The volunteers working on Clinton’s first campaign for Arkansas Attorney General were largely women, drawn by the issues and by the candidate’s sheer personal appeal. ‘Former campus politicians, joiners, and gadflies,’ as one account called them, they had an idealism Clinton readily tapped into. ‘These are the kind of people,’ Michael Glaspeny wrote for Fayetteville’s alternative paper, the Grapevine, ‘who stand in the rain at high school football games to distribute campaign leaflets.’ But after spending time with the staff as well as the candidate, Glaspeny also saw something less innocent in the slavishness that a Clinton candidacy seemed to produce, if not require. ‘The workers are influenced by the Dexedrine-like effects of campaigning white-line fever,’ he wrote in September of 1974, ‘an inversion that naturally seizes the members of a cult. The volunteers are extremely reluctant to talk about themselves. They constantly mutter the aspirant’s name in hushed tones: “Bill thinks,” “Bill feels,” “Bill does” I feel as if I am either in a confession box or am party to the recitation of a first-grade primer: There is a monotonous circularity to all the conversation’.
Roger Morris, “Partners in Power“
These Clinton Democrats, along with their even more slavish political descendants, compose the hollow core of the 21st Century Democratic party which lost to George W. Bush, a candidate with more negatives than any Republican in history.
Thousands of them were in the audience in New Mexico on Halloween when Bill Clinton was out of his hospital bed and back at it again, mesmerizing the large, predominantly female audience in Albuquerque’s Hispanic Cultural Center that looked like it just returned from a peace vigil with classic Clinton crapola.
Linda Ronstadt, neo-Michael-Moore-Democrat, opened the rally with a Mexican ballad and her pop hit “Desperado.” (Bad, pre-recorded gringo 70s-era soft-rock is a constant accompaniment of Demo-boogie-rallies.)
Clinton then told the crowd of New Mexico peaceniks to find two undecided voters each and explain John Kerry’s plan for increased national security to them: “John Kerry has a plan to increase the troop size by 40,000,” Clinton oozed. “He’ll double the size of Special Forces and wants to spend more money on homeland security.” Clinton also emphasized that Kerry had been endorsed by numerous top military officials. Then Clinton walked into the cheering, adoring crowd, shaking hands, posing for snapshots with kids, and generally reminding people of his “good years.”
Until Halloween, Kerry had seemed to be gaining ground on Bush in increments – that is, until Clinton arose to put his puss on the national stage yet again. A poster boy for slime, sleaze, and moral turpitude, Clinton might as well have waved a red thong in the face of America’s “moral values” crowd, many of whom also have some progressive values, but who can’t stand what Clinton represents. Clinton insisted on campaigning for Gore late in the 2000 campaign, helping Gore snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, too.
The question has to be asked: Why were the New Mexico Democrats cheering Clinton’s militaristic speech so wildly? Do they care what he says? Are they listening? Glaspeny’s explanation sounds about right.
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During the primaries Kerry wasn’t quite so militaristic. (Or was he?) Here’s an exchange between Kerry and Dennis Kucinich who had asked Kerry about the possibility of a draft in Des Moines on December 16, 2003:
Kerry: No, I’m not going to have a draft. Yes, I will get us out of Iraq.
Kerry: None of those troops are going to Iraq that I’ve talked about, that 40,000. That is a reflection of the fact that our military is extraordinarily overextended. Our Guards and Reserves have been turned into almost active duty. When we bring the rotation of these four divisions back, over the course of the spring, we’ll only have two divisions actively prepared to do what we need to do in our country.
Kucinich : How are we going to get another 40,000 troops, John?
Kerry: Dennis, I laid out – I think I was the first United States senator to stand up and lay out a very specific plan for how you approach the rest of the world and bring them to the table with respect to Iraq. And the way – you can’t just cut and run, Dennis.
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Kerry later gave a speech to his supporters in Des Moines:
“As we internationalize the work in Iraq, we need to add 40,000 troops – the equivalent of two divisions – to the American military in order to meet our responsibilities elsewhere – especially in the urgent global war on terror. In my first 100 days as President, I will move to increase the size of our Armed Forces. Some may not like that. But today, in the face of grave challenges, our armed forces are spread too thin. Our troops in Iraq are paying the price for this every day. There’s not enough troops in the ranks of our overall armed forces to bring home those troops that have been in Iraq for more than a year.
“President Bush’s policies have overextended our military – and turned reserves into full-time soldiers. George Bush and Don Rumsfeld say we have enough troops. I think they’re putting politics and pride ahead of what is right for our soldiers, our reserves, and our security.”
The Kerry Campaign website in January, 2004: “Having called previously for an increase in US armed forces at a time when they are deployed in several global hot spots, Kerry put a number on his proposal yesterday – an additional 40,000 troops, the equivalent of two divisions — to the 480,000 total active-duty Army. He said he did not “want to do it as a permanent step,” nor would the expansion involve any increase in US troops in Iraq.”
* * *
Then in Los Angeles on February 26, 2004 Kucinich asked Kerry: “You said you want to send 40,000 more troops to Iraq.”
Kerry replied, “I have never said that.”
Kucinich: “You never said you wanted to bring 40,000 more troops, ever?”
* * *
Back to the Kerry website:
“John Kerry will work to expand participation and share responsibility with other countries in the military operations in Iraq. Kerry will also increase the size of the U.S. Army in order to meet the needs of a new century and the new global war on terror. The Bush Administration is overstretching the American military, and in particular the U.S. Army. There is a critical shortage of combat troops facing the country. General Keane, then acting Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, said in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last summer that the Army is undermanned by about 40,000 personnel. This shortage is placing an unfair burden on soldiers and their families and is undermining our efforts around the world.
“Kerry is calling to add 40,000 troops to the active-duty Army. The United States should add the equivalent of a current division, about 20,000 combat troops, to the active duty Army. Under Kerry’s plan the United States should also add an additional 20,000 individuals to the active force with specialties in post-conflict skills, such as civil affairs and the military police in order to relieve the excessive burden on our reservists. Relieve Pressure on Service Members. The buildup, which will require time to implement, will relieve the mismatch between active and reserve capabilities and also allow us to thank returning reservists when they rotate out of Iraq in 3 to 9 months-not just with our gratitude but with a reasonable assurance that they will not have to again deploy to Iraq in the immediate future.
Kerry later justified his position by saying that the 40,000 additional troops eventually could help relieve the burden on current active-duty, reserve and National Guard forces.
Kerry also said he would reshape U.S. forces by expanding the kinds of units required in post-conflict environments such as that in Iraq, saying he would add civil affairs, military police, combat support and psychological operations units.
Kerry said current forces — and their families — are so exhausted and burdened that “we are in danger of creating another hollow Army,” a reference to the reduction in capability and morale that followed the Vietnam War.
Kerry also said he intended to speed the development and use of advanced technology, from communications gear to precision weapons.
A Kerry adviser estimated that the expanded force levels would cost $5 billion to $8 billion a year, but said Kerry intends to make his military increases “budget neutral.” Kerry singled out missile defense, a priority of the Bush administration, as a major target for cuts. “We must build missile defense,” Kerry said, “but not at the cost of other pressing priorities.”
* * *
Ok, you tell me: what was Kerry’s position on the seemingly endless war in Iraq? Clinton simplified all this liberal mush into “Kerry will increase the troop size” and “increase homeland security.”
Kerry also promised to cut the deficit in half in four years – the same empty promise Bush made.
So if Kerry was going to cut the deficit in half but leave the bloated military at “budget neutral” and taxes – at best – would be slightly higher if Kerry could get the Republican Congress to repeal some of the taxes on the rich (yeah, right), where were the cuts going to be made? You guessed it: Same as Bush. Social Security, Medicare and other people-oriented spending.
There certainly were “moral issues” that increased Bush’s vote total, and there may have been some minority voter suppression and voting machine tampering in Florida and Ohio (which doesn’t matter now that Kerry has prematurely conceded and which the campaign itself never even bothered to mention – echoes of Gore),
* * *
The question isn’t, What’s the difference between Kerry and Bush? The question many Democrats never asked themselves was, What’s the difference between Kerry and Joe Lieberman?
Lieberman, you might recall, was the “Democrat” who many hard-core Democrats said they’d never support because he was too much like a Republican. Kerry’s positions on most issues were about as Liebermanesque as they could get. But, again, the Clinton Democrats were cheering, not listening.
It’s hard to fault the red state voters for thinking that if they want a candidate who supports the war, who calls for more military spending, and deficit reduction, and who thought the Iraq occupation should be more effectively pursued, they might as well vote for the candidate who also opposes gay marriage, gun control and abortion.
According to pollster Peter Hart, the two most important positions that would sway swing voters in swing states were serious restrictions on the outsourcing of jobs (not just tax loophole tweaking) and a staged withdrawal from Iraq. Kerry’s people had to have been aware of these key factors – but did nothing. (Among his many Republican positions, Kerry is also a big free trader.)
The Clinton Democrats who Roger Morris and Michael Glaspeny were describing — grayer but certainly not wiser in 2004 — made no demands on Kerry on either of these key, simple areas, preferring instead to denounce Ralph Nader – who actually made these demands.
Democrats can blame Ralph Nader, moral-issue-Republicans, Karl Rove, black box voting and unpunched Ohio punch cards all they want. Certainly these were factors. But until the Democrats abandon their slavish devotion to candidates who are vacillating funhouse mirror reflections of Republicans, they’re likely to keep losing, and risk irrelevancy.