After the 2004 election was all said and done, the Democratic Party had failed to take back the White House and gave the Republican Party even greater control over Congress. This election marked the third straight national election in which the Democratic Party failed to produce results.
The day after the election, Democratic activists and elected officials across the nation began to ask what went wrong.
Looking for the quick answer to this question, instead of the right one, Democrats came up with a list of ideas that they used to explain what had happened.
Many Democrats said the 2004 debacle was due to the fact that John Kerry was a weak candidate. Others said the defeat was due to the fact that the Republicans were better organized and better funded. Some believed that it was because President Bush was simply too popular, and the American people didn’t want a major change in U.S. policy during “war time.”
But all of this is just window dressing, and hasn’t solved what is really at the heart of the problem for the Democratic Party.
The real reason the Democratic Party has failed so miserably over the last five years is that because the party’s policy positions on important national issues are simply a joke.
On most important national issues, the average American couldn’t tell you what the Democratic Party stands for. On the few issues the Democratic Party actually has a strong stance on, their position is usually overly complicated or out of step with the political climate in the United States today.
The fact is, none of the excuses used to explain the 2004 election debacle hold any weight. John Kerry had two decades worth of experience in the U.S. Senate, was a war veteran and long time political activist, and had a history of winning close elections and making last minute comebacks. To say he was a weak candidate just wouldn’t be accurate.
The argument that organization or funding had an impact on the election results is even more ridiculous. The Democratic Party had on their side dozens of well-organized liberal organizations raising millions of dollars, such as MoveOn.org. The Democratic National Committee organized hundreds of thousands of Democrats to go online and vote Kerry as the winner of the presidential debates.
The Democrats were better funded and organized in this election then than in any national election in recent memory — maybe even more than in the Clinton Days.
The last piece of reasoning about why the Democrats lost in 2004 is the worst of all. During the 2004, election, most Democrats, Independents, and Republicans could see that Bush was a very vulnerable candidate. Going into the election, polls showed the majority of the Americans thought the nation was on the wrong track, thought the Iraq war was not worth it, and were dissatisfied with the state of the economy. How anyone could legitimately believe that Bush was too popular to beat is a mystery to me.
The Democratic Party today is continuing on the same path that has lead to devastating defeats in the last three national elections. The front page of the DNC website talks about raising more money and a “50 50-state strategy.” The Democratic Party is continuing to raise more money and better organize activists across the nation to promote a national agenda that doesn’t even exist.
Who knows how long it will take the party to realize it doesn’t matter how many tools you have to promote your message if you don’t have a message to promote.
The Democratic Party needs to come up with new policy positions that can attract moderate and conservative voters. The current political orientation of the American people is center-right, not center-left. Only by promoting a center-right platform does the Democratic Party have a chance of winning in 2006 and 2008. This doesn’t mean that the Democratic Party has to abandon its core values, just change how it presents them to the American people.
One of the core values of the Democratic Party is environmentalism. So how can the party promote environmentally friendly policies to center-right Americans?
One idea is to promote such policies as a way to combat terrorism and promote freedom. The best part about such a strategy is that the ideas for it already exist.
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently wrote about a “geo-green” strategy that would promote such a message. In this strategy, the United States would try to gain independence from foreign oil by reducing its oil consumption. This strategy would cause a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and force Middle East countries to diversify their economies. With more diverse economies, Middle East countries would be in a better position to undergo democratization. Such a policy is one that would uphold the traditional values of the Democratic Party while reaching out to the average American voter concerned about security and promoting democracy.
Of course, I doubt the Democratic Party will ever promote such an agenda. The Democratic Party hasn’t presented the nation with an original idea that promoted a major change in U.S. policy or challenged the country to better itself since the Great Society.
Instead, the party will continue to raise more and more money to talk about fewer and fewer ideas.
Marcus Afzali is a senior political science major.