The Democrats’ Clinton Time Warp

November 9, 2004

The New York Times tells us that Kerry pollster — and don’t you ever forget that this guy gained fame as Clinton’s pollster — Stanley Greenberg and other Kerry advisers attribute Lurch’s defeat to an underemphasis on economic issues. Or, in the words of the Times:

In a glum post-mortem to the presidential campaign, senior advisers to Senator John Kerry said Monday that Mr. Kerry lost because he had failed to turn the election into a referendum on the economy, a problem they attributed to a barrage of foreign policy news and the success of the White House in wielding cultural issues.

Oh boy.

Am I the only one who gets the feeling that these Dems are a broken record, people in a time warp, longing for the days where Clintonesque propaganda actually worked with the people? Do they still think we’re living in the days when the lie, “This is the worst economy in 50 years,” resonated with a plurality of American voters? These people think “It’s the economy stupid,” is the end-all-be-all that should trump everything in every election, even in wartime. But it’s worse than that.

They think they “own” economic issues, because economic growth accompanied the Clinton presidency. And they think that no matter what the current state of the economy they’ll be able to spin it in such a way as to make their proposals look superior. Specifically, when Clinton was describing the George H.W. Bush economy (which was on its way to a recovery) as the worst economy in 50 years — which 50 years included the years of Carter malaise, stagflation, misery index, etc. — and got away with it, why shouldn’t Dems be able to do that today?

One of my pet peeves about this just-ended campaign is the way the Dems and Kerry kept fraudulently portraying the economy as so anemic. Even when all the objective signs were good, unemployment down, inflation in check, interest rates low, stock market steady, they spun it as a “jobless” recovery. They selectively discussed certain negative pockets in the economy to make the entire economy look bad. But the economy wasn’t bad. It was in a steady growth mode. Why did the Dems think they owned the issue, even though the economy was growing and the other indicators were positive?

The real answer is they know they’re experts at propaganda and convincing a great number of people — their gullible constituencies — of anything they say, no matter how divorced from the truth it is. But they also opportunistically jumped on the rising deficits — even though they would have spent even more if they had been in office. Plus, they have no plan to reduce the deficit. In fact Democrats have no coherent economic philosophy at all anymore.

The only thing they advocate is to restore the Clinton tax hikes. Does that make sense — setting aside the fairness issue — in wartime? Do they think they can bring the budget in balance by punishing the producers and deterring growth? If they had had their way during the Clinton years on domestic spending — with the economic stimulus package and Hillary Health Care alone — the deficits would have soared into the stratosphere. To this day they have no clue how the deficits went down then. They never planned it that way. Clinton’s projected out year budgets were astronomical. He fell into budget balances by the forced restraints of the Gingrichian Congress and the economic growth he inherited, which miraculously survived his punitive tax hikes. Democrats are latter-day deficit hawks who don’t even believe, as a matter of principle, in fiscal responsibility.

Back to the point, the Democrats just assume that the economic issue is a political panacea for them and that irrespective of the facts they’ll always be able to exploit that issue to win elections. On that point, see these additional quotes from the Times article:

At a breakfast meeting with reporters, Mr. Greenberg said voters had been open to backing Mr. Kerry but pulled back after he failed to convince them to make their decision based on economic issues.

“Voters were very concerned about the economy,” Mr. Greenberg said, “but in the end, they did not respond to John Kerry on the economy. And after that, they voted their values. And that produced a cultural polarization of the electorate.

“These voters were waiting to hear an economic choice before the election, and they didn’t get it.”

Without a doubt they can color the economic news to their advantage, but there’s a limit to its effectiveness.

And their analysis that they could have won this election had they just focused more on the economy is revealing of a mindset — and a disturbing one at that. It’s analogous to their thinking — which I describe in today’s column — that to resonate with voters, even Christian voters, on moral issues, all they have to do is talk more effectively about moral issues. In other words, they have to sell themselves better, regardless of “the facts on the ground.” But as I pointed out in the column, voters aren’t as stupid as Dems would prefer. They can discern the insincerity of those who pretend to believe in things they don’t believe in. Not always, but enough that John Kerry is going to have a very tough time fooling Christians into thinking he actually believes in many of his Catholic religion’s precepts.

Elections aren’t just about putting your finger in the air and saying whatever you think will strike a chord with the people. Over the long course of a campaign it’s hard to b.s. people into believing that you stand for things you obviously do not, just because you start pretending to. Some politicians, obviously, are better at this than others.

When John Kerry said that he was pro-choice even though he believed life begins at conception he revealed just how cynical he is. I don’t know which is worse, lying about believing that life begins at conception or actually believing it does and still advocating the murder of babies anyway. Probably the latter.

And when Kerry said that he was pro-life but just didn’t believe he could impose his “articles of faith” on other people, he revealed just how uncourageous he is on moral issues and, frankly, how silly and superficial he is. What kind of truly deep thinker would say that as a society we can’t impose our beliefs (articles of faith) on people? What does he think our entire system of criminal and civil laws are based on if not our moral/religious beliefs? Of course we, as a society, impose our moral beliefs on people and better continue to if we want to continue our tradition of ordered liberty.

Back to where I started, pollster Stanley Greenberg is the poster boy for governing and campaigning by the polls. His main student in the practice, Bill Clinton, refined “governing by polls” to an art form. But you have to be a political whiz kid to pull off the scope of deception that Clinton was capable of. A passionless robot like John Kerry is certainly not capable of converting a non issue to an issue simply by calling attention to it.

Democrats just don’t get it. They didn’t lose the election because they failed to talk enough or talk effectively enough about moral issues. Without converting to social conservatism, they couldn’t have talked effectively enough about social issues because their beliefs are not compatible with those of most voters on those issues. Not everything is about appearances. And likewise, they could not have won the election merely by talking about the economy more, and more effectively. The war was foremost on people’s minds and no amount of lying about and distorting the condition of the economy could divert people’s attention from the war sufficiently to deliver them a victory in this election.

But I hope they keep mis-analyzing the election results and focusing on superficial things rather than the things that matter most and things that are grounded in reality. Why can’t they just recognize, as James Carville has, that they are now the minority party? Such a realization, after all, would better comport with their feelings of elitism anyway.

As a cautionary note, I’m certainly not smug about these election results and understand that things can change very rapidly in politics. But for now, the results of this election lead me to conclude that Dems just didn’t have the goods to sell this year. It wasn’t a matter of their ineffective salesmanship, but the quality of the goods they were selling.