Somewhere in the Basement of the DNC…
by Michael Spencer
Memo to: The Committee of Twelve
From: Darwin Mapplethorp Kennedy IV, Campaign Development Director, 2004 Democratic Presidential Campaign
RE: Prospects for taking the Presidency in 2004
As all of you are aware by now, plans for the 2004 Presidential campaign are already being implemented. As the Committee of Twelve, it is your responsibility to guide all party operations in the direction of total victory on the national level in 2004. This memo will apprise you of the issues that affect the plans being developed to defeat George W. Bush, take the House and secure the Senate.
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1. The foundation of all of our optimism is the fact of our apparent Presidential victory in 2004 in the popular vote and, legal defeats not withstanding, in the electoral college. The people are on our side when the issues are those concerning personal prosperity, the need for more government and the importance of spending for social improvement. The rise of the Republican party since 1980 has been stalled, and our recent victories in two gubernatorial races shows this fact. Mark Green’s defeat in New York is a complete result of the support he received from Gulliani in the aftermath of 9/11. Otherwise, we would have won there as well.
2. Republicans have formidable present advantage because of the leadership of the President in the conflict in Afghanistan. This cannot be discounted or put on a schedule. It has removed our issues from the front pages and from the center of the national discussion. No talk of a “lock box” for Social Security will be welcome in the current environment. We must remember, however, that the worsening economic downturn favors our solutions. While Republicans will use it as an opportunity to push tax cuts and solutions favorable to the private sector, we still enjoy considerable support for increased social spending and stronger federal government involvement. Our patriotic support of the President during the initial days of the attack on our nation will provide a foundation for attacking his economic policies when they come to congress.
3. It appears that the conflict in Afghanistan may not be a long one. Political and humanitarian involvement will be long term, but the necessity of supporting the President as commander and chief and abstaining from personal and political hardball may soon come to an end. We must be careful to remember that President Bush has acquired considerable stature in this crisis, and we will not be able to portray him as weak and lacking intelligence. Our long term plan must be similar to what President Clinton did in taking the Presidency from George H. W. Bush: increasingly and persistently make the economy the issue, keeping pace with certain decreasing interest in the war on terror and just as certain increasing concerns with worsening economic numbers. As “bread and butter” issues become more important to the electorate, we must have more to say about them. Eventually hit the familiar and effective theme that Republicans are not compassionate. As we know from ’92, no military victory can take away the concern of Americans about their own family finances.
4. The media presents a special concern for us. At present, nearly all of the usual tilt our way has vanished, as war coverage is feeding the news organization’s natural desire to draw numbers. Bringing the media back our way will be difficult. The loss of Geraldo Rivera to Fox is an example of what we are facing. Many of these media types would prefer to talk about war and terrorism rather than discuss or write about politics and spending. Our strategy must be to select those issues that are on the minds of the typical American. Americans are thinking about their children, security, jobs and the plight of the unemployed. We must be the party representing these concerns and show that the Republicans are not concerned so much about the average person, but are still loyal to big business.
5. The radical “fundamentalist” wing of the conservative movement- Robertson, Falwell, Buchanan- provide an excellent target for us. The similarities between these men and the rhetoric of the terrorists must be subtly pointed out. There are many, many Americans who are afraid of the unchecked agenda of conservatism and they must be made aware that a time of national crisis is no time to give these fanatics a greater hand in our national life. While we cannot directly smear President Bush with statements by these men, we can constantly remind the public which party stands completely apart from that kind of fundamentalism and which party is cozy with it.
6. Of course, we must have a candidate. At present, this may be our most difficult task. The option of bringing back Al Gore is being thoroughly explored. As much as his image has suffered since the election, there is considerable positive energy for Gore among some of the grass roots, and we cannot discount the “revenge vote” that would be generated for Gore. Still, it appears that Gore has lost his fire and there are many in the party that feel he lost the election through his own avoidance of Clinton and inability to define himself in the debates.
The major potential candidates are, as might be expected, considerably quiet at this juncture, waiting to see what the war does to the chances of any Democrat. Remind these potential candidates that President Bush’s numbers do not reflect personal support as much as knee-jerk patriotism. Even Rosie O’ Donnell says she is a Bush fan, but does anyone think a Hollywood liberal like her is really going to vote Republican in anything but the worst of circumstances? GWB is not FDR. The future may make him a candidate that cannot be beaten, but at this moment he is beatable. There is plenty of time for misjudgments, bad policies and the economy to make him vulnerable. Kerry, Gephardt, Leiberman- all these are men who we need to continue cultivating and convincing.
There is some discussion about the possibility of John McCain running as a Democrat. At this point, this seems impossible. But McCain does not care for Bush and he is a candidate who could successful challenge Bush for the office during wartime, but not as an independent. If he could be convinced to run as a Democrat, our fortunes would be considerably improved. Still, it is unlikely at this point.
Our two best candidates at this moment: John Edwards, senator from North Carolina, and Hillary Clinton, Senator from New York.
Edwards is a bright and rising star in our party. He has a future and is certainly electable on a national scale. The question is: Can Edwards sustain a loss on the national stage and still have the future he does now? We believe he can, and would like to push him towards President or Vice-President in 2004. His liability is his own youth and his lack of exposure on the national stage. He does not look like a person America wants in the White House instead of Bush.
Senator Clinton is both a strength and a liability at this point. She is ambitious for the office. There is no doubt she will fight for it and fight hard to win. She brings solid liberal, black, Hollywood and female support. Money would not be a concern. But she also brings the baggage of the Clinton Presidency. Many of our supporters are saying that these years out of the White House are necessary to “air out” the Clinton legacy, which is looking worse by the day. None of us wants to relive the ethical and political scandals of the Clinton years, and conservatives have in a Boy Scout like Bush the perfect antidote for that stigma, as Gore found out. We have little enthusiasm for her here in the DNC basement. In fact, in many ways, her installation of Macauliffe as DNC chair makes us fearful that her candidacy will be put on the fast track.
Can she win over a popular and confident President Bush? We do not think so. So we are left admitting that, at this moment, we do not see a national level candidate who wants the race or could win it. That is, to say the least, disheartening.
7. What if the war does not come to a reasonably prompt conclusion? What if further terrorist incidents happen in our nation? What if the war goes into Iraq? These are contingencies that we cannot control. It is clear that we have a responsibility to our voter base to represent an alternative to Republican policies that are hurtful and wrong, but we cannot campaign against what may be necessary or in the best interests of the nation. In other words, we cannot simply attach ourselves to an anti-war movement because it opposes the President. We must even be cautious regarding the legitimate and completely loyal questioning of wartime policies such as bombing or changes in the justice system. The electorate is in an unusual mood and we must not be labeled as the party that “blames America first.” Many who are modestly questioning the President’s decisions or our military strategy are discovering that McCarthyism is not just an excess of the past.
8. In all honesty, we have an uphill fight. Fund-raising is going to be difficult. As we recently learned in New York, the African-American vote is not to be taken for granted. Our candidates must appear to be more conservative than ever. Criticisms of the NRA are not appropriate for the moment. Our media appearances must be tempered. Even our loyal Union and Education supporters are being strongly wooed by the conservatism of George W. Bush. It is time to be patient, and to look for mistakes and openings that will come our way from unexpected quarters. There are scandals in this administration to exploit. There will be the usual excesses of conservative rhetoric. Americans haven’t changed their minds on issues like abortion or the minimum wage. Our time may not be now, but it will come.