurred to them. But the Democrats had a record level of money, too. Their problem was less the quantitative imbalance of the commercials than the qualitative one: The Republicans had a coherent theme (backing the president); the Dems didn't.
We should probably be somewhat lenient on the Left which just saw the final driven in historical determinism last night, bucking at least a Century of American political history to have its collective head headed to it in a President's first mid-term election. But some small amount of factuality and consistency seems not too much to ask.
Posted by Orrin Judd at November 6, 2002 7:21 PM