Jewish World Review Jan. 5, 2004 / 11 Teves, 5764
Waging the last campaign
Presidential campaigns work best when
they are geared to the circumstances of the
election year. George W. Bush in 2000
conceded that the incumbent administration
had produced peace and prosperity, and
changed the subject. Bill Clinton in 1992
emphasized his rapport with ordinary people
in contrast to an incumbent who seemed
out of touch. Ronald Reagan's advocacy of
sharp shifts in policy rang true when inflation seemed out of control and
America in retreat around the world. The outsider Jimmy Carter was elected
in 1976 after insiders had disgraced themselves.
may be stuck with
themes that elected
them four years before
but sound irrelevant
today and thus are in
danger of seeming out
of step with the times.
Challengers have the
advantage of being able
to create campaigns
that are up to the
minute. Which makes it
surprising that so few of
the Democrats have put
calibrated to 2004.
Jockeying for position. That's especially true of John Kerry. When he was
testifying as head of Vietnam Veterans Against the War in 1971, Doonesbury
made fun of his self-promotion. Kerry was off and running, for Congress, in
1972; he was one of three Democrats who managed to lose in a district
carried by George McGovern. His political career was delayed, but the theme
remains: He is running again today as a decorated Vietnam veteran who is
opposed to or critical of a war. He may be having some success convincing
Democrats who hate Bush that his military credentials will protect him from
criticism on national security issues; he has been running a fairly good third
in Iowa polls, and his organizers there are hopeful that he could finish second
or maybe even first. That might make him competitive with Howard Dean in
New Hampshire eight days later. Still, his rhetoric seems out of date, an
attempt to rekindle passions that ran strong 30 years ago but have mostly
burned out today. Iraq, whatever it is, is not Vietnam.
Dick Gephardt, another veteran officeholder, is running much as he did in
1988. He is the decent Midwesterner, longtime party leader, friend of
industrial unions, advocate of trade restrictions. Gephardt endorsed military
action in Iraq, clearly out of conviction: no clever adaptation to circumstances
there. Gephardt is running second in Iowa polls and must finish at least that
well; his strategy in New Hampshire is, first, you win Iowa. Maybe he will,
and become Dean's major competitor.
John Edwards, in his first term in elective office, is running as an outsider in
close touch with the ordinary person and eager to take on big corporations for
the little guy. That's a good strategy for a year when voters are angry with
insiders, like 1976 or 1992. Except this year there's a war on, and in wartime
voters are prone to stick with proven, experienced leaders rather than call in
an outsider. Still, Edwards plugs on cheerfully, and his operatives on the
ground are the most personable and optimistic in any campaign.
Joe Lieberman, with his strong support of the Iraq war and moderate
positions on domestic issues, is running as the moderate candidate, as did
Al Gore in 1988 and Clinton in 1992. But that strategy worked because
Democrats had lost three straight presidential elections. Whack the donkey
over the head with a two-by-four enough times, and you get his
attention until hubris sets in. As of this year, the Democrats have won
popular-vote pluralities in the past three presidential elections. True, their high
point was only 49 percent, but it doesn't look as if most Democrats think
they have to nominate a moderate to win.
At the moment, Dean has run the Democratic campaign most closely
adapted to the season. He has won followers not just with his opposition to
the Iraq war and his contempt for Bush but with his populist rallying cry, "You
have the power!" He is leading in Iowa, New Hampshire, and national polls.
Wesley Clark, entering late, has largely echoed Dean's positions and tone;
he hopes his military record will make him Dean's chief competitor.
But seasons change. Recent developments in Iraq and Libya suggest that
the Dean and Clark strategies may be better adapted to campaign year 2003
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Michael Barone Archives
JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report
and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.
©2004, Michael Barone