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Democrats desperately need to know how to win. Instead we are hearing an endless repetition of incorrect conclusions about the election results. Democratic politicians and pundits either have no clue why they lost or they are unwilling to say that Emperor Kerry and the Democratic party potentates never had any clothes.

The same politicians who looked over the Democratic field and decided that Senator Empty Suit was going to be the savior of the party are now blaming gay marriage for the loss. They have said nothing about electronic voting irregularities in Ohio and Florida that disenfranchised their most loyal voters. They have said nothing about the system of electoral racial separation that condemns black voters to use punch card “hanging chad” machines and provisional ballots that aren’t counted.

During the long night when the outcome was still up in the air John Edwards said that he and his running mate would fight for every vote. Nothing has been heard from them since. Kerry conceded later that day and the foot soldiers are once again left to their own devices to demand that the state of Ohio count all of its votes.

It is all over. The closet door can be opened and we can speak the truth out loud. Kerry ran a terrible campaign. He never gave voters a clear, coherent rationale to cast their ballots for him instead of for Bush. He fled from his party’s base. The result was nail biting and wishful thinking that he could pull off a miracle win.

Kerry himself mused as late as April, “What is our message?” If Kerry didn’t know his own message he should never have run in the first place. Bush had a message. “Stay the course.” The course can be crooked, it can be broken, but if a candidate acts like he knows where he is going, millions will follow.

Here is a good political rule of thumb. You can’t win with a candidate that no one is truly excited about. Depending on hostility toward the other side isn’t good enough. For the second time in four years Democrats were hoping to thread a very narrow needle, praying for good turnout and the good will of dedicated activists who decided to grin and bear being dismissed and ignored for most of the campaign.

It is true that the Republicans skillfully used wedge issues like gay marriage. It is also true that the Democrats are too stupid to defend their own wedge issues and are afraid to mobilize their own base.

Mary Beth Cahill, manager of the Kerry campaign, admitted as much. "Their entire strategy is to enlarge their base. If more evangelical Christians come out, they win.” It boggles the mind, but in typically inept Democratic fashion Ms. Cahill was criticizing the Republicans for using the strategy that put them over the top.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq is the best example of Kerry’s mishandling of an issue that should have sent Bush packing. After months of expressing very serious misgivings about Kerry, Democratic activists made the painful choice to vote for him. In return they heard meaningless slogans like “Wrong war, wrong place, wrong time.” If dyed in the wool Democrats were confused, why would swing voters swing in Kerry’s direction?

Karl Rove knew that Kerry’s support for the war made him an easy mark. In his book Plan of Attack, Bob Woodward wrote:

"Rove believed they had Kerry pretty cold on voting to give the president a green light for war and then backing off when he didn't like the aftermath or saw a political opportunity. Whatever the case, Rove sounded as if he believed they could inoculate the president on the Iraq War in a campaign with Kerry."

Despite his early support for war Kerry had opportunities to do his own inoculating. He only had to remind voters that weapons of mass destruction were never found. He could have said that warnings about mushroom clouds were all a lie. He could have pointed out that the CIA warned against the use of military force but buckled under the pressure of Dick Cheney and Colin Powell twisting arms to get the phony analysis they wanted.

While Bush warned against changing horses in midstream Kerry confused the issue so badly that no on knew what he would do differently in Iraq. As a result, several million voters decided to stay on the same horse, lame though he may have been.

One year ago Howard Dean led the Democrats in fund raising and popularity. He had a simple message for voters. Bush had bankrupted the country, and lied to get the nation into a ruinous war. His message made sense to millions but struck fear in DNC and DLC land. They don’t want Democrats who act like Democrats. They call them unelectable. Useless pundits repeated the mantra. Dean was unelectable.

Then the corporate media selectively edited footage to make him look crazy. The same media who showed the Dean “implosion” in an endless loop were afraid to point out that the President of the United States was obviously wired for electronic audio help during a debate.

Corporate media bias and Democratic party incompetence should be the subject of discussion. Instead we are told that the next nominee should be a bible thumper or a red stater. Better yet, he should be a bible thumping red stater.

In 2008, will the Democratic party have the courage to stand up for basic, common sense rules of campaigning or will they fall for foolishness and get a phony, second rate evangelist as their nominee? Will Democrats keep running from black voters? It is a certainty that Republicans will unapologetically cozy up to the ugliest, most extreme segments of the right wing.

The last time I was optimistic I convinced myself that John Kerry would win. Not only did he realize my worst fears and lose, but no one is willing to talk about why. That is very bad news indeed. It makes it more likely that November 2008 will be a repeat of November 2004.

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in   Ms. Kimberley is a freelance writer living in New York City.  She can be reached via e-Mail at You can read more of Ms. Kimberley's writings at



November 11 2004
Issue 113

is published every Thursday.

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