Lockjaw Politics

The over-riding theme of this years election is clearly “stasis”. America’s electorate is frozen in the same political stance it held in 2000 – deep and abiding splits by values and region. Not just in the race for President, but in the House where the Democrats and Republicans swapped one seat apiece (aside from Texas, where the Republicans redistricted the Democrats out of five seats), and even more or less in the Senate (where the Democrats predictably lost several seats in the South after incumbents retired).

All that time, energy, and money(*) produced what is more or less a carbon copy of 2000 in the Presidential race: Kerry picked up New Hampshire (which Gore narrowly lost in 2000) probably because of a drop in the votes for Nader (which exceeded the difference between Bush and Gore in 2000), and it looks more or less like Bush picked up Iowa and New Mexico (by small margins at best–the latter of which Gore won very very narrowly in 2000). A net shift of exactly one state in Bush’s favor, solidifying what appears to be a solid regional split (Bush and Kerry’s states are now completely contiguous). As well, party loyalty seems to have been very high, with exit polls indicating both parties obtaining close to 90% of their voters, and splitting the independent vote straight down the middle (the difference appearing to be that Republicans are just slightly slightly more loyal).

* $4 billion in the election season overall, close to $1 billion for the presidency alone.

On the other hand, it is hard to overlook the face that Gore and Nader pulled in approximately 54 million votes in 2000, vs. 51 million for Bush and Buchanan, and this year, with many votes yet to be counted, Bush won 58.3 million (a net pickup of slightly more than 7 million) and Kerry won 54.7 million (a net pickup of around a million, if you make the reasonable assumption that the 400,000 or so that Nader picked up this time around wouldn’t have voted for Gore under any circumstances in either election).

What happened to the vast voter registration and get out the vote effort being put on by the Democrats and other affiliated organizations? It appears to have produced almost no new Democratic/left voters at all! Bizarre. To the contrary, the Republican voter registration/GOTV efforts seem to have borne vastly more fruit – which makes the relatively small changes in the House and Senate even more interesting (can you say, “gerrymander”).

In fact, the entire Democratic Party/Kerry campaign appears to have done nothing but convince Nader voters to come home to the Democratic Party. Which I guess somewhat justifies all the energy spent bashing Nader over the past four years (although I have to say that Nader appears to have done more to lose his voters than Kerry to gain them)… did all that effort (MoveOn.org, Democracy for America, etc.) represent nothing more than Democrats talking to each other, and not non-voters, swing voters or Republicans?!? It appears so.

What went wrong? This bears some thought.

I’ll say this (as I’ve said before): ABBA is not a sustainable political strategy – you have to be for something (and someone), not just against someone. It seems clear that ABBA did nothing to broaden the Democratic Party base, or narrow the Republican one. Without a corresponding passion for Kerry, it was difficult to persuade new people to change their minds, or even motivate the base (a union organizer at an election night party last night was telling me that it was difficult to persuade people to support Kerry).

I think, more than anything else, this is what the election turned on – the Bushies, for all their ignorance, were passionately for their candidate. Were there any Kerryites? Didn’t seem like it.

The Democratic Party needs to figure out a way to nominate someone that it’s partisans are passionately for.

Thomas Leavitt