Democrats can't afford to relax, but their prospects are looking a lot better going into the final weeks of the election campaign. John Kerry's performance in the first two presidential debates perked up the party's base and the voter registration effort masterminded by Steve Rosenthal, the former political director of the AFL-CIO, now with America Coming Together, has begun to show fruit.
But Democrats still have to get out their vote, and they have to get them out the old-fashioned way -- by talking to their friends eye-to-eye about the harm George W. Bush has done and the good John Kerry and a Democratic Congress can do. Then they must drag their friends to the polls, if necessary.
Democrats can't count on help from corporate media. Republicans like to depict CBS News as liberal-slanted, but its GOP-leaning executives spiked a pre-election investigative report on the fraudulent build-up to the Iraq invasion. Worse, Sinclair Broadcasting's Bush-backing executives have ordered their 62 TV stations around the country to broadcast an anti-Kerry propaganda film a few days before the election. Republicans did away with the Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to provide balancing views on controversial issues, during the Reagan administration. Since then, ownership of TV stations has been allowed to concentrate in the hands of corporate executives who have done very well under the Bush regime. They are reluctant to hold Bush's feet to the fire when he lies or distorts the truth.
It is frustrating to watch Bush holding onto what appears to be a base of nearly 49% of prospective voters, according to polls, as his first incompetent term comes to a close.
After all, Bush botched national security when he ignored warnings that al Qaeda was planning attacks on the US. Outgoing President Clinton warned him, counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke warned him, foreign intelligence agencies warned the CIA that something was up the summer of 2001 and the CIA passed it along to Bush in a briefing paper headlined "Bin Laden determined to attack inside the US," but stopping al Qaeda was low on the president's list of priorities when he went to Crawford, Texas, in August 2001.
After 9/11 Bush made a good start at clearing al Qaeda out of Afghanistan, but then he botched the war on terror when he withdrew military and intelligence resources from Afghanistan in order to invade Iraq, which had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. He botched foreign policy when he and his advisers ignored the findings of UN weapons inspectors and assured the world that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and we knew where they were. He strained relations with Arab and European allies, ridiculing their counsel (and ignoring his own dad's advice) that occupying Iraq would be as disastrous as it has proven to be. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who warned Bush not to move on Baghdad, predicted that the invasion would create a hundred Bin Ladens, driving Muslims into anti-Western militancy. If anything, Mubarak may have low-balled the consequences. Bush played right into al Qaeda's recruitment goals.
Those who enlisted in the armed forces after 9/11 hoping to fight the fundamentalist Muslim al Qaeda terrorists and perhaps get a little revenge for the World Trade Center and Pentagon victims, got sent instead to Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein, a secular dictator who had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. Now our soldiers and marines find themselves as targets in a shooting gallery. Worse, those who enlisted in the National Guard, thinking they were providing for their state's defense, found out it was more cost-effective for Bush to send them to Iraq than to build up the regular Army. And pity those who had served their time in the Army or Marine Corps and were biding their time in the reserves, only to be called back up and find themselves in the backdoor draft of "stop loss."
Bush also botched the economy, proposing tax breaks for the wealthy before the economy went into recession in March 2001, then prescribing more tax breaks for the wealthy as the economy proceeded to lose millions of manufacturing jobs overseas with those very tax breaks for the rich financing more factories overseas. He botched the federal budget, wasting the $5.6 trillion surplus that Bill Clinton handed him and turning it into a $5.2 trillion 10-year deficit. He botched Medicare reform, turning a proposal to give seniors help in buying drugs into a vague promise of limited discounts in exchange for a prohibition on the government negotiating lower prices as well as a prohibition on reimporting cheaper US-manufactured drugs from Canada, with the preposterous objection that the FDA could not guarantee reimported drugs' purity. Then the Bush administration announced that Medicare premiums paid by seniors would increase 17.4%, with at least 9.9 points of that increase directly attributable to Bush's Medicare boondoggle.
At the Vote for Change Finale concert in Washington, D.C., Oct. 11, after a tour of 37 shows with 20 bands in 12 battleground states to mobilize progressive voters, Bruce Springsteen interrupted "Mary's Place" to tell the crowd, "All this fuss about 'the swing voter' ... All I wanna say is, it's October 11, what the hell are you waiting for? You mislead the nation to war, you lose your job. It ain't rocket science!"
Still, the fact that Bush is still not at 50% three weeks before the election (as this is written) shows the election is Kerry's to win. The senator took a big step with the first debate as he managed to assure nervous voters that he would wage war on terror and he refuted the Bush campaign portrayal of him as weak and indecisive. Both candidates stuck to their talking points -- Bush was certain that he was right to invade Iraq while Kerry questioned how Bush diverted resources from the battle against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and proceeded to war with Iraq without building an effective alliance. Kerry apparently won over some potential voters who had questioned his foreign policy and national security credentials.
In the second presidential debate, both candidates seemed comfortable with the "town hall" format. Neither candidate hit a home run but Kerry reinforced his talking points from the first debate. He made some good points about abuses of the PATRIOT Act, the need for embryonic stem cell research and reconciling his Catholic faith with his pro-choice position on abortion.
Bush made at least two gaffes, misstating the reasoning behind the Dred Scott decision that upheld slavery in 1856 and ridiculing Kerry for saying that Bush owned part of a timber company, which it later turned out Bush did own.
Weblogger Atrios noted that the Dred Scott decision was not based on property rights, as Bush said; it was based on racism. The court infamously held that because Scott was black, he was not a citizen and therefore had no right to sue for his freedom. Ironically, Scott found himself in the same legal limbo as foreigners who nowadays the Bush administration holds to be not protected by the Bill of Rights.
But others noted that the Dred Scott reference actually was code to assure anti-abortion activists that Bush would appoint judges who would overturn Roe vs. Wade, which they have taken to comparing to the Dred Scott decision.
Republicans will pull out all the stops in the next three weeks. They haven't spent hundreds of millions of dollars on Bush-Cheney to risk it on a fair fight. As we go to press, a Las Vegas TV station reports that a GOP-connected voter registration firm, Voters Outreach, collected hundreds, possibly thousands, of voter registrations there but trashed Democrats' forms, so when the Dems show up Nov. 2 they'll find their names missing from voter rolls. What other dirty tricks are afoot?
If you give up, you let the bastards win. That's what they're counting on. Never give up. Vote early. And get your neighbor to vote for Kerry, too. -- JMC