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Democrats in End Time

As Republicans Gain Shattering Victory; Who to Blame This Time?

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN And JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

The crusade that George Bush called for in 2001 against terrorism from abroad came to fruition yesterday in a more homely context as Christians flocked to the polls in stronger numbers than in 2000 to battle against such manifestations of post-modernity as gay marriage.

There are many reasons for what is an overwhelming Republican victory across the board. They range from the disastrous choice of John Edwards as Kerry’s running mate to delusions about the potency of electronic organizing (that should have been demolished after Howard Dean’s implosion last spring), to the fatal deficiencies of Kerry himself. The strategy of the Democratic Party as formulated by DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe amounted to belief in the simple potency of corporate cash, plus hysterical demonization of Bush and Nader, represented at full stretch by Michael Moore, who began the year backing General Wesley Clarke and ended it as a pied piper for Kerry. They came to the Rubicon of November 2 replete with fantasies, about the unknown cell phone vote, the youth vote (which actually remained unchanged from 2000), the galvanizing potential of Bruce Springsteen and Eminem.

Week after week Kerry and his boosters displayed an unmatched deafness to political tone. The haughty elitist from Boston probably lost most of the Midwest forever when he said in the high summer that foreign leaders hoped he would win. The applause of the French in Cannes for Michael Moore’s 9/11 was the sound of the cement drying over the corpse of Kerry’s chances of carrying the Midwest. Soros’s dollars were like flowers on the grave. After the billionairess Portuguese-American Teresa Heinz Kerry said in mid-October that Laura Bush had never held a job it was all over.

If there was a visual premonition of why George Bush would achieve a popular majority beyond challenge it was probably the photographs of gay couples celebrating their marriages outside San Francisco’s city hall. America is a very Christian country. In the regular national survey conducted by the University of Chicago in 2002, 53 per cent of the adult population identified themselves as Protestant, 25 per cent as Catholic, 3 per cent as Christians of some other denomination, 3 per cent as adhering to "other religions", 2 per cent as Jewish and 14 per cent as having "no religion". That’s a lot of Christians, and though many of them may have had a mature tolerance for the preference of Dick and Lynn Cheney’s daughter Mary, a strong percentage felt very strongly that state sanction of same sex marriage was going way too far.

There was a ballot initiative in Ohio to ban gay marriage and it was probably what helped Bush overcome the smoldering ruins of the Ohio economy and the increasing unpopularity of the war.

October surprises? No candidate was more burdened by them than George Bush. Just in the last couple of weeks, headlines brought tidings of US marines killed in Baghdad and other US troops rising up in mutiny against lack of equipment to protect their lives. The president’s brother Neil was exposed as influence peddling on the basis of his family connections. The economic numbers remained grim as they have been all year. And this was just the icing on the cake. You can troll back over the past fifteen months and find scarce a headline or news story bringing good tidings for Bush. History is replete with revolutions caused by a rise in the price of bread. This year the price of America’s primal fluid–oil–on which every household depends, tripled.

But Kerry and the Democrats were never able to capitalize on any of these headlines, a failure which started when Democrats in Congress, Kerry included, gave the green light to the war on Iraq, and which continued when Kerry conclusively threw away the war and WMD issues in August. When he tried to a chord change at NYU on September 20 it was too late and even then his position remained incoherent. He offered no way out. More tunnel, no light.

It was like that for Kerry on almost every issue. Outsourcing is a big issue in the rustbelt, yet here was Kerry forced to concede that he had voted for the trade pacts and still supported them. All he offered, aside from deficit busting (which plays to the bond market but not to people working two jobs), was some tinkering with the tax code alarming to all those millions of Americans who play the lottery and believe that if they are not yet making more than $200,000 a year they soon will.

Edwards added absolutely nothing to the ticket. At least Dan Quayle held Indiana back in 1988 and 2002. No one state in the south went into Kerry’s column. Gore did better in Florida and West Virginia. Dick Gephardt would certainly have brought the Democratic ticket Missouri and probably Iowa and hence the White House.

The Republicans played, on the ground, to the bedrock members of their party, and got them to the polls. The Kerry campaign conducted an air war from 30,000 feet, bombarding the population with vague alarums and somehow thinking that ABB (Anyone But Bush) would pull them through. There was indeed a lot of popular animosity towards Bush but the Democrats could never capitalize on it. The crucial machinery of any political party is organization, its capacity to rally its supporters on the big day. In this crucial area the Democratic Party is in an advanced state of disrepair. The SEIU wasted $70 million of its members’ dues money attacking Ralph Nader. A grotesque amount of energy went into trying to suppress the Nader vote. They did suppress it and this achievement gained them nothing, except, perhaps, the destruction of the Green Party.

It’s as grim a day for the Democrats as was 1980 when the Republicans swept the board. What will the Democrats do? You can already hear the Democratic Leadership Council cranking up its message that you can only beat the Republicans by outflanking them on the right. The Nader alibi has gone. The Democratic Party and its leaders have nowhere else to look than in the mirror. They would do well to examine Nader’s critiques, but we bet they won’t.