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So If We Agree on All This, How Did We Wind Up with Bush?

The Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) released a fascinting document last week, "Opportunities for Bipartisan Consensus: What Both Republicans and Democrats Want in US Foreign Policy". They present a series of positions, based on their own late December poll, plus a number of other polls conducted in 2004, that are

....consensus positions. In nearly all cases, they are supported by a clear majority of both Republicans and Democrats. In a small number of cases, one or the other party was divided, but in no case was the majority of one party clearly opposed. For many of these positions, leaders were polled as well, and there was also bipartisan consensus among them. In a very small number of cases the positions below were not endorsed by a majority of leaders in both parties but were included if there was a clear public consensus and the overall position among the leaders was supportive.....

The consensus positions were as follows:

Do not pursue a general policy that emphasizes disengagement nor US dominance, but rather multilateral cooperation
Make preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and combating international terrorism the top priorities in US foreign policy

Strengthen the UN
Take part in UN peacekeeping
Comply with adverse WTO decisions
Participate in the International Criminal Court
Give the WHO the power to intervene

Do not make further increases in the number of US military bases
Do not make further increases in defense spending
Do not develop new types of nuclear weapons
Continue research on missile defense but do not deploy until proven effective
Ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
Participate in the Land Mines Treaty

Only go to war with a government that is developing weapons of mass destruction or supporting terrorists if there is an imminent threat to the US, or the UN Security Council approves
Use US military force to deal with a humanitarian crisis, especially to stop genocide
Do not use US military force to replace dictators with democratic governments
Do not use nuclear weapons except in response to a nuclear attack

In the effort to fight terrorism, strengthen international law through multilateral institutions, use military force, promote economic development of poor countries and be even-handed in the Israel-Palestinian conflict
Do not use torture to gain information Do not use torture to gain information....

Limit greenhouse gasses through legislation, including the McCain Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act, even if this would incur significant costs
Require car manufacturers to meet higher fuel efficiency standards, even if this would increase the cost of buying or leasing a car, and give tax credits for more energy efficient cars and appliances
Participate in the Kyoto Treaty
Try to get developing countries to limit greenhouse gas emissions, but do not expect them to actually reduce

Work toward lowering trade barriers while also pursuing more trade adjustment assistance to help American worker to adapt
Include requirements for minimum labor and environmental standards in trade agreements
Pursue a Free Trade Area of the Americas
Do not provide subsidies for large farming businesses, but do provide them for small farmers.

Great! All that's missing here is a Democratic president that actually believes in some of this stuff. 'Til that blessed time, we're stuck with a president who believes his "accountability moment" on November 2, 2004 means he's now entitled to completely ignore public opinion for the next four years.


so, at the end of the day, an identifiable majority claims to believe in a number of positions that are essentially those of john kerry. Yet a few percentage points less than that number actually voted for john kerry.

this is a different problem than the how did bush assemble his majority question (were they homophobes? moral values voters? rapidly growing exurbs? etc.). This is the question of why, specifically, didn't voters support Kerry: his own shortcomings? the Swifty Liars? incoherent work by the national media obscuring Kerry's real positions? sucessful attack ads? residual distrust of the Dems on national security regardless of specific agreement with the Dems on national security particulars? other?

I concur with Howard's observations.

Any candidate, including Kerry, could in retrospect have improved the formulation and delivery of their message.

In my undoubtedly unrepresentative experiences, I talk to some Bush voters, who, in their views on the issues, seem to lean Dem more than Rep, although they often either don't seem to know that or are only dimly aware of that.

I sometimes ask them why they don't vote for Democrats. Common responses I get reflect an overall reflexive and seemingly somewhat ingrained lack of attraction to the Democratic party in general, and also to particular presidential candidates such as Gore and Kerry where they seem to my mind to have accepted far too much of the Republican smear job at face value. I'm talking about college graduates.

One of these voters, who voted for Bush, is one of those struggling small business owner who are heavily impacted by health insurance costs. Since the election, she has actually expressed her interest in a single payer approach to our health insurance woes. Go figure. Part of me is tempted to throw up my hands and say this voter is not D, R, or I, just confused. But these are folks we have to win over. They are gettable votes if we (and I don't just mean the candidates but their supporters, folks like us) can fight back twice as hard and well when the other side trashes and smears our party and our candidates, and keep working at improving how we are defining what we are about in ways more appealing to ordinary folks.

To take another example, my brother-in-law voted for Clinton twice (albeit reluctantly the second time) and W twice. Go figure that. When I ask him what he likes about W he says you know where he stands and he likes the image of the US Bush projects internationally! Amazing! So in other words, I pointed out to him, he values rock solid, crystal clear convictions in his presidential candidates but either has wobbly ones himself or has shifted way to the right in his views in recent years. I still think he's another gettable vote. And he says he is. He's not dumb. He just listens to too much Fox and other right wing talking head drivelfests. It's polluted his brain. He's drawn to boldness and personal intangibles in his voting behaviors and as such can be won back with the right candidate.

Perhaps the reason for this seeming contradiction is, presidential elections are not jump-balls based on philosophical decisions, but, rather, pragmatic calls, up or down, on the incumbent's performance. Alan Lichtman's Keys to the Presidency system argues this with, I think, some success. There were many chinks in Bush's armor -- as there were in Truman's in '48 -- but certain key successes (keeping his party totally united, manipulating the economy out of recession for the campaign period, gains in the midterm election) gave him just enough leverage to get the electorate to re-hire him.

I don't think this is a situation that can be maintained over time, which is why I dismiss all media contention that Dems are in the wilderness forever. I think, in the long term, the public gets what it wants -- as it did at the end of the 70s, when it was clearly in sympathy with a lot of GOP aims, even while ruled by a Dem president with outsized majorities in both houses of Congress. 1980 changed that situation but quick.

The next few years are likely to see the conflicts exposed by these studies and polls reach full boil. The GOP lack of incumbency already puts the party at a disadvantage vis a vis 2004; a divisive primary fight will exacerbate the problem; and ongoing difficulties with the economy and Iraq make 2008 look -- under Lichtman's system -- like a prime Democratic year.

At which point, people will be seeking Ruy out to ask how he was so prescient in seeing the arrival of a Dem majority invisible to so many others.

The American Prospect is having a contest on who can best describe liberalism in 30 words or less--the elevator pitch.

There are some interesting entries they have posted. Go to www.prospect.org, click on the "Enter Our Contest" link in the left hand column, scroll down a little and click on the link to the selected entries.

Very salient question, howard. While i'm sure a truly thorough answer could fill many books, i'd point out one aspect that to me requires special attention: the demonization of liberals, especially Northeastern liberals, as some kind of elitist bogeyman. Even this image has many facets that we could explore at length -- the class disconnect figuring prominently in such a discussion -- but I think it's useful to explain how the whole doesn't add up to the sum of its parts. In other words, a person who favors most of Kerry's positions over most of Bush's might well vote for Bush if they were convinced that Kerry represented the hated Northeastern liberal establishment.