America's Democrats won't unseat the Republicans by adopting their languages and policies. Their job is to opposeby Erik Tarloff / February 20, 2005 / Leave a comment
Michael Lind’s analysis of the 2004 presidential election (Prospect, January) was intelligent and well informed, but it may have assumed, or imposed, a rationality on the part of voters that doesn’t actually exist.
I should declare at the outset that my thoughts are predicated on a belief that George W Bush’s presidency is a catastrophic failure. His first four years were distinguished by staggering fiscal profligacy, an unjustified war inadequately prepared and ineptly managed, official mendacity on an epic scale, a net loss of jobs (the first such during any presidential term in the last 70 years), a bumptious fuck-you diplomacy directed at allies and adversaries alike, and divisive and gratuitously provocative domestic initiatives.
These failures were public knowledge before the election. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the media may have been inclined to treat the Bush presidency with deference, but by the early months of 2004 that situation had begun to change. There were at least hints the Iraq war was going badly, the ostensible reasons for its being fought had been revealed as false, the barbaric treatment of political prisoners had been exposed, the regressive nature of administration taxation policy was well known, the immensity of federal deficits was a matter of wonderment and dismay. In addition, by late spring, the country was awash in books adumbrating these failures, many of them written by conservatives disenchanted with the man they had supported and in some cases worked for. As the election season proceeded, a large number of well-known Republicans refused to endorse Bush’s re-election, and stated their reasons in signed editorials appearing in big American newspapers.
So how could he possibly win? One answer arguably subsuming all others is that America has historically been a very conservative country. The notion of the Democrats as the party of government results from a historical accident: In the mid-20th century, because of the great depression, followed almost immediately by the second world war, Democrats controlled the presidency for 20 years. Leaving aside this exceptional Roosevelt-Truman period, however, Democrats have retained the presidency for more than two consecutive terms only twice. Even during the 1920s, when the corruption of the Harding administration was followed by the vacuity of the Coolidge administration, Democratic nominees remained unelectable. Only with economic calamity were the cards reshuffled.
This reshuffling proved temporary. It is likely that the country would have reverted to conservatism regardless, but…