Excellent sites to go to for Election 2004 coverage: Daily Kos, DonkeyRising, CJR Campaign Desk, the Swing State Project, Political Animal, Atrios/Eschaton, Talkingpointsmemo, MyDD
2004 RESULTS - PART B
Last Updated: 03/08/08
[Note: In Part A of Election 2004 coverage, I provide fairly comprehensive coverage on vote fraud, vote suppression, voting irregularities and anomalous/suspicious voting results in Election 2004. To send me feedback please email feedback-at-eriposte-dot-com (I can't promise a reply to every email I receive.)]
Friends, the soul-searching going on in Democratic Party circles and amongst supporters of the Democratic party seems to be largely happening devoid of context - the context being the Republican Noise Machine and the so-called Mainstream Media (MSM). Moreover, while bashing Kerry and the Democrats for losing a race that was theirs to win is well and good, in the useful attempt to get into the nitty gritty details ("Kerry lost this group", he gained "that group" , he "lost in this location", he "gained there", etc.), I am concerned that we are missing the forest for the trees.
Now, some of you may believe that this
election was 'stolen'. If that is the case, please
click here (where I am documenting election irregularities/fraud etc.)
to see my commentary/response on that. Let me also note that even if
data emerges in the future that proves a 'stolen' election, that will
not really change the message I have captured here. There are structural
problems that the Democratic Party has not addressed well enough -
problems that make it very difficult and costly for the Party to win
elections and that is largely what I am addressing here.
I wrote a few points in an email recently to some bloggers about why I thought this election turned out the way it did and what must be done if Democrats are to win national or competitive elections in the future. Here, I'm going to expand on those points in order to create my own view of a blueprint for the future of the progressive movement and the Democratic party.
WHERE DID THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY FALL SHORT?
In this election, John Kerry's team did substantially better than what Al Gore did in terms of having a quick response team to rebut and refute spin and nonsense from the GOP and the media. Additionally, the left-leaning blogosphere mobilized remarkably, especially during and after the debates, to try and keep the media on their feet. This represented good progress from 2000. But it was nowhere near enough.
As famed journalist Robert Parry (who rose to prominence for his Reagan Contra scandal expose) pointed out in Consortium News, the Democratic Party is significantly hampered by the lack of a far flung media apparatus to counter that of the Right and the Right-leaning mainstream media (bold text is my emphasis):
Parry's comments are borne out by my personal experience even in liberal California. Many Democrats (even in CA) are not aware of what was really done to Clinton and Gore, and just barely aware of what was being done to Kerry mainly because they were much more tuned in to this election. "The Hunting of the President" is a revelation to almost EVERY Democrat I have met (if this does not reflect a major failure of the Democratic party I don't know what does). Many people express complete skepticism when told that the media is not liberal (politically speaking) or that it treats Republican politicians much better that Democrats - and these are supporters of the Democratic party! You can imagine the reactions from Independents and Republicans.
There are multiple ways in which the media contribute in-kind to the GOP, and the crucial role they played in this election is reflected in:
Folks, let's stop bashing Kerry and the Democrats for not having a clear message. If anything they deserve to be bashed again and again for not fighting the conservative media apparatus and for not building an alternative media infrastructure all these years. The fact that Faux News' Chief Political Correspondent and Bush supporter Carl Cameron got away scot-free after completely fabricating a story about Kerry in the height of the campaign, tells you all you need to know about the Democratic party's failure of imagination and inability to learn from the past.
Put plainly, if the Democratic party does not build an extensive media apparatus that strongly challenges the established Republican noise machine and its extensive appendages in the mainstream media, national elections for the Party will remain Sisyphean tasks - they can be won but it will remain very difficult and very costly to do so, short of a complete meltdown of the country in the hands of the Republicans (not unlike what happened in the 1920s as a result of policies somewhat similar to what has been practiced by the Republicans since 2001). The lack of strong interest among Democratic supporters to fund credible, center-left, alternative media is a crying shame - this reluctance needs to be addressed NOW.
In another case of weak learning from past experience, the Democratic party has continued to fail in building a strong counter to the vast right-wing spin and fabrication machine, manifested by their array of so-called "think-tanks" and allied groups that serve as "experts" in the media.
What is sorely needed is a dedicated and IMMEDIATE effort to build a nationwide institution of knowledge that in turn will be the glue for numerous grassroots level organizations as well as progressive (real) think tanks. The Center for American Progress (CAP) and other less-well known groups are doing an excellent job on this but let me assure you that almost no one I know (Democrats, Republicans or Independents) had even heard of them (before I mentioned them). They had heard of groups like NRDC or the Sierra Club or the League of Women's Voters or MoveOn but these are all seen almost as disparate groups which are trying to achieve specific goals that they agree with. There is/was no group providing a unified knowledge base for supporters of the Party or voters in general.
Let me be clear. This is not a criticism of what has been done by CAP or anyone else. I am just emphasizing that there is a vast support and donor base for the Democrats that is committed and interested - but which is underutilized and under-informed except on very specific issues of immediate interest to them. A recent example illustrates this fact. I saw many people upset about the Swift Boat Liars; they knew in their gut that there people were spewing garbage and lies - but being unconnected to the blog world and getting barely anything to hold on to from the "mainstream" media, they simply did not know how to respond to friends or colleagues who used the Swift Vet charges against Kerry. This is an egregious hole in the Democratic Party's strategy. If even your base doesn't know how to get information in an easy way, forget educating those outside the base!
It is also less than comforting to note that some of the Kerry/DNC representatives to the media (during this campaign) were appallingly ill-informed on well-known GOP fabrications or spin points and did more damage than good with their appearance.
Folks, this is not an issue about getting more people to read blogs. People don't have time to browse select websites everyday and the reach of blogs is still very limited. What I am talking about is an organization that can educate the voters, our leaders/pols, the media and just about everyone - with the facts and truths about Democrats and progressive values. An organization that can send representatives, if needed, to EVERY major radio and TV station in the country on a DAILY basis to debunk the lies or spin coming from the Right or from the media itself.
The importance of this issue cannot be understated. I see a lot of concern in the blogosphere about whether Democrats should go softer on abortion or guns or gays, or what not. These are important topics but the seriousness of these is getting blown out of proportion because the Republican Noise machine controls the message on all of them, painting fake caricatures of Democrats to systematically deceive voters. If that machine can be equaled or reversed by the Democratic Knowledge Machine working with an independent media infrastructure, a lot of gains in voter support will automatically follow without Democrats having to split hairs on these topics.
Lest people wonder if I'm asking the party to turn "wonky", I am not. I am asking for the Party to create a lasting institution and knowledge base that will convey basic facts in simple language - as Judd Legum continues to do exceptionally at his blog Winning Argument.
I would love to see ideas about how to create such an institution - one that would connect a nationwide network of largely independent organizations that nevertheless share some common goals, one that would help not just in voter mobilization and fund raising, but in day-to-day education of the voters, Democratic politicians and policy makers, media, radio and TV hosts. The goal of such an institution should be to become a household name in the country. A group or groups that any citizen can dial a number to reach (or go to the web) for information to rebut the latest garbage from the right-wing or to know the real facts on ANY issue.
I have some ideas on how such an institution could be built and those of you who are interested can read about it in Appendix B.
Clearly, this year, tremendous progress was made by Democratic leaning groups (ACT, MoveOn, etc.) on voter mobilization - and kudos to them (not to mention, to the Republicans who got out their voters in even larger numbers).
But guess what? I had to point out to many Democrats that their vote in the blue state of California was actually worth casting (I wrote about this before the election as a cautionary point, urging blue staters to go out and vote). These voters are not indifferent - and they surely wanted to get Kerry into the White House. But people are so used to thinking only about the electoral vote that they keep thinking that it would make no difference if they voted or not (after the 2000 debacle)! This is not just a matter of their being unaware of the psychological significance and credibility of the popular vote - they also don't remember sometimes that their votes on other races and propositions can make the difference between light and day - from local government all the way to Federal government.
Sure enough, my worst fears came true.
As Prof. Alan Abramowitz has pointed out (slide 18), the increase in voters in blue states (6.4% over 2000 levels) was significantly less - and objectively abysmal - compared to that in red states (17.2%) and 12 battleground states (18.5%).
The evidence also indicates (slide 19) that the increase in Kerry voters in blue (safe) states underperformed the increase in Bush voters in the same states.
Chris Bowers of MyDD also mentioned this:
Here is a concrete example from California - by Chris Bowers again:
Today, when I was shifting through the data for House races in California in 2004, I noticed a horrifying trend. In California, a fortress of Democratic electoral and congressional strength, Republican districts still regularly had a higher total number of votes than Democratic districts. This may not sem like a big deal in California, but it is:
This is/was a serious error in strategy and tactics. It CANNOT be repeated EVER AGAIN.
Right after the Democratic National Convention this year, I wrote:
I was also impressed by Kerry's performance in the debates.
However, all of that was not sufficient to overcome the long-standing "national security" deficit that Kerry had with respect to Bush through Election 2004 - a deficit that arguably cost Kerry this election in the end. A dominant reason for this deficit is the media's own bias towards the Republicans and ignorance of gross Republican incompetence on national security time and again - but over time it has become clear that the Democrats keep feeding this perception.
Two examples - much has been said on the "Internets" about Kerry's somewhat weak ads during the campaign (in response to Bush's ads), and his (initial) weak response to the Swift Vet Liars for Bush. But there's a bigger factor at work here, which appears to be an innate fault line running through the ranks of the Democratic party leadership. The Democrats' repeated kow-towing over the years to Republican arrogance and corruption and meek response to outrageous incidents during the campaign, confirmed what many people have expressed to me - that the Democratic Party leadership is, politically speaking, an extraordinarily timid bunch with little backbone. This, despite the fact that the same Democrats portrayed as commie pinkos are much more likely to have served in the American Armed Forces and actually defended this country, than the draft-dodging chickenhawk Republicans who fled from war service like wimps or were caught asleep at the wheel before 9/11 but keep busy maligning Democrats as traitors or being weak on defense.
Let me say this first to the Democratic Party leadership:
Back to regularly scheduled programming.
From the perspective of Campaign 2004, perhaps the over-emphasis on getting the vote of independents/moderates (a vote that Kerry got and should feel good about) led Kerry/Edwards and the Democrats to be somewhat cautious with their demeanor and language. But, with occasional exceptions, they were far less strong and firm and in-your-face than they should have been. Indeed, I will also admit that I myself misjudged the effectiveness of the Democrats' strategy - thinking that the campaign knew what it was doing. In hindsight I realize I should have paid more attention to what I was hearing from many people - a common description or impression of the Democratic Party as "wimps" (or Kerry as being indecisive) - which is serious considering how important national security was for many voters in this election. I heard this from people across political orientations, especially Democrats who were incensed about Democrats not standing up to Republicans and from Republican supporters who had a stereotypical image of the Democratic party, fashioned largely by right-wing or mainstream media.
None of this means that the party leadership should appear boorish or rude. What it means is that they have to have a backbone and conviction about themselves and their values - I would much rather support a party that stands up for what it believes in, strongly, and loses in the end than one that is timid and weak and still LOSES (2002 and 2004). (Of course I prefer the party actually win).
Sadly, though, it appears the Democratic Party leadership is still not getting the obvious message. Time to act like an opposition party, folks!
Matt Stoller (bold text is my emphasis):
I want to highlight a few articles on a very important subject - how to be a politically viable opposition party. The best model to look at is not the Republicans in 1993, though that's somewhat useful, but towards parliamentary systems. In 1993, Southern Democrats were very willing to buck party discipline - today that is just not the case with moderate Republicans, and there aren't enough of them to matter anyway. What we are facing is more a unified Republican machine with control over all levers of government, not a fractious coalition. So how do you create a viable opposition that isn't obstructionist but does oppose? Well, the key is to set yourself up to win elections in the future, not to obstruct what the other side does or to attempt to govern with the party in power.
Chris Bowers ay MyDD has been saying this for a long time and here is his recent update:
This is a really distressing bit of news, via DailyKos:
Bad, bad, bad. No other words to describe this. No excuses.
If the Republican Party had lost the White House in Election 2000 after winning the election (like Al Gore did), you can bet that heaven and earth would have been moved in the succeeding years to dramatically alter the election system in this country (although not necessarily in a direction favorable to voting rights). The Democratic party on the other hand did a lackluster job on driving election reform - as Election 2004 clearly shows. Nothing reflects this more than the fact that electronic voting machines today do not require paper trails in many states. This is utterly baffling. Why did the party did not aggressively fight to change the NATIONAL election laws (using the power of the media and the grassroots) to make sure that electronic voting machines have paper trails, considering that independent non-partisan experts have pointed out that this is a problem for quite some time?
It is also stunning that the party did not fight aggressively day and night for changes in the laws and processes on disenfranchisement of former felons -- especially considering what was done in Florida (and other states) in 2000. After all, historical data has shown clearly that vast numbers of eligible citizens are wrongly prevented from voting every year because of shoddy state election procedures - bad, inconsistent or non-existent felon purge criteria and limited means to challenged purges.
Of course, the party was a signatory to the the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) passed in 2002 which made some progress on voting rights, but this Act left in place enough loopholes to allow states to continue to suppress voting. This was reflected in the Republican Party's and Republican friendly judges' blatant and outrageous suppression of provisional ballots not cast in the "right precinct" in many states this year (we are in 2004 in a high-technology world and we are suppressing votes for this?).
Look, I am not denying that the party did a fair amount to fight against vote suppression in 2004. But, so much more could and should have been done previously to highlight these and other problems in the eyes of the public - considering there is a vast history of voter intimidation, suppression and fraud that could have been used to highlight and back this effort.
As the Bush administration continues its assault on voting rights, by joining efforts to block individual citizens from fighting for their voting rights in court, the public silence of the Democratic party continues to be stunning.
Even if the Democratic party got all its ducks in a row (1-6 above) before the elections, it may still be thwarted from winning elections because of the numerous opportunities usually exploited by the Republican party to suppress and destroy votes. If the Democratic Party does not get its act together on this (and educate citizens to fight for it), the immediate future may continue to be unpleasant for the party.
Liberal Oasis points out something we all need to know
But all the promise of history (1993) is only useful if the Democratic Party *really* learns from it. [Another way to look at this: "Those who forget history (2000-2004) are condemned to repeat it".]
The Republicans turned Congress and the White House around, not by luck- but by building a vast fraudulent right-wing media and infrastructure that systematically decimated the Democratic Party nationwide. The Democrats don't need to be fraudulent. The issues are already ON THEIR SIDE. What the Democrats need to do is hone their message and get it out by either forcing the media to reform or by building an alternate media infrastructure, by building a country-wide knowledge base to educate voters, themselves and the media, by getting the vast majority of their base motivated and out to vote in every state and every precinct and every race, by fighting ultra-aggressively for election reform, and displaying the spunk to stand up and do what is right.
If a goal is set to promote progressive values and win elections on those values, it calls for a larger and more comprehensive vision, strategy and execution. In Section 2, I specifically called for:
If someone is to be asked to donate or invest in this cause, a professional plan is needed that clearly identifies the objectives, the path, and how return on that investment will be measured (not necessarily in dollars). Although there are exceptions, by and large it may be unwise to burn dollars for mere short-term gains without long-term benefit, especially in an effort such as this one. To avoid this problem requires, first, an understanding of what IS out there already and where the gaps are that we need to fill. This is not just to avoid redundancy/waste but to ensure that the objectives are clearly understood before one gets too far into it with too much wasted expense. I'm talking about doing a detailed analysis of what IS and ISN'T in place - the gaps (not just hand-waving) - and once the gaps are clear, to put together a project (plan) on the best way to fill those gaps.
This has to be run as a Program - not unlike running a big company. It can be done. I suggest that the best way to start this is to call a conference of all the relevant, interested parties (think tanks, media outlets, vote mobilization groups, groups involved in progressive causes, targeted bloggers and activists, etc.). The goal of this conference should be to get a concise summary from each group on their activities, successes, failures, achievement gaps and their interest in forging a common ground nationally via an umbrella organization that is devoted to the broad progressive cause, not just one particular aspect of the cause. This is the kind of detailed information that is needed to build a national network of strengths and weaknesses - a network that will allow asking the right questions on what kind of effort/activity, what kind of resources and what kind of funding is required in which part of the country to advance the causes that are mutually agreed upon. Once this requirements-network is in place, one could put together a comprehensive program (plan) in place to fill the gaps in the network.
This may sound too impractical to some or like a bit of wishful thinking to others. Let me make it clear that it is neither. If the Democratic party really wants to build the kind of infrastructure that rivals the impressive one built by the Republican party I don't see another way to do so at the lowest cost. Funding is clearly not limitless. This requires careful, well thought-out planning and resource/fund allocation - and it has to be run with accountability, dedication and clear expectations (which also means that we have to pay qualified people competitive salaries to make it happen). Anything less may produce some beneficial results but the results may not be lasting or extensive enough in the short or long term to guarantee that we meet our objectives for a long time to come.
One of the advantages of running this as a Program with well defined, yet broad, objectives, is that it will provide donors greater assurance that they are not being repeatedly tapped for short-term, single-issue-based funding, but rather for a broad cause with long term ramifications that will have measurable impact on American society at large -- and on their wallets. I suspect that even the smaller donor base - tens of thousands of people - might be happier to donate money to a broad cause than to repeatedly fund an issue advocacy or political candidate each time an issue or election comes up - and with no guarantee that the candidate or the results will be to their liking.
Now, clearly, progressive groups have done similar things before. So, one does not have to reinvent the wheel in terms of methodology if we can use an existing infrastructure. But, the goals of this new effort are likely to be more overarching and require an extension of existing efforts into new arenas, in a professionally managed fashion.
If any reader has the ear of some donors who might be interested in funding at least a conference, I would encourage the reader to explore this idea and see if a conference can be arranged (you know how to reach me: feedback-at-eriposte-dot-com).