Dual/Duel

The two party system really is an amazing thing. Elected officials have hundreds of different issues to cover during the course of a term, and if consideration of an issue simply cannot fit into their schedule: vote the party line. It sounds pessimistic but we all know this is the way it works – having two parties gives voters the necessary amount of choice without overwhelming the legislature. Can you imagine if there were several major parties, each with a similar amount of power? Every single bill would be filibustered or amended to death. Nothing would ever get done.

At the same time, the two party system is an awfully frightening thing. What if one party drops the ball? I think that’s what we have in America today: the Democratic Party has dropped the ball. I really think it started after their loss in the 2000 Presidential race. I don’t know the big players very well, but was Gore the best they could do in 2000? It seems like a stretch to me, but I guess I can understand; sure the guy was weird and unlikable, but he had been Vice President for 8 years. At any rate, November came, the weirdness trumped the experience, and Al lost.

Now, I would argue that I’ve made only one questionable statement thus far – namely, that the Democrats have dropped the ball. This one I’ll try and justify over the next few paragraphs. A serious part of the problem is that many Democrats would point out a second questionable statement I’ve made: “Al lost.” This is where the breakdown begins. Whether or not Al Gore was the best man the Democrats had to run for President, their reaction to his loss was devastating – not because it was harsh, but because it has lingered in the party for so long. The evidence? John Kerry.

Why, unless they thought Bush was a complete idiot who could not possibly be re-elected, would the Democratic Party run such a straw man? When it comes down to it, there are three issues Americans vote on:

1) The economy. People want money, and they think the President holds all the strings to the stock market and the keys to the vaults.
2) Integrity. Hard-line partisans will vote for their party regardless, but everyone in between wants a candidate they feel they can trust.
3) Iraq. No one wants to send our troops across the ocean to die, but no one wants to live in fear at home.

With Bush’s first term winding down, all of these issues were up for grabs. The economy (1) seemed to be turning around, but not as quickly as anyone would like. The Texas National Guard questions or Haliburton issues (2) could easily be refreshed in voter’s minds. And Iraq (3)… wow. The current situation in the Middle East is probably the most difficult situation any leader has ever faced. How do you address a situation where entire civilizations want you dead, in a time where technology could easily make that wish possible? Certainly, a Democrat could have adopted a convincing anti-war stance.

But now, with October on the horizon, two of the three major issues have effectively been ceded. Can anyone present an argument as to how Kerry might salvage issues (2) and (3)? I certainly cannot. Kerry will and should continue to attack the economy. If he presents something that resembles a plan – it doesn’t have to be fancy, so long as it sounds mildly logical – he can win voters on (1). Integrity, on the other hand, is not Kerry’s strong suit. Why in the world did he spend the summer campaigning on his 4 months in Vietnam? WHY? Kerry’s most notable achievement is his 1971 testimony accusing the American troops of war crimes. Making the generalization that American troops committed atrocities and then basing a Presidential campaign on having been one of those troops is maybe the worst idea I’ve ever heard. Regardless of what Bush/Cheney mistakes and indiscretions the Democrats bring out in the next month, the best they can hope for is a tie on (2).

Finally, Iraq. Regardless of whether Saddam was convincingly connected to al Qaeda, regardless of whether the benefits prove worth the cost, Kerry has no position on Iraq. How can he defend his latest stance when it directly contradicts numerous statements he has made over the last several years? Kerry cannot argue with Bush about Iraq without also arguing with himself. This is linked tightly with the integrity issue; whether you are a hawk or a pacifist or somewhere in the middle, Kerry has shifted around far too much to be trustworthy. No matter how many people hate Bush, and no matter how many people will reflexively vote Democrat, I think Bush will win in November because of Kerry’s horrible inability to win votes on issues (2) and (3).

Recent polls have Democrats angrier still. Why is Kerry behind? Kerry should not be behind! Bush is a liar and a moron and Kerry has much better hair! But if their prescription for Gore failure is to throw in a waaaay left washed up hippie, the Democrats have problems bigger than two consecutive Presidential defeats. Where are the reasonable moderates to straighten these guys out? As much fun as it is laughing about the ridiculousness of Kerry, Edwards, McAuliffe & Co., and as much as I like having a Republican majority in D.C., in the long run nobody benefits from an ineffective Democratic Party.

See, having two and only two major parties is a double-edged sword. Things get done in the federal government, and knowing that the Democrats are watching keeps the Republicans sharp (and vice versa). But when the underlying theme of a Presidential campaign is “Our Candidate: At Least He’s Not Their Candidate,” we’ve got a problem. When we stray so far from the issues that Americans can hardly hear the name-calling under the layers of spin, we’ve got a problem. Earlier in the year, Kerry was proud to be traveling on a platform of issues and values… unfortunately, Kerry appears to lack a human grasp of either.

As much as I want Bush to win, I want to see a competition. I want debates where there are actual thoughts and ideas involved, not arguments over who said X on Tuesday and then insinuated Y on Thursday. I don’t want the major issue in the fall to be one candidate’s flimsiness on the issues. With two parties, there should be intelligent discussion of topics. With two parties, there should be pressure for honesty and excellence coming from the other side. I hope there are sane, respectable Democrats waiting to step into power when the current batch burns out, because a single-party country is not a place I’d like to inhabit. I am proud to be a Republican, but Republican politicians make mistakes and there are some of them who downright scare me. Please DNC, find someone better than Hillary for 2008…

Inspiration for this entry partly from “Profiles In Self-Destruction,” a far better article by Evan Maloney that makes a similar point.

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