Democrats need to run on optimism
by Edward Cone
News & Record
Whatever else may go wrong between now and Election Day, George W. Bush will always have the months after 9/11 to his credit, and that is going to make him very tough for anyone to beat in November.
The emotional bond Bush established with Americans in the fall of 2001 is unlike any relationship between president and populace since the days of FDR. Bush earned the gratitude and trust of millions of people by leading the country through the profound, shared experience of disaster, reaction, and recovery. While those assets have, in the eyes of many, been diminished by his subsequent actions, and although the economy and domestic issues will influence voters, Bush retains this unique political asset.
It’s worth noting that Howard Dean has also ridden an emotional tide to become a leading Democratic contender as we head into tomorrow’s
The Democrats running for the White House do have plenty to talk about. In the current issue of The Atlantic magazine, for example, James Fallows calls the post-war administration of
Yet Democrats need to be careful in the way they address these issues. They must be respectful as well as opportunistic. To the degree that Bush is able to turn discussion of any topic back to the war on terrorism – back to the moment when, however briefly, he had greatness thrust upon him – he will be tough to criticize. A lot of people won’t want to hear it.
That’s why criticism of the invasion of
The emotion the Democrats need to stimulate is hope. Americans have had a very difficult few years, and we’re ready for some optimism. And Bush is vulnerable on a lot of the issues that voters care about, from the economy to the environment to the rebuilding of
Is there a Democrat in the field who can carry that affirmative banner? The anger quotient of Dean’s message has been exaggerated by his rivals, Republicans, and the lazy media, but at this point people do know more about what he opposes than what he supports. Wesley Clark has the national security resume of a contender, but has yet to make much of a personal impression, at least outside a few primary states.
In terms of style, John Edwards presents the most optimistic and hopeful image, and he’s done a good job of putting out forward-looking ideas out on education and other core issues. Edwards seems to be picking up momentum in
Whoever the Democratic nominee is, the goodwill won by George Bush between his address to Congress in September 2001 and his Axis-of-Evil speech in January 2002 will be difficult to match. Understanding that obstacle to unseating Bush is the first step toward overcoming it.
Edward Cone (www.edcone.com, firstname.lastname@example.org) writes a column for the News & Record most Sundays.