Given President Bush's approval of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump and my continuing doubts about his Iraq and economic policies, I'm still looking for a Democratic presidential candidate I can vote for next year. But I haven't found one yet because the Democrats are giving us a lesson in how to lose national elections.
There's a reason why more than half of our fellow Americans can't identify even one of the nine Democratic presidential wannabes. The candidates simply aren't connecting with the voters as they continue to emphasize issues like gay marriage and abortion on demand, which are turnoffs for many, if not most, of us. And while we know that several of the president's potential rivals are against the Iraq War and Bush's tax cuts, we don't know what they're for. As I wrote several months ago, any Democrat who is perceived to be weak on defense and national security cannot win the presidency - and that describes most of the current candidates, including front-runner Howard Dean.
We know that former Vermont Gov. Dean is angry, that he's against the war in Iraq and that he's raised a lot of money over the Internet. At this point, he reminds me of George McGovern, who led the Democrats over the electoral cliff nearly 40 years ago.
According to my friend and fellow Appeal columnist, Abby Johnson, "Disagreements among the Democrats should be overshadowed by their shared objective: To deny George W. Bush a second term." Fair enough, but they're going about it the wrong way. She and I agree that pundit emeritus Walter Cronkite had it right when he wrote that "a contested (Democratic) primary ... threatens to eliminate them all" as they quibble among themselves over issues that most voters don't care about. If you've seen any of the Democratic debates, you know exactly what I'm talking about.
As long as Al Sharpton, Dennis Kucinich (who?) and Carol MoseleyÐBraun remain in the race for the Democratic nomination, how can we take any of them seriously? Sharpton is a convicted liar, Ms. Braun cozied-up to African dictators when she was in the Senate and Kucinich is terminally weird. Sharpton wants us to vote for him because he's black, Ms. Braun wants us to vote for her because she's a woman and Kucinich seeks our votes as part of a clever plan to move the nation's capital to Mars (Well, not really, but you get the idea).
Meanwhile, the "serious" contenders - Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, former House Speaker Dick Gephardt and retired Gen. Wesley Clark - continue to take potshots at Gov. Dean, who shrugs off the attacks as "politics as usual." Dean's main problem, as the Washington Post noted recently, is his prickly personality. "Dean ... has a tendency to pop off in ways that he regrets, as well as a hard time backing down in the face of criticism - troubling attributes in a presidential candidate or a president," the Post opined an an editorial. "He gets testy over the words of others, but can be loose with his own." That's not what I'd call a ringing endorsement.
Dean's most recent verbal faux pas was when he said Democrats should go after Southern white males with Confederate flag decals on their pickup trucks. If that's his view of the new and enlightened South, I'd hate to know what he thinks about Nevada and the Mountain West. He probably sees us as a bunch of high-rolling rednecks who worship showgirls and monster truck rallies.
Sen. Kerry reminds me of poor old Al Gore, who never figured out who he was or what he stood for; Sen. Edwards, a trial lawyer, is just another pretty face; Gephardt is the Poster Boy for veteran Washington politicians, and Gen. Clark is the Clintons' hand-picked candidate, which is all we need to know about him. That leaves Sen. Lieberman, who was Gore's running mate in 2000. A conservative Democrat, he backs the Iraq War and wants to talk about fiscal responsibility and smaller government while his rivals pander to the special interest groups that represent the party's core constituency: vocal minorities, schoolteachers, labor unions and trial lawyers. And while these groups still control the Democratic primaries, they no longer represent a majority of U.S. voters.
Although Sen. Kerry and Gen. Clark are genuine war heroes, their party just doesn't seem to get it when it comes to the military. As Benjamin WallaceÐWells observed in The Washington Monthly, a magazine for moderate Democrats, "The military as a whole votes Republican by a margin of slightly less than 2-1 ... (with) Republicans outnumbering Democrats among officers by 8-1." Until Democrats understand that "voters look to the military as a sort of weathervane, an institution whose values civilians trust and want politicians to support," he wrote, Republicans will continue to prevail among pro-military voters in America's heartland, including Nevada.
But Democratic front-runner Dean still sounds like an angry 1960s peacenik, and that's bad news for him and his party. As rival candidate John Edwards told the Washington Post, "You can get Democratic activists on their feet ... by bashing George Bush, but remember (that) people are looking for a president. They're not looking for someone who can just beat up George Bush. They're looking for someone who can inspire them and lead them."
And, added respected Post political columnist David Broder, "If Dean has a strategy for the South (and the Mountain West), he has yet to disclose it." That's the Democrats' challenge for 2004 - to reach beyond their core constituencies in an appeal to the independent voters (about 20 percent of the electorate) who will decide the next presidential election. In other words, my vote is up for grabs. How about yours?
Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.