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Furthermore, voter turnout for election 2004 exceeded voter turnout for 2000 by approximately 8%. However, many of those voters can be attributed to efforts of special interest groups, which appealed to voters in the extremes of both parties. If the Democrats plan to win future elections, they have to capture undecided voters in the swing states. The Democrats are not going to win the votes of the undecided by appealing to the far left of the Democratic Party.
Perhaps the best recent example of a moderate Democrat is Bill Clinton. Clinton was the last successful Democratic Presidential. In addition to being a political moderate, and despite the fact that Clinton was also better-educated than the average American and less overtly religious than Kerry, Clinton was seen as more in-touch with the average person. Some Democratic Party centrists have complained that Kerry's loss was due to him straying from the winning Clintonian formula of pro-business, pro-death-penalty mainstream politics, or the fact that Clinton was unable to participate in much of Kerry's campaign. After all, Clinton's moderation and popularity were enough for him to win two bids for the presidency.
However, even Clinton's more moderate stance was not enough to get him a majority of the popular vote in either of his elections. While the Democrats love Clinton, he polarized Republicans as well as Democrats. Furthermore, with the Republican emphasis on moral values and the sanctity of marriage, Clinton's presence could actually have been detrimental to any Democratic efforts to target the undecided voter. While Clinton was a popular President, his Presidency was also marred by repeated scandals, including sexual indiscretions and alleged financial wrongdoing.
The last Democratic candidate to receive more than 50% of the popular vote was Lyndon Johnson in 1964. However, Johnson's Presidency also changed the face of the Democratic Party because Johnson ushered in sweeping civil rights reform. However, those same civil rights reforms that now identify the heart and soul of the Democratic Party were largely responsible for the erosion of the political base that the Democrats had relied upon since the New Deal.
The Democrat's defeat cannot be attributed solely to their failure to nominate a middle-of-the-road candidate. Bush won the Presidency not just because of the things that the Democrats did wrong, but also because of the things that the Republicans did right. The Republicans did a masterful job of transforming the political base of the Republican Party from wealthy conservatives to average Americans. While that transformation is partially due to the Republican choice of a charismatic candidate, it actually began in the 1980's, when Reagan began courting the religious right and incorporating those ideals into American politics. In the 1980's, the Republicans and the religious right focused their energy on pornography. However, with the proliferation of pornography and its widespread availability in all media, the right has focused on another divisive issue: gay marriage. In a country facing threats from terrorists, a weakened economy, war in two countries, a divorce rate higher than 50%, and the highest murder rate of any Western country, the Republicans were able to transform the issue of same-sex marriage into one of the deciding factors of election 2004.
In addition, the Republicans did a masterful job of capitalizing on the war. While no incumbent President who has put himself up for re-election during a war has been unsuccessful, the Republicans created an atmosphere where political dissent was equated with treason. When Democrats questioned the soundness of invading Iraq before attaining victory in Afghanistan or capturing Bin Laden and without proof of weapons of mass destruction, instead of being portrayed as concerned about risking soldiers' lives, they were portrayed as not supporting the troops.
In contrast, the Republicans capitalized on the fear lingering from the 9-11 attacks to bolster public support for the war in Iraq, despite there being no evidence of any link between Iraq and Al-Qaeda. The Republicans consistently emphasized that Americans were at risk of being killed in another terrorist attack, culminating in the Republican convention where the Republicans equated a vote for Kerry with a guarantee that the country would be subjected to further terrorist attacks.
Although the Republican Party currently dominates the Congress and holds the Presidency, election 2004 did not sound the death knell for the Democratic Party. Instead, the election offered the Party a chance to change to reflect the changing ideals of the American public. The trick will be for the Democrats to balance voters' nostalgia for the America of yesterday with their desire not to lose any of the freedoms that have been gained in the past 100 years.
One way for the Democrats to remain politically viable is for them to break the Republican stranglehold on the issue of moral values. Right now, it appears that Democrats are afraid to use morality in an election. However, this last election demonstrates that Americans are increasingly concerned with moral values. This is not a suggestion that Democrats abandon some of the ideals that the Republicans have deemed immoral. Instead, Democrats have to stop being reactive. The Democrats need to come out strongly in support of the moral beliefs held by the majority of Democratic voters.
This means that Democrats need to make it clear why they support same-sex civil unions, if not gay marriage. Democrats need to point out that civil unions strengthen the existing bonds between people, rather than allowing Republicans to lead the public to believe that civil unions would increase the number of homosexual relationships. Democrats need to point out that civil unions could provide stability for children of homosexual couples and decrease litigation over asset distribution following break ups or death. Finally, there are plenty of religious denominations that feel that homosexuality is, if not permissible, a choice to be made by an individual and to be judged only by a higher power. The Democrats need to ally themselves with strong religious leaders that will remind the electorate that they have not been placed in a position to judge others.
In contrast, the Democrats need to revise their position on abortion to reflect the realities of modern science. When Roe v. Wade was authored, fetuses were not considered viable until the third trimester. Now fetuses are considered viable at 20 weeks, which may be long before the quickening. While some on the left worry that a softened position on abortion rights will lead, not only to the total erosion of the right to choose, but also the erosion of other rights for women, the reality is that the majority of Americans fall somewhere along the continuum of abortion rights. Those who believe that a woman's right to choose should be inalienable up until the moment of birth are already guaranteed not to vote for the Republicans, who have identified themselves as extremely anti-choice. However, those who believe that abortion should be an option in certain situations may feel that it is morally wrong to vote for a candidate that supports late-term or partial birth abortions.
The Democrats need to challenge views on the idealized America. Post 9-11, America experienced a surge of patriotism and a desire to return to the America of yesterday. Americans equated the America of yesteryear with safety and security. Democrats need to stop being afraid of challenging those ideals. The 1950's situation comedy values touted by many Republicans failed to include a wide range of Americans. Democrats need to remind voters that Democrats have led the fight to protect civil rights for all Americans. When Johnson lost the Southern vote with his sweeping civil rights reforms, the Democrats failed to pick up votes in the heartland of America, which did not have the same history of racial division as the South. Democrats need to be proactive about pointing out the very real benefits of social reform.
One of the major areas that Democrats need to concentrate on is the area of welfare and Social Security. The Republicans were very successful in portraying the Democrats as a bunch of spenders, ready and eager to waste hard-earned tax-payer dollars on government subsidies. However, based on geographic location, the median income of most Republican voters was lower than that of Democratic voters. Democrats need to point out the efficacy of social programming. Given that the Republicans now get the majority of the blue-collar vote, Democrats need to capitalize on the financial insecurity felt by many blue-collar workers. The blue collar Republicans need to understand that if they elect someone who radically transforms the Social Security system, it could affect their eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance in addition to their retirement planning options.
Concentrating on finances may not be enough to sway the blue-collar vote. To regain viability, the Democrats will have to look at nominating a more moderate candidate in 2008. While there is some talk of nominating Hillary Clinton for…[continue]
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