Charlie Don't Surf

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

from the time capsule: Reflections after Kerry's defeat in '04

To Frank Ahrens, November 2004

I offer this blast from the past for no good reason other than that I just found it on a computer and thought it might be worth saving before I deleted it forever. It's an email I wrote in response to a message from Frank the day after Kerry conceded the election to Bush in November '04. He was trying to make me feel better about the results, I think, but his reward was a point-by-point rebuttal from a very bitter and disenchanted man. It was a tough election. And we have seen that, in fact, Bush's post-election pledge to govern from the center was utterly hollow. I continue to believe that the GOP strategy to "define" Kerry in 2004 produced the most loathsome, repulsive political campaign I have ever seen.

> however, for your own well-being, i would counsel calm.

Thankfully I can report that I’m in no danger of harming myself or otherwise veering into delirium. Actually a fair bit of post-election work for clients to do here, which is good.

> it was a great election in that it was two terrific campaigns
> In which each candidate expressed their visions and no voter
> should have been left in the dark as to the issues or the
> candidates's positions on them.

Well, good to have a positive and optimistic view, I guess. Were they two terrific campaigns? “Terrific” in that they were both hard fought and tactically clever about things, I guess – if I’m Mark McKinnon, and I believe that the GOP has a good opportunity to define the opponent -- a war hero -- as first a coward and then a traitor and then as someone who would prompt a massive terrorist attack, I guess I’ve done a terrific job if people end up believing that. I think it was a truly repulsive campaign, actually, just despicable and sad on so many levels – the naked fearmongering, the sickening, repeated exploitation of a national tragedy, shameless lying, the methodical attempt to destroy Kerry’s character and reputation (because there was “an opportunity” to do so before he got his own message out). I’m not sure the Shrum/Devine/Kerry campaign was terrific, though certainly aggressive and better than Gore’s, but the scary-draft stuff, the pandering to Israelis to counter Rove, the failure to quickly put down the Swift Boat stuff, bothered me. Not as utterly shot through with lies and distortion and character assassination as the other side, but certainly scummy in places. Now, if we’re proceeding from the premise that politics ain’t beanbag and any sort of tactic at all is fair, and stop your whinin’ about right and wrong in this sphere -- then great, they ran two tactically “terrific” campaigns. I don’t believe that, and I think the BC re-election campaign will go down as one of the most repulsive national campaigns ever mounted.

> the process worked without glitch or scandal

The reliably conspiracy–minded Greg Palast reported for the BBC this morning that 76,000 ballots in Ohio were discarded across the state, and that together with the 150,000 provisionals… this is the legal challenge that some Kerry-Edwards lawyers were arguing for in their meeting yesterday morning. Kerry declined to do it, especially since Blackwell had threatened not even to begin counting them until after 11 days of limbo and bitterness. The Ohio state GOP, even before the Tuesday returns were in, had already filed a lawsuit to block the possible counting of provisional ballots until a “uniform standard” for doing so had been established, even though Ohio hasn’t had one since they started using provisional ballots 10 years ago. I only mention that to show who was first to the courthouse. I think Kerry probably did the right thing. He is a better man than Bush.

> we had an actual winner
> who got, for the first time since 1988, an actual majority.

Yeah, 51%. Good for him. The results show that Bush would not have won the election but for one state, Ohio. The presence of a majority has been talked about a lot, with good reason, but it’s mostly attributable to the absence of a viable 3rd-party candidate on the ballot such as Perot or Nader. Perot kept Clinton to pluralities twice; I don’t have a hard time believing that half of them would have gone to Clinton to produce majorities if Perot had not been on the ballot.

> Kerry was gracious in his concession and Bush was magnanimous in his.

Just tell me truthfully, do you accept that Bush was actually sincere when he said he wanted to govern in a way that attracts Democratic support and otherwise helps to heal the divisions in the country? Because that is the part of the speech that could be called magnanimous, and I believe it was said in a sort of emptily ceremonial way. I haven’t been able to find a single Republican at my firm – and there are several – who believes that Bush will actually try to proceed this way. And they don’t want to, frankly, given the stronger majorities in Congress. So, it was a speech, and I think events will quickly bear out that this gesture was completely empty and insincere. But I’d be curious to hear why you wrote that. If by “magnanimous” you meant that Bush said some nice things about Kerry, I guess that seems pretty traditional boilerplate-victory-speech and ordinary to me.

> the truth is, Bush is more like america than Kerry.
> faith/religion is very important for most of america
> and the majority of those voters do not believe that the
> Democratic national party shares those values.

Quite possibly true. There’s a debate now about what exactly these voters meant when they told exit pollsters that “moral values” were their top concern – more so than jobs, health care, war, terror. I found that an odd reason, certainly odd to be ranked #1. If you believe the exit polls (though some Rs in my office think they're a bogus read on the election because of the obvious failure of the morning data), the social/moral/cultural stuff helped drive the God-fearin', flag-wavin' GOP base out much more than in 2000... enough to win. That appears to vindicate the Karl Rove thesis that 1) many of those folks stayed home in 2000 and had to be drawn out, and 2) the best route to winning was by firing up the base and not worrying about attracting the middle. To me, it looks like it worked. Just enough. As to faith generally, I know a lot of very deeply spiritual, faithful people – Welton Gaddy also said this yesterday -- whose faith is offended by the GOP’s lack of interest in alleviating child poverty, its launching of a war of choice that has killed 100,000 Iraqi civilians, on and on. It’s a strange and intolerant sort of faith that is inflamed by the prospect of a lesbian getting health insurance for her partner, but not by the need to comfort the poor. So, you’re talking about a particular strain of rural, conservative evangelical faithfulness, and I won’t dispute that they were more motivated to vote on Tuesday – perhaps by the presence of gay-marriage initiatives on the ballot all over the place – than most people thought.

> i believe the future of the party are Schwarzenegger
> republicans, who are more like Goldwater republicans—
> strong on defense and fiscal restraint but libertarian/liberal socially.

Well, maybe, but the Republicans who wield power in this country between the presidential election cycles certainly aren’t the moderates like McCain and Giuliani etc., who are only trotted out when the party wants to portray itself as less bitterly conservative than it actually is (i.e. at conventions). I don’t see that changing; moderate Republicans have become almost completely marginalized in Congress – McCain chairs a committee only by virtue of his seniority, and you can bet they won’t let that happen again. I challenge you to name a single moderate GOP committee chairman in the entire House -- they aren’t there, and they will not be. Jim Leach, a moderate, is the most senior member of the House Financial Services Committee and is not even allowed to chair a piddling subcommittee. He has been prevented from holding any power in the House whatsoever. Now, if you mean they might nominate someone like Giuliani for president – sure, but he’d face some stiff primary competition. That, to me, doesn’t mean that pro-choice Republicans like him or Schwarzenegger represent “the future of the party” anytime soon. I think you need to take another look at the party as it stands today.

> Look at it this way: a likely GOP candidate
> for 2008 is Jeb Bush who is more moderate than George.
> also look at people like Racicot and Colin Powell and Giuliani.

Well, I hope so. I don’t find Racicot all that moderate, and he brings no base in Montana. I don’t think Powell has the desire to run.

> when i used to strongly believe in things other
> than the personal well-being of immediate family
> members, i experienced such dejection/elation when
> my proxies lost/won.

It’s definitely hard to believe in the necessity of something and to feel the sudden finality of the door slamming. (But that doesn’t make me want to work for an alternative any less.) For me, it’s also the sense of total estrangement from the values of 51% of the electorate – they might as well be space aliens, they are so burrowed away from facts that are obvious to the rest of the planet, and so ready to swallow the blarney that guys like McKinnon spoon into their mouths. It isn’t my country, and the prospect of the two nations being joined somehow seems remote. Maybe under a future GOP president who isn’t as guided by the worst factional instincts of the party, as you optimistically predict. Seems unlikely the Dems can come up with a Southern guy who can attract votes from Red America. I guess we’ll see. Until then, enjoy gazing upon George Bush’s smirking, insufferable face for four years.