September 13, 2004


The Pathetic Truth: A unified theory of everything that explains why Democrats always get outfoxed. (Michael Tomasky, 09.13.04, The American Prospect)

It's still possible that John Kerry could win -- although, of course, anytime a liberal columnist opens his column with a phrase like that, it's not a good sign.

Yes, it's still possible. The Clinton bullpen squad could rally the candidate. (And don't forget: He's a great closer!!) But even if he does win, this campaign has already offered another object lesson in why Democrats tend to lose.

The problem begins with the fact that majorities of the public tend to agree with Democrats on the issues. This isn't universally true, of course, but it's true with regard to more issues (perhaps many more issues) than not. On health care, the environment, investment, education, just about everything except national defense, majorities lean toward the Democratic position.

This sounds like a good thing. But in fact, it's an incredibly bad thing, because it leads Democrats to believe that they can win on the issues. So a Democratic presidential candidate's pollster goes out into the field and comes back with data proving that 54 of percent of the people are with us on this issue, and 61 percent of them are with us on that one, and so on. And so the pollster tells the candidate, "Just talk about the issues, and everything will be ducky."

Republican pollsters, meanwhile, conduct the same polls, and they study the same data.

They tell their candidates, "Actually, boss, we can't really win on the issues, so we'd better come up with something else." Well, after the past six weeks, we all know what that something else is. It's character. That is, make the election about the other guy's character.

Even worse for Democrats is that Mr. Tomasky's initial premise is false. Americans disagree with Democrats by margins in the 60-40 range on the following: higher taxes; maintaining the status quo on Social Security and the current tax system; welfare reform; socializing health care; gay marriage; prayer in schools; abortion restrictions; gun control; the death penmalty; drug legalization; immigration; affirmative action; etc.; etc.; etc.. By convincing themselves that the public generally agrees with them the Democrats have done themselves a terrible disservice and divorced themselves from political reality. The only Democrat to recognize this in recent years was Bill Clinton, who quite flamboyantly, if dishonestly, ran to the Right on nearly every one of these issues.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 13, 2004 7:02 PM

The majority of the public agrees with the Dems about education ?

Then why no straightforward, universal vouchers ?

Also, it's not always necessary to be on the popular side of most issues, nor does being on the popular side of most issues guarantee a win, if there're one or two big issues that are at the fore.
For instance, we know where and how both Bush and Kerry are alleged to have served in the military, but what is Kerry's stance on the environment ?

Posted by: Michael "NEA bad, very bad..." Herdegen at September 13, 2004 7:41 PM

Tomasky's been a partisan hack for years now, though for a while he was getting more print space in less-obviously partisan publications like the American Prospect (when he covered politics for New York Magazine in the early 1990s, he actually made me long for the fair and balanced writing of the political column's previous inhabitant, Joe Klein, which is quite an accomplishment).

Posted by: John at September 13, 2004 8:53 PM

Why no universal vouchers? For the same reason so much of the conservative agenda isn't given full consideration-- the political inertia from the time in power still gives the Dems a veto of something they don't like (like the filibuster in the Senate) but they can't even propose a counter agenda. Which is why consolidation in this election is so important.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at September 13, 2004 9:08 PM

Clinton was nothing if not flamboyant and dishonest.

The Dems should fire their pollsters.

Posted by: Melissa at September 14, 2004 1:00 AM

Mr. Tomasky didn't ask the next important question which is how important does the public rate the issues that we can win on? If the Republican issues are those that the public rates most important and the Democratic issues are those the public rates least important, the Democrats lose.

Posted by: at September 14, 2004 10:30 AM

Almost all the issues GOP is majority on are cultural issues, and the Democrats have the economic ones. If you ask Americans if they want socialist health care, they'll say no, but they do want some kind of national health insurance. There's a way to provide it without the former. Democrats will eventually find a way - the GOP simply isn't interested.

And some of OJ's assertions are just wrong. How is either party different on immigration? And no serious Democratic politician supports drug legalization. Don't mention the far left loonies, because there are just as many whack libertarians in the GOP as well. Neither has that much influence to say the party is pro-drug legalization. Furthermore, I don't think school prayer is a big national issue - the Dems probably win as many votes as they lose across the nation. Is the South the only place that really cares about the issue?

Posted by: Chris Durnell at September 14, 2004 12:01 PM

"just about everything except national defense"

Bingo! When we are at war, national defense trumps all other issues. You can't beat national defense with a good healthcare plan and an education plan. If we've been killed by a terrorist nuke, we won't be around to enjoy any of these. The Dems just don't get it.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at September 14, 2004 2:01 PM
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