After loss to Bush in 2004, Democrat soul searching sounds eerily familiar

Politics,Beltway Confidential,Charlie Spiering

In November 2004, the New York Times published a story about “baffled,” “bewildered,” and “anxious,” Democrats who were stunned that they failed to oust an unpopular incumbent.

It’s an amazing look back as Republicans around the nation are holding similar discussions.

All the ingredients for a soul-searching party are here.

1) Blame the candidate: “Mr. Kerry’s loss has, inevitably, created recriminations about a candidate that many Democrats had always viewed as stiff, and a campaign that was often criticized as slow-moving and unfocused.”

2) Blame the campaign: “Democrats said that Mr. Kerry had failed to provide a compelling message, coasting on the belief that Mr. Bush would defeat himself, and that the campaign had been slow to respond to attacks on his war record by Vietnam veterans.”

3) Warn about dangerous ideology: “Some Democrats, especially centrist ones, expressed concern that liberals would draw a mistaken lesson from the loss: that the Democratic Party needed to swing back to the left to energize Democratic base voters to counter the upsurge of conservative base voters on the right.

4) Remind people it was close: “Some party leaders cautioned against glumness, noting that Mr. Kerry had come within three percentage points of defeating Mr. Bush, a wartime president.”

5) Doom and gloom: “But other Democrats argued that the party had as strong a chance for victory as it could have hoped for, and argued that the loss presaged a period of Republican domination.”

6) Worry about social/cultural issues: “I think that we ignored in large measure the three big cultural issues of this election: guns, abortion and gay rights, epitomized by gay marriage,” said Harold M. Ickes, a former senior adviser to Bill Clinton ”These are very, very big issues. They really, really motivate people.””

Of course the nation has changed significantly since 2004, but Democrats easily found their way back into power to retake the House and Senate in 2006, and the presidency in 2008.

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