Prasanth: ‘Am I correct in feeling that there is a sense of panic among Democrats that this election, which seemed so winnable, is getting away from them?’

☞ There have been bumps, but we are going to win.

I. ISSUES

We’re going to win, first of all (before getting into turn-out, the Electoral College, Florida and all of that), because over the next 46 days, as voters begin to really focus, they will conclude that on the issues they care about, President Bush has not served us well.

Take jobs. After 9/11 and after he knew we were in a recession and after the eruption of corporate scandals, President Bush announced that his policies would create 6 million new jobs during his presidency. Instead, we will have lost 1 million jobs – a swing of 7 million worse than he promised – not least because it turns out that giving the biggest tax cuts to those who need them least is not the best way to rev up the economy. (Could anyone, including President Bush, actually have believed that it was?)

We didn’t reelect Herbert Hoover – the last president to lose jobs on his watch – and we’re not going to reelect George Bush.

Take living standards. Millions slipping into poverty . . . millions more without health insurance . . . new jobs that pay less than the old jobs that were lost . . . Medicare recipients hit with a 17% hike in premiums (on top of 13% last year) . . . median real household income – which was up $5,489 in the Clinton years – down $1,314.

Voters know presidents aren’t omnipotent (although they usually boot even good presidents from office when things are not going well). But they must also sense that a president who fights for a higher minimum wage and a higher earned income tax credit and the Family and Medical Leave Act and 100,000 more cops on the street and after-school programs and universal college loan assistance and health insurance – and pledges to save Social Security first, as Clinton did and Kerry would – is just fundamentally different from a president who, with his party, opposes all those things and makes his main focus repeated tax cuts for the very rich.

Over the next 46 days, John Kerry will make it clear that – as he has said all along – the first $200,000 of income will not be more heavily taxed under the Kerry Administration. Indeed, he will propose more middle-class cuts. But that, yes, on income above $200,000, we’ll be back to paying taxes more or less as we were under Clinton because we have a war on terror to fight (Bush is the first president ever to cut taxes in time of war). And because we are running a $600 billion deficit (when you include the amount by which Bush promised not to raid the Social Security surplus but has). And because it’s not just ‘our money,’ as Bush is so fond of saying (those $300 tax refund checks or even the $1,500 reductions many families got), it’s also our debt. A $600 billion deficit works out to $8,000 for each family of four. You got your $300 or your $1,500 tax reduction, but you borrowed $8,000 to do it.

I grant you that people’s eyes glaze over at numbers – which is how Bush got away with this in the first place and managed to win nearly as many votes as Gore. (‘By far the vast majority’ of the help from his tax cuts, he looked into the camera and lied, would go ‘to people at the bottom end of the economic ladder.’)

But if voters tune out the details, as they surely will, many will intuitively sense that the swing from a $5 trillion projected surplus (which is how then Governor Bush initially justified his tax cuts) to a multi-trillion-dollar projected deficit does not make us a stronger, more secure nation.

Voters will sense that our increasing dependence on borrowing from China, Japan and elsewhere to finance our deficit does not brighten our children’s future, even if it did allow the issuance of those $300 checks – and an $800,000 tax reduction to folks like my friend who gets $3.2 million a year in dividends from a stock he inherited.

And yes, there are the assault weapons President Bush has allowed back on the streets, the stem cell research he works to impede, the environmental regulations he has rolled back and the developing global climate crisis he has ignored. The tax incentives for buying $100,000 Hummers, the Supreme Court (!!!!!) – and more.

But what this election will largely turn on are the War on Terror and – separately – the war in Iraq. And on these the President’s record is abysmal:

  • He ignored urgent warnings about Osama Bin Laden before 9/11 and, having done so, failed to kill him two years ago, after 9/11, before al-Qaeda had a chance to regroup and metastasize.
  • He pulled resources off that mission-not-accomplished to attack Iraq, breaking his pledge to invade only as a last resort.
  • He lost the goodwill of the world and played right into the hands of Osama Bin Laden, helping to recruit thousands of new terrorists.

In short, as John Kerry has said all along, he rushed to war without a plan to win the peace, badly weakening our country – with no end in sight.  Now that we’re there, we have a huge commitment (“you break it, you own it,” Colin Powell presciently advised, to no avail).  But why on Earth would we reelect a man whose reckless, cocky misjudgment could have allowed for such a disaster?

So I think that as people start really thinking about these things, as they watch the debates and as they get to see more of John Kerry, they will decide it is time for a new team.

II. PROCESS

But forget all that.  What about the horse race?

Here are a dozen reasons to take heart:

1. We’re much, much stronger on the issues – see above.

2. We won last time when Democrats were largely complacent. Things always seemed to get a little better every year (it’s human nature for the previous eight years to feel like “always”) so what difference did it make? Well, now the difference is apparent. Democratic turn-out will be enormous.   We saw unprecedented turn-out in the primaries and we are seeing direct-mail results that have direct-mail consultants slack-jawed.  We are depositing 50,000 checks a day.  Millions of new voters are registering, and Democrats who haven’t voted for years plan to come out this time. Writes a friend:

Jay and I got a phone call last week from Jay’s uncle, a Vietnam Vet and a resident of South Carolina who has NEVER voted in his entire 55+ year life.  Well, this year he has registered to vote and will be voting for John Kerry.  I cannot stress how much of a miracle this is.  As much as I want to believe that all the complacent non-voters will get off their behinds this year, I am now actually seeing it and it is very encouraging.

3. Last time we got 51 million votes – 537,000 more than Governor Bush – despite 3 million votes that went to Nader.Nader voters are almost all well-meaning and smart.  My firm belief is that – in swing states where it matters – they will not fail to do all they can to fire George Bush.  As reported here Tuesday, two-thirds of Nader’s 2000 leadership group have already signed onto a statement urging everyone in swing states to vote for Kerry.

4. So we’re going to get millions more Democrats than we got last time and we’re going to get Nader voters where it counts.But what about Bush voters?  Last time, 50 million people voted for Bush, and I am willing to stipulate that 90% or perhaps even 95% of them are just thrilled.  Bring it on, baby! 

(Democratic presidents couldn’t stand up to Hitler or to the residents of Hiroshima or to Khrushchev in the Cuban Missile Crisis or to Milosovich in Kosovo – only Dubya has the guts and brains to get Bin Laden and keep us safe.  Look how well he mocks Kerry and how shrewdly he leaves it to others to mock Kerry’s bronze star and silver star! Dubya is one tough warrior.)

Okay – we’re not going to get those voters.

But if 5% of the 50 million who voted for Bush last time feel betrayed (consider, for example, this Seattle Times endorsement of John Kerry) . . .

Four years ago, this page endorsed George W. Bush for president. We cannot do so again — because of an ill-conceived war and its aftermath, undisciplined spending, a shrinkage of constitutional rights and an intrusive social agenda.  The Bush presidency is not what we had in mind. Our endorsement of John Kerry is not without reservations, but he is head and shoulders above the incumbent.

. . . that’s millions more votes for Kerry, millions fewer for Bush.

And I think it’s at least 5%, because it feels as if I’ve gotten e-mails from almost that many.  Here’s one I got just today:

I grew up in a Republican household, have almost always voted Republican, and voted for GWB in ’00.  This November, however, I am firing the incumbent. Here’s why, in no particular order. Obviously, some items are more important than others:

  1. Saudi prince was told of Iraq invasion before Secretary of State Colin Powell
  1. Steel tariffs (imposed by an MBA!)
  1. Environmental policies
  1. The Supreme Court appointments in next four years
  1. Against women’s right to choose
  1. Military not prepared to go to war (e.g., humvee’s not properly armored)
  1. Opposes using science to protect me and my family (stem cell research)
  1. Underestimated prescription drug benefit cost by a mile
  1. Cheney’s secret energy task force
  1. 43 says he didn’t speak to 41 before going to war (where is Freud when we need him?)
  1. Demonization of Max Cleland
  1. Lied re who put up “mission accomplished” sign on aircraft carrier he landed on
  1. Mixing church and politics
  1. Assault weapons
  1. Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages (I am hetero)

If you post this, please do not use my name. I do not want to argue politics with anyone.

5. More than half the country believes we are on the “wrong track” – and the proportion is even higher among undecided voters. Incumbents don’t get rehired when most people think we’re on the wrong track.

6. So why isn’t any of this reflected in the polls? Well, to begin with, there’s this, hot off the newswire:

Bush Convention Bounce Fades; Race A Virtual Tie-Pew Poll
DOW JONES NEWSWIRES
September 16, 2004 4:00 p.m.

WASHINGTON (AP)–The GOP convention gave President George W. Bush a double-digit lead, but the race has settled into a virtual tie, with voters still worried about the economy and Iraq, according to polling by the Pew Research Center.

The first of two national polls by Pew, done Sept. 8-10, reflected the president’s post-convention bounce. Bush was ahead of Democrat John Kerry 52-40 among registered voters and by an even wider margin, 54-39, among likely voters, a narrower group.

By the second poll, done Sept. 11-14, the Bush lead had evaporated. In that poll, Bush and Kerry were knotted at 46% among registered voters. Among likely voters, Bush was at 47% and Kerry at 46%.

“There is a great deal of instability and uncertainty in the electorate,” said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. “This poll finds a lot of the positive impact Bush had in the convention remains. But Bush’s vulnerabilities on Iraq and the economy continue, and these have anchored the race.”

After the Republican convention and its well-orchestrated criticism of Kerry, Bush grabbed a lead ranging from 5 points to 11 points in various national polls. That lead appeared to be shrinking in some polls by late last week, and a Harris poll out Thursday showed the race even.

A poll sponsored by Investors Business Daily showed the same thing.

So Bush is slipping fast.

I am the first to admit we haven’t done everything perfectly and that we face a tough fight.  But we are going to win, and you need to keep these numbers in perspective:

Following their conventions, sitting Presidents who went on to win a second term have led by an average of 27 points.   Even including the LOSERS, elected incumbents leave their Conventions up an average of 16 points.

So whether Bush left his convention up by 11, as Newsweek had it, or by the 5 or 6 points most others deemed more likely, either way, it was way sub par.  Incumbents do not go on to win when a majority of the voters think the country is on the wrong track and their convention lead is so far below the 27-point average.

7. We’ve begun to fight back. If you saw James Carville on the Today Show last week or have heard Paul Begala lately or caught Joe Lockhart on TV, you know the Campaign has expanded to include some very talented tough veterans of the Clinton campaigns.  Was this a shake-up?  Whether you call it an expansion or a shake-up, Carville cut to the heart of it: John Kerry sees a problem and fixes it.  George Bush sees a problem and denies it.  What kind of leader would you rather have?

8. There is a great deal of frustration among Democrats – Prasanth for one – that we waited too long to fight back.But what we were hearing from undecided voters was that they really didn’t want a lot of negative stuff from us about Bush, they wanted us to take the high road.

And we did.  At our Convention, there was no mocking of Bush, and the Campaign purposely toned down some of the speeches.  Mine, for example.  The only requested edit to my speech had to do with being less negative about Bush.  (“But there’s so much to be negative about!” I pleaded.)

With hindsight, I don’t know whether this was wise or not.  I like to think it was.  But either way, it reminds me of one of the most tried-and-true plot lines in all of human drama.  You’ve seen it countless times:

The good guy is taunted by the bully and just moves on.  He is taunted and mocked some more – but avoids confrontation.  Then they take his bookbag and throw it into the lake.  Still nothing.

By now the audience is screaming, *HIT* THE SONOFABITCH!  And when he finally does (a) everybody thinks it’s justified; (b) everybody remembers the high road he tried to take; (c) a lot of fair-minded people (read: undecided voters) are rooting for him.

If the good guy had hit the bully at the first taunt, or even the second, what kind of crowd pleaser would it be?  And might not some folks have figured he was just as petty as the other guy, and too prone to get into the mud?

Well, whether this was literally the plan or not I don’t know.  But I think we have now earned the right to hit back, and I think we will.  So buck up, Prasanth.

9. Our guy is a fighter, and his pattern, in campaign after campaign, is to hang back – and finish strong. And win.  Mock his Navy years if you will, while insisting that Bush served honorably.  (Bush had no doubts about the Vietnam War – he was all for it, so long as he didn’t have to actually fight in it.)  But this is a guy who volunteered to face death for months and who turned his boat into oncoming gunfire and attacked the enemy head on.  So he may not be quite the indecisive wimp Dick Cheney and the rest of the team are having so much fun portraying him as.*  (Click here for a compilation of 30 Bush policy flip-flops . . . or here to print it out as a poster.)

*The famous $87 billion vote?  THEY were against it before they were for it!  Flip-flop!  They were against it when it would have required rich folks to pay for a portion of it with a partial rollback of their tax cut.  Flip-flop!  Flip-flop!  Click here.

10. In several of the key battleground states (albeit not Florida), the governorships have switched from Republican to Democrat since 2000. This is a good sign for two reasons.  First, it suggests more people in those states were voting Democratic than Republican.  Second – as Jeb Bush showed in Florida – it helps to have the governorship.

One of you will correct me if I’m wrong, please, but I don’t think any swing state governorships have flipped from D to R since 2000 (California is not a swing state).  But here are some crucial states that have flipped our way: PENNSYLVANIA (21 electoral votes), Ed Rendell . . . MICHIGAN (17 votes), Jennifer Granholm . . . ARIZONA (10), Janet Napolitano . . . NEW MEXICO (5), Bill Richardson . . . WISCONSIN (10), Jim Doyle . . . TENNESSEE (11), Phil Bredeson . . . VIRGINIA (13), Mark Warner . . . and I may be leaving a couple out.

11. So what about Florida?

We will win Florida because:

  1. We won it last time.
  1. Against the 537 margin of victory they claimed, I believe we will get many of the 97,488 votes Nader got in Florida last time.
  1. Also, many of the estimated 45,000 gay Florida votes Bush got last time (which count double, because a switch from Bush adds one to our column AND subtracts one from theirs). Note that the Log Cabin Republicans have decided they cannot abide Bush either.
  1. Last time, Florida’s African-American community did a spectacular job of turn-out with a program called ARRIVE WITH FIVE. This time, they will Arrive with SIX. And because Florida now allows early voting – beginning October 19 – those who have not managed to arrive with six the first day can keep working at it until they’ve met their goal.
  1. Last time, 50,000 likely Gore-voters were shamelessly disenfranchised by Katherine Harris, then Florida Secretary of State (and chair the Florida Bush campaign). Not this time.
  • (You don’t know that story?  Click here.)
  1. Last time, African-American voters were sometimes asked for two or even three forms of photo ID, and otherwise intimidated. This time, we will have lawyers at every polling place.
  1. The latest Bendixen numbers show the Cuban-American vote swinging significantly in our direction.
  1. Some moderate Republicans, who expected compassionate conservatism from a uniter, not a divider, will switch sides. As will true conservatives like Andrew Sullivan and Walter Olson, who now rail against Bush.
  1. Turn-out in the minimum-wage community will be high because there is an initiative on the ballot that would raise the minimum wage.
  1. And let us not forget the 16,000 Palm Beach “Jews for Buchanan.” No confusing butterfly ballot this time.

In short: we are going to find those 537 votes.  We are going to win.  

So the next time you are feeling low, SNAP OUT OF IT.  Feeling low plays right into Karl Rove’s hands.  Write a letter to the editor or get on the horn to some distant cousin or classmate and make sure she’s registered to vote.

12. Finally, we’re going to win because, in the words of the Reverend Theodore Parker, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

And because as Bush himself has said (watch for yourself): “There’s an old saying . . . fool me once, shame on – shame on you. Fool me – you can’t get fooled again.”

And because the taller guy almost always wins.

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