If the 2002 elections weren’t large enough of a red flag to the Democratic Party to change its tactics and leadership, the presidential candidates they are offering should be. The candidates are desperately trying to achieve front-runner status, using many of the same strategies that sent their party to unprecedented losses in the Congressional election just one year ago.
Instead of repeated intra-party policy debates and attacks on individual voting records, things that were commonplace in previous primaries, each candidate among the nine has bypassed that traditional step in favor of personal, ruthless and baseless attacks on the president. While those attacks may be warranted in the general election, the key element these candidates have missed is that voters and conservative opponents alike are unaware of their own policies and agendas.
While the Democratic candidates record dozens of sound bites personally criticizing the president on every issue from the ongoing War on Terror to the current state of the economy, they did not convey their own vision for this country, something voters need to chew on in primary elections.
While Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt’s claim that the president is a “miserable failure,” might boost his own morale, it does little to legitimize his candidacy. If the public knew any of the specifics regarding his agenda for the War on Terror, or of any new proposals for the reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan, then maybe his comments would bear some merit.
But until Gephardt and the other eight candidates can specifically mention areas in which change is needed and the means and proposals to carry them out, their baseless attacks on the president do little to advance their cause.
In the 2000 Republican primary, contenders spent little time discussing President Clinton and Vice-President Gore. Instead of making claims that Gore was a corrupt politician, who blatantly accepted illegal contributions and habitually lied during his campaign and tenure as Vice President, the candidates wisely exhausted their time fine tuning their own proposals and presenting them to the voters.
By the time infighting between then-Texas Governor Bush and Arizona Senator John McCain ceased, Bush had a significant advantage over Gore.
Since Bush withstood months of harsh criticism over his plans for tax cuts and educational reforms, it allowed him time to make changes and to prepare for Gore in the upcoming debates. While Bush was a political novice compared to the Vice-President, he came off as a well-rounded, well-prepared and somewhat more relaxed candidate, which clearly led to his victory over the stiff and arrogant nature of Gore.
Yet, despite the lessons of past campaigns, the Democrats continue to dig themselves into a deeper hole as each day passes. While they may be attracting voters with an already instilled hatred towards President Bush through their harsh personal attacks, they leave the door open for resentment and backfire from the general voting public. When the one lucky candidate emerges from the crowded field, he will certainly face the heat over their outlandish remarks, while at the same time trying to recover lost time. For Democrats to have a fighting chance in 2004, they must first demonstrate exactly how they plan to change the status quo, something they have failed miserably at doing.
Brian Reimels can be reached at email@example.com.