December 31, 2003


Adjusting the Focus: Iraq may not be the best issue for the Democrats, but they may not be able to avoid it. (William Schneider, 12/31/03, Atlantic Monthly)

With the capture of Saddam Hussein, Democrats are beginning to realize that Iraq may not be their best campaign issue. But they may not be able to avoid it. It's the issue that their primary voters are most passionate about.

Republicans welcome the focus on Iraq. "I look forward to making my case to the American people about why America is more secure today based upon the decisions that I've made," President Bush said at his December 15 news conference.

And why not? Until Saddam's capture on December 14, the American public had supported the war in Iraq but was critical of the U.S. handling of the situation in Iraq since the major fighting ended. Now there's been a huge jump in public approval of the occupation—from 42 percent in the November Gallup Poll to 65 percent in mid-December. [...]

Democrats say that Bush has isolated the United States. "He needs to go to the U.N. He needs to build a consensus. He needs to collaborate. He needs to communicate," Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., complained at the Democratic presidential candidates' debate in Phoenix on October 9. "He doesn't do any of those things."

Bush's response? "I don't agree that [the war in Iraq] is a dividing line," he said at the press conference. "I think this is a disagreement on this particular issue. And I know we can work together on a variety of other issues. I'll cite one example: Iran."

Dean and other Democrats say that Iraq has damaged U.S. security. Bush's response? "A free and peaceful Iraq is part of protecting America."

If the Iraq issue doesn't work for the Democrats, what else have they got?

60 years in the wilderness?

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 31, 2003 8:11 PM

Probably a lot less than that.

Simply because a party in power has a tendency to become sclerotic, to lose touch, to become more visibly removed and/or alienated from its constituency. To become (yikes!) more corrupt.

Besides, people like a change now and then. Even if that latest haircut makes them look ridiculous.

It's the beauty of the system--perhaps also its "weakeness," though this point is nothing new.

(Disclaimer: This entire comment is not necessarily the case, of course.)

Posted by: Barry Meislin at January 1, 2004 3:03 AM

American parties generally, and the Democrats more than most, are coalitions of factions. Since WWII, the two major factions in the Democratic party have been the Unions and blacks. For the last few elections, however, the Left side of the party has shown sides of not wanting to be part of a coalition, but of wanting its own party. Clinton was able to patch over this rift, and Hillary may be able to do so as well, but the long-term trend may be towards a lefty/Green stand alone party. Alongside rising black wealth -- which at some point has to mean a break to the right -- the Democrats may not be able to put together a new coalition fast enough to stay afloat.

Posted by: David Cohen at January 1, 2004 9:21 AM

DAvid,the Dems were able to balance a wildly diverse coalition for 60 yrs(by largly governing locally),now that every issue is national issue(and to a large degree a social/moral issue)can the Republicans do the same?

I doubt it.

Posted by: M. at January 1, 2004 9:35 AM


60 years seems rather harsh. Surely the biblical 40 would be enough.

Posted by: RDB at January 1, 2004 10:40 AM

M - That's the issue. See my comment above about the task the Bush faces in redefining Republicanism.

Posted by: David Cohen at January 1, 2004 6:07 PM