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As Long as We Remember...

January 24, 2008

From the Jaws of Victory…

Tony Soltero

According to a recent article in Baltimore’s Sun, the Democratic Party in Maryland is running roughshod over the Republicans in new voter registrations, with the donkey outpacing the elephant by a 3-to-1 margin. Similar trends are occurring nationwide, with turnout at Democratic caucuses and primaries absolutely obliterating the turnout registered at Republican electoral events.

And it's easy to see why. The Democrats are offering their voters an embarrassment of riches in their presidential primary. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards are all vibrant, exciting, and visionary candidates, forward-looking and offering messages of hope and a reclamation of American greatness at all levels.

Meanwhile, the Republicans are little more than a stable of mean, grumpy, cranky old white men, with little to offer but the politics of fear and gloom, featuring inspirational messages like "vote for me or the terrorists will slaughter us all."

Is it any wonder young voters are overwhelmingly registering as Democrats?

How bad is it for the Republicans? Local grocery baggers are asking their customers: "Paper or Mitt Romney?"

Personalities aside, the domestic and world situations don't favor the Republicans either. President George W Bush is the anti-E.F. Hutton – when he speaks, people run for cover. The world financial markets certainly did.

The American economy is in tatters – a direct result of the Bush tax-cutting deregulatory fiesta and the ensuing subprime mortgage crisis, which has spilled over to other sectors like a cancer. The gargantuan deficits the Bush administration has produced by financing its Iraq Noble Cause on the national credit card haven't exactly been helpful either. Wasn't all the oil there supposed to pay for this?

So, it's easy to see why the Republican brand has become so toxic to most Americans. And that's without even factoring in the party's hostility to science and its embrace of radical fundamentalists – unless, of course, one of them actually deigns to run for president, as Mike Huckabee has).

Well, then, all the Democrats have to do is show up in November and the White House is theirs, right?

Not so fast there. Americans do want change. They've been seeing Republican domestic and foreign policies up close and personal for the last eight years, and they've been suitably repulsed. But they will only vote for Democrats if the Democrats actually offer said change.

The Democrats got blown out in the 2002 midterm elections because they didn't have the courage to challenge the Republicans on the Iraq War resolution, giving the impression that they stood for nothing. Voters noticed.

In 2004, the Democrats again allowed the Republicans to establish the prevailing narratives on Iraq and the economy, and John Kerry pulled his punches against a very vulnerable President Bush, losing an election he should have won.

But in 2006, the Democrats clearly and forcefully demarcated their differences with Republicans, especially on the Iraq issue – and picked up 30 seats in the House and six in the Senate, even some in putatively red states like Montana and Virginia.

History is clear on this issue: when the Democrats emphasize their similarities with Republicans, they lose. When they emphasize their contrasts, they win. When voters feel that they have a real choice, they'll turn out to exercise their franchise.

Unfortunately, a few Democrats continue to cling to the old (and erroneous) conventional wisdom that they must be "cautious" and not appear "too liberal," which is usually code for "don't dare mention anything about the downside of free trade and mindless warmongering." That kind of approach results in hosannas from DC elites – and electoral thumpings from actual voters.

The Democrats were put into Congress to stop President Bush, not to enable him. If the public had wanted that, they would have voted Republicans into office. But instead, Congress has rolled over to satisfy the president's every whim and desire. Congress' approval ratings have also plunged into the teens. Gee, it must be a coincidence.

Whoever the Democrats' standard-bearer happens to be, he or she needs to remember that nothing kills voter enthusiasm more than a lack of differentiation from the opponent. If Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards offers a real alternative to a public disgusted by eight years of Bushism, he or she should romp to an easy victory in November. But if the candidate simply runs on a platform of "I'm not quite as bad as the Republican," then the cranky old white guy behind the other podium will have a chance.

Only the Democrats can beat the Democrats this year. Let's see if the party has learned the lessons of the last three electoral cycles.

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