Wednesday, May 21, 2003

What the Dems Are Up Against in 2004: Looking ahead to the Democratic primaries, it's been interesting to read what pundits think the Dems should do. Joe Klein's piece made the biggest splash, and Lee Bockhorn takes it on here. I think Bockhorn is right. Klein's vision is the wonky vision, which played well in the Clinton era. (It's still the standard, too, if you look at all the Dem candidates and their mini-policies on things like Lieberman's "Cure Center" and Edwards's rural economy project.) Clinton never was perceived as a "tough" president. Governance was about tweaking and technology, a subtle manipulation of the status quo -- never too far. George W. Bush ran as the GOP version of that in 2000, the "compassionate" conservative, a "kitchen table" Republican. But events conspired to give him a wall of trophies for achievements he never imagined (and probably wouldn't have advocated in 2000). Now he is the "tough" president, and the biggest risk for the Democrat is looking small, bringing a small-potatoes agenda to the American people. Klein's vision isn't that.

Moreover, I think Americans feel good about Iraq, about what we did, and Bush's opportunity is to use that to make his new mandate. This is something his father didn't do, didn't even understand. Perhaps he thought it was unbecoming for a president to use his war popularity domestically, but young W knows it's fair game. He'll keep the terror threat high on the radar, of course, since it's a big issue (and a vote getter, I bet). But look for him to appeal to America's can-do spirit. Look for him to make implicit comparisons that parse like this: "If we can do what we did in Iraq [What did we do? Let's leave that vague.], then we can certainly do [insert tax reform, entitlement reform, vouchers, etc.]." Bush is going to run as the guy-on-a-streak candidate. He may have to concede that we're not winning the game yet, particularly if consumer confidence doesn't leap, but he can at least argue that he's had a hit at just about every at bat lately.

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