by user DNL
- [A]ll we had was hope and a vision for a better America [. . .] to put America back to work and to make sure there's a great engine of job growth. Our fight goes on to make affordable health care a right for all Americans, not a privilege. Our fight goes on to protect the environment, to achieve the equality, to push the frontiers of science and discovery and to restore America's reputation in the world." -- John Kerry
Those words come from Senator Kerry's final speech from the 2004 election. They are, by and large, the only substantive sentences he uttered that day -- as he conceded the election to George W. Bush. Reading the above, one would think that the War in Iraq was, at best, a secondary issue in the 2004 Presidential Election. But those of us who lived and breathed the campaign know better.
Coming into the 2004 Iowa Caucuses, the Democratic challenger to George W. Bush was presumptively Howard Dean, a fiery anti-war crusader who learned the power of the Internet. His challengers included a former Republican/political outsider in General Wesley Clark; a pro-war "moderate" in Joe Lieberman, a charismatic (read: heart-throb) young trial lawyer cum Senator in John Edwards; and the liberal establishment, career politicians in both John Kerry and Dick Gephardt. Dean and Clark lead the way on the issues, trumpeting their anti-war stance, while the others seemed to fall to the wayside with more "press-the-flesh", door-to-door campaigning. In the end, it was John Kerry who took Iowa, and soon after, the nomination. The stated reason?
Unlike Dean, Clark, and even Edwards, Kerry had the stature, demeanor, and resume to beat Bush. He had "electability," or so the experts said. Unfortunately for Kerry and his devotees, the die had been cast -- Iraq was the issue, and Kerry's resume was not ideologically pure enough to allow him to focus on his strengths.
Here we are, three years later -- and Democrats are making the same mistakes. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have emerged as the Democratic favorites. John Edwards lags slightly behind, and a number of others fill out the Dem dance card. Who wins the Democratic nomination remains to be seen, but as a casual observer of the careers and campaigns thus far of the Dems "Big 3", I'm struck by how easily I can see each of them losing to a McCain, a Giuliani, or even a Brownback. In terms of "electability," these three don't have it. All three are relatively inexperienced. Clinton's reputation as a compulsive liar -- even if the reputation is undeserved -- will further exacerbate her downfall when met with the GOP Machine. Obama and Edwards' charisma and pop appeal can only take them so far. And to make matters worse, once again, the overwhelming issue is Iraq.
Iraq is a loser for the Democrats. While they can effectively point fingers at the Bush regime, it's difficult at best to come up with an solution -- especially one that doesn't blame the soldiers, or doesn't harm their short- and long-term effectiveness. The Democratic message needs to be broader. It needs to echo the sentiments espoused by Kerry in his concession speech.
That is, the Democratic nominee needs to run the campaign John Kerry should have run -- the one he said he hoped to have run when he capitulated.
Which is why the Democrats need to cut loose the Hillary/Obama fiasco, and now. Neither have the resume to effectively push on issues other than Iraq. Neither have the "electability" needed. Edwards, to his credit, is beginning to understand this -- he recently introduced a plan for universal health care, echoing Kerry's call to "make affordable health care a right for all Americans". But he, too, has baggage, having served in the Senate during the war authorization vote, and having campaigned vociferously against the war in 2004.
With Al Gore not yet, if ever, in the race, the Democrats should turn to Bill Richardson. He has the resume one needs to win the general election -- Governor, Cabinet Member, UN Ambassador, and as much Congressional experience (15 years) as Clinton, Edwards, and Obama thus far combined. He comes to the issue of Iraq without the baggage of a Congressional voting record. He comes to other issues -- immigration, health care, etc. -- as a person with real executive-branch experience, albeit on a smaller scale than that of President. And he's shown himself to be a fiscally responsible governor -- better than GOP candidates such as Romney and Mike Huckabee.
Unfortunately, all of these assets will be derailed if the Democratic Party does not wake up from it's political celeb-worship gawk. Richardson's "star power" is unduly less than that of Clinton, Obama, and yes, Edwards, but he's the most likely of the quartet to beat whomever turns out to be the GOP nominee. Further, pigeon-holing the nominee -- Richardson or otherwise -- into an all-Iraq campaign is a losing proposition. As Richardson himself observed, "[t]here are no quick or easy answers to the crisis in Iraq. Our choices are between bad options and worse ones." And voters do not want to vote for a candidate whose best answer is a "bad" one.