Jewish World Review Dec. 12, 2002 / 7 Teves, 5763
The emerging 'tough Democrat'?
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | ``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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