action, said the political pundit Sir Isaac Newton,
produces an equal and opposite reaction.
year 2003 will be remembered as the time when
Democrats decided to fight back against George
W. Bush after coddling and even embracing him
in 2002. This whiplash will mean some surprising
things for 2004.
hard to think of any other president who has gone
so quickly from being so unifying to being so
divisive. There was hardly a soul this side of
Noam Chomsky who didn't support Bush for some
time after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and
didn't support the war on the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Even Democrats who never conceded that Bush had
legitimately won the 2000 election wanted to give
Bush a chance to lead the country out of crisis.
what went wrong? Unrequited bipartisanship. Implicitly,
the Democrats expected that the new situation
would produce a new Bush, less partisan and less
ideological. For a few months after the attacks,
that was the Bush who showed up to work every
day. He and the Democrats did a lot of business
together, and the country seemed happy.
could not last, because Bush didn't want to be
Dwight D. Eisenhower, a nonpartisan leader who
unified the country without being much help to
his party. Ticket splitting began in a big way
during the 1950s when millions of Democrats went
for Ike but stuck with their party on the rest
of the ballot. Bush wanted to realign the country
and create a Republican majority for bold conservative
policies at home and abroad.
so, even as he was shoveling money out the door
for national defense and new engagements abroad,
Bush went for more tax cuts for the wealthy. He
moved from Afghanistan to Iraq and ridiculed Democrats
who held off on full endorsement of the war against
Saddam Hussein pending strong United Nations support.
In September 2002, shortly before the midterm
elections, Bush mocked such Democrats as saying,
according to Bush: "Oh, by the way, on a matter
of national security, I'm going to wait for somebody
else to act."
just before the elections, Bush went after Democrats
for their stand on the homeland security bill,
turning the very ground on which bipartisanship
had been built into an electoral battlefield.
won in 2002, but Bush lost most Democrats forever.
Conservative critics of "Bush hatred" like to
argue that opposition to the president is a weird
psychological affliction. It is nothing of the
sort. It is a rational response to getting burned.
They are, as a friend once put it, biting the
hand that slapped them in the face.
one understood this sense of betrayal better or
earlier than Howard Dean. Dean's candidacy took
off because many in the Democratic rank and file
were furious that Washington Democrats allowed
themselves to be taken to the cleaners. Many of
Dean's current loyalists had been just as supportive
of Bush after Sept. 11 because they, too, felt
that doing so was patriotic. So Dean also spoke
to their personal sense of grievance.
what's interesting for 2004: The conventional
wisdom, fed by shrewd Republican operatives and
commentators, is that Democrats, so out there
in their antipathy for Bush, will push their party
into an extremist wonderland and lose white men,
security moms and anybody else who does not share
their desire for revenge.
opposite is true. Democrats will not have to spend
inordinate amounts of time or money in this election
year "uniting their base." Opposition to Bush
has already done that.
the 2000 election, Bush had an advantage over
Al Gore because Republican rank-and-filers so
hated Bill Clinton -- and so wanted to win --
that they gave Bush ample room to sound as moderate
as John Breaux or Olympia Snowe. Bush's 2000 Republican
National Convention hid the base behind the appealing
face of inclusiveness and outreach. Gore, in the
meantime, had to claw back the votes of liberals
and lefties who had strayed to Ralph Nader.
time the Democrats will have most of the election
year to appeal to swing voters. Democrats are
so hungry to beat Bush that they will let their
nominee do just about anything, even be pragmatic
why 2004 will be very different from 2003. Democrats
who loved Dean's attacks on Bush this year now
want Dean to prove he can beat him. Dean's opponents
know this, which is why their core case is that
Dean can't win. And watch for the appearance of
the new, pragmatic Howard Dean, the doctor with
an unerring sense of his party's pulse.
Posted: January 3, 2004