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Jewish World Review Dec. 12, 2002 / 7 Teves, 5763

Bill Schneider

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The emerging 'tough Democrat'? | ``When people feel insecure, they'd rather have someone strong and wrong than weak and right.'' Thus did former President Bill Clinton sum up last month's midterm election.

Clinton believes Democrats made a big mistake by assuming they could take the national security issue off the table -- by saying, in essence, ``O.K., Mr. President, you can have your way on national security. Now let's talk about the economy.'' Democrats were ``missing in action on national security,'' the former President said. They needed a ``positive agenda'' that included the credible use of force. Otherwise, Democrats sound like wimps. And they lose.

Clinton urged Democrats to stand up to Bush on the tax cut as well. He called it ``too little stimulus in the short run, too little responsibility in the long run.'' Isn't that something Democrats should have been talking about before the election? Sure. But they were afraid to. A lot of them were running in Bush states, and they didn't want to be called ``tax lovers.'' Why didn't Clinton say all this to Democrats a month before the election instead of a month after? Because nobody asked him. Democrats were afraid to be seen listening to Bill Clinton.

The wimp strategy failed. Now what? ``We don't have to be more liberal,'' Clinton said. ``But we do have to be more relevant in a progressive way.''

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) was not exactly critical of President Bush in her successful run-off campaign. She couldn't afford to be: Bush has a 73 percent approval rating in Louisiana, and Landrieu has supported him on 85 percent of key votes this year, according to Congressional Quarterly. But she did shift gears. In the Nov. 5 primary campaign, she emphasized her support for President Bush. In the Dec. 7 run-off, she emphasized her independence.

Mocking her Republican opponent as a ``rubber stamp'' for President Bush, Landrieu promised to ``support the President when he is right for Louisiana'' and oppose him when he is ``wrong for the state.'' Example: she denounced what she called a ``secret deal'' by the White House, reported in a Mexican newspaper, to double sugar imports from Mexico and threaten Lousiana's sugar farmers.

It worked. Landrieu energized Democratic voters, particularly African-Americans who had never been enthusiastic supporters.

Turnout was only slightly lower in the Dec. 7 run-off than in the Nov. 5 primary, and Landrieu improved her primary performance markedly in heavily black New Orleans.

Despite efforts by Republicans to tar Landrieu as a liberal -- ``Mary Landrieu is so liberal, she might be closer to Hillary than I am,'' a Clinton impersonator said in one recorded telephone pitch to voters -- she didn't win on ideology. She won on independence.

There's a lesson for Democrats in 2004: they have to offer a tough, credible alternative to President Bush. Particularly on national security. That's why 2004 could be Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry's year. He claims credibility on national security, going all the way back to the Vietnam war.

Unlike most other candidates of his generation, John Kerry served, honorably and heroically, in combat. In fact, he has rare credibility on bothsides of the most divisive issue of his generation: Kerry was a decorated combat veteran and antiwar activist. Kerry has been a leading Democratic spokesman on Vietnam, Central America, the Balkans and the Middle East. He has challenged President Bush, not just on Iraq, but even on Afghanistan.

What about Kerry's vote against the Gulf War in 1991? That won't hurt him with Democrats. Most Democrats voted against the war. And he's been tough on Iraq in the 12 years since.

Remember the seven debates between Kerry and Republican Gov. Bill Weld in the 1996 Massachusetts Senate campaign? Kerry showed himself to be deeply knowledgeable and quick-witted -- qualities for which Bush is not well-known.

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12/06/02: Hispanic voting surprises
11/08/02: "President select" no longer: What have the Dems learned?
10/31/02: Can a party without a message or a messenger still win?
10/24/02: Fright Night may come twice this year!
09/24/02: The politically loaded question: "Why now?''
09/19/02: Pundits in the crosswinds
09/10/02: Has Bush lost his momentum?
09/04/02: Bush's European problem
08/13/02: Overdosing on prescription drug promises
08/06/02: The Dems' secret weapon
08/01/02: Time for prez to let Cheney go
07/30/02: GOPers, feeling scared, get realistic
07/18/02: Soccer Moms, say hello to NASCAR Dads
07/11/02: Israel via Alabama
06/20/02: Does the solution fit the problem?
06/13/02: Triggering unintended consequences
06/11/02: Democracy won, the president is saying to our enemies. You got a problem with that?
06/06/02: White House warnings were effective tactical move
05/23/02: Giving the Dems an education on education
05/16/02: Power to the swing voters
04/23/02: The secret formula
04/09/02: Politics Remain Stalemated
03/31/02: Values and gas mileage?
03/25/02: Truly oppressed minorities
03/14/02: Reciprocal hostility
03/07/02: Bush's prudence
02/28/02: Is the 'clash of civilizations' becoming a political reality?
02/28/02: 'Cowboy' or not, Bush has the 'axis of evil' running scared
02/20/02: Could it be that the era of Big Government really is over?
01/31/02: 'Daddy issues' grab center stage
01/15/02: And, they're off
01/09/02: Three 'War Stars' are born
01/04/02: California cluelessness?
12/17/01: Congress' life or death issue
11/27/01: Our reinvigorated spendthrift Congress
11/27/01: Out of War, Peace?
11/14/01: The other war --- the one for public opinion
11/09/01: The mayor of New Yawk and the King of the World
11/07/01: An insurance policy on America
11/02/01: A nation of defiant optimists
10/30/01: Has Bush has flip-flopped on 'nation-building'?
10/23/01: The new political world
10/16/01: The return of big government
10/08/01: On political war
10/01/01: The "born-again" president
09/25/01: Making America squirm
09/14/01: The American spirit will not wane
09/10/01: What Dubya knows about the budget
08/13/01: Japan becomes the latest country to see its politics become personalized
08/09/01: Bush backers out to remake prez yet again
07/30/01: Will the GOP's mandate of 1994 finally runs out?
07/23/01: Both political parties are full of ....
07/16/01: Empowered moderate Republicans
07/09/01: As goes New Jersey, so goes the nation?
07/02/01: Dubya: Like father, like son?
06/15/01: The new soccer moms
06/05/01: Deals or deadlock?
05/29/01: The War Between the States is heating up again
05/21/01: The answer is men
05/10/01: Bush v. Carter?


© 2002, William Schneider