The race for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination has heated up following the party’s disastrous showing in last month’s congressional races. With President Bush’s high approval ratings it will difficult for the Democratic Party, of which I am a member, to take the White House. But that does not mean the Democrats don’t have a chance; they just need to avoid a self-gratifying (i.e. very liberal) selection. Several potential candidates have emerged from the fray and for what it’s worth, I’ll report on their prospects.
The worst possible choice the Democrats could make is nominating Al Gore. A condescending automaton and abuser of the campaign finance system, Gore was an awful candidate in 2000 and will be again in 2004. His constant attempts to “reinvent” himself via image consultant gimmicks, along with the tired class war rhetoric of “people vs. the powerful,” made Gore a completely uninspiring choice. That Al Gore lost (regardless of the erroneous Supreme Court decision that caused him to concede) is reason enough to dismiss his candidacy this time around. He is simply unpopular with the American people, who do not want a replay of the 2000 election. Gore is hardly the best the Democrats can do. Yet I have an sinking feeling they will trot him back out in an act of vengeance.
Other surefire losers are House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt and former Senate Majority (soon-to-be Minority) Leader Tom Daschle. That both have the “Minority” prefix attached to their names is largely their own doing. These two should be held responsible for their party’s failure this past election; under their leadership the Democrats did not present voters with a principled opposition to Republican rule, opting for bitter negativism and reaction. That Tom & Dick are still considering runs for president speaks volumes about their political savvy.
John Edwards. Who? He’s a first-term senator. Hold your horses, young man.
John Forbes Kerry ’66 is an able and eloquent senator who earnestly seeks comparisons to John F. Kennedy (another JFK), but he has voted nearly 100 percent of the time with fellow Bay Stater Ted Kennedy, who is far from representing the political ideology of the average American. Kerry may be a war hero, he may be smart, and he just might make a fantastic president. But he’s a liberal — from Massachusetts. I consider myself to be a liberal and am also from Massachusetts, but at the same time I realize that I will never see a Democratic president elected from my home state because of one man: Michael Dukakis.
If the Democrats want to win in 2004, they will need a leader who avoids partisan demagoguery and who seeks practical solutions to problems, instead of using tired sound bites to castigate the Republican Party. The Democrats therefore have only two choices in this race, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 or Vermont Governor Howard Dean ’71.
Of all the Democrats considering a run for president, Lieberman is most cognizant of the national security threat America faces. He was one of only 10 Democrats to vote in favor of the Gulf War and was a vocal advocate for deposing Saddam Hussein long before it became fashionable. More than any other Democrat in Congress, he has been a persistent voice for an aggressive prosecution of the war on terrorism and the formation of a cabinet level department of Homeland Security. Unlike the rest of his colleagues on the campaign trail, Lieberman is not afraid to praise the president where praise is due. “We’ve got a president who has shown leadership on the war on terrorism,” Lieberman said, tactfully adding, “but that’s all.” Lieberman is a moderate voice in a party that has drifted further and further towards the incorrigible left over the past year. On top of all this, he is a man of strong integrity who is respected and supported by both conservatives and liberals alike.
Howard Dean is also an independent thinker, telling the Boston Globe, “I have no patience with ideologues. I think they’re fundamentally disturbed.” (An apt description of most of the Democratic Party, if only they would listen to him.) A fiscally responsible governor who also happens to be an M.D., Dean expertly managed to provide health care to every child in the state while consistently balancing tough budgets during his tenure in the State House. He is a vocal critic of the president’s Saudi oil ties, which have boosted that regime’s ability to fund and equip terrorists, and he also supports aiding the student resistance movement in Iran. Dean also took a huge political risk several years ago in valiantly standing for gay civil unions, facing a barrage of rash criticism from the cultural hard-right. Dean vocally supported the measure not because it would make him more popular (he barely won re-election in 2000), but simply because it was the right thing to do.
Both Lieberman and Dean are principled and respected leaders. They are true political mavericks, not afraid to say what they actually believe or to anger vocal Democratic interest groups. What makes these two men such attractive candidates is that they strike the right notes. Democrats need to hit Bush hard on his irresponsible tax cut, his dangerous energy policy, and stress the Democratic goal of achieving wider health care coverage: issues that Lieberman and Dean have talked about more than any other presidential contender. Voters overwhelmingly trust Republicans with national security. At a time when there is no greater issue at stake, Democrats would be foolish not to nominate a candidate who is just as forthright on national defense as Republicans are perceived to be. Americans will only choose a Democrat if they trust him on foreign policy. Lieberman and Dean are the only two Democrats who fit this bill.
With their recent track record, Democrats are unlikely to make the pragmatic decision and nominate someone who actually has a chance of beating Bush. This is the party, after all, that recently elected far-left San Francisco representative Nancy Pelosi as its House Minority Leader. Pelosi hails from a district that awarded Al Gore and Ralph Nader a combined 85 percent of its vote in 2000. On top of this, the Democrats recently selected Boston (my hometown) as the location for its 2004 convention, solidifying the perception that this party is out of touch with mainstream America.
Democrats have a stark choice. They can demonstrate further political stupidity and bestow their nomination upon a candidate who is bound to lose, like Al Gore or John Kerry — or someone who actually has a chance of making it to the Oval Office. I suggest the latter.
James Kirchick is a freshman in Pierson College.