Note to Dems: Quit underestimating Bush. He's no "evil idiot"

By Salon Staff
Published November 6, 2002 9:11PM (UTC)
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[Read "Salon's Exit Poll."]

[Read "Democrats Have Only Themselves to Blame," by Joe Conason.]

Bush is no empty suit
Anne Lamott wrote, in your "exit poll," that "Everyone I know thinks Bush is an evil idiot."

No. 1 on a long list of mistakes made by Democrats and progressives has been underestimating George W. Bush. I have been saying this for years but my friends outside of Texas haven't gotten it. Democrats and progressives here in Texas got it when Bush defeated Ann Richards for governor in 1994.


Richards tried to portray Bush as an empty suit, an airhead and a daddy's boy and it didn't work. Democrats outside of Texas have been trying this, and saying this, since Bush became a presidential candidate and it hasn't worked either.

The fact is that Bush is not an idiot; he's not even dumb. He's a canny politician, he's got incredible charisma with crowds, and he hires and deploys some extremely capable people. As maddening as his ideology is to liberals and leftists, he wouldn't be the threat he is if he were as stupid as liberals and the left think he is.

As long as people continue to believe Bush is an idiot or a hand-puppet for Karl Rove, he will continue to roll over smug Democrats. Tuesday's results should have driven that point home.


-- Gary Chapman

Hyperbole isn't helping
Anne Lamott wrote, "Everyone I know thinks Bush is an evil idiot." Everyone? Is she serious? If she's telling the truth, it shows that she has an extremely narrow-minded circle of acquaintances. If she's exaggerating, then she's part of the problem: columnists (like Mark Morford, Maureen Dowd, etc.) who think that hyperbole is effective political discourse. Either way, she'll find only a small minority who find her writing helpful to her cause.

-- Kerry Tatlow


Democrats "totally wimped out"
Bravo, Joe Conason! I couldn't agree with you more that the Democrats totally wimped out and lost because of their deficiencies. I have been angry about national politics since the fiasco of 2000, and I still don't accept Bush as a legitimate president. The way the Democrats have just rolled over and played dead for the past two years, as well as the Bush machine's advantage in money and popularity, is what did them in. It reminds me of 22 years ago when Reagan came in and made the words "liberal," "Democrat" and "Carter" dirty words, and the Democrats did nothing to stand up to him and articulate to the American people why Reagan was wrong. The Democratic Party has no spine, no ideology, no proposals, no criticism, and now, most important, no power.

-- Allison A. Bailes III


The exploding collective head
Oh, I'm sure Salon's collective head must be exploding. It was easy enough to blame Bush on the Florida election, but how do you explain this? Well, let me offer this. Maybe many Americans were getting tired of hearing what losers they are. Maybe they realized that without national security, worries about the economy are moot. Maybe many Americans got tired of being mocked for their beliefs and of being told that all the world's problems are their fault. Well, I know I was.

-- Pamela Tucker

A grim choice
Given a choice between voting for a bunch of Republicans, or voting for a bunch of whores, I chose to stay home.


-- David Flores

One step closer to dictatorship
Well, Americans will now truly get what they asked for! The fools have once again shot themselves in the foot, maybe the head! And I predict they will regret this election sorely. With no checks and balances left, this spineless Congress will rubber-stamp everything their little tin-horn dictator wants, starting with a war in Iraq that will spiral out of control. Then, as the economy sinks further down under the weight of it all, there will be further job losses, cuts in services justified by "defense," as they step up the raiding of Social Security, gut the public school system with their "vouchers," and give everything else away to their rich buddies that helped them dupe ordinary people into voting for them.

Meanwhile, our democracy withers on the vine, and we move another step closer to dictatorship, or at least oligarchy. (Rule by a powerful few. Sound familiar?) Now this president who was illegally "installed" by the judicial system will boldly install a couple more to solidify their position and further atrophy the "Supreme" Court and our three-part system intended to prevent such abuses of power. And won't all those fools who voted on the president's "popularity" get a shock when they find out what REALLY happened on 9/11! That is, if we ever get the investigation they've been trying so hard to block. It's a sad day for America, and there won't be any joy in saying "I told you so!"


-- Bia Winter

A time for united government
I myself am very worried about the economy and am an adamant advocate of gun control, but the Democrats sadly did not exploit these issues to their advantage. Meanwhile, the GOP really nailed home their pet issue of the war on terror and everything else related to that. No matter what one's political leanings are, voters care about our country's place in the world and our security. Therefore, what you get is what we got Tuesday.

While I do back several ideas the Democrats have stood for in the past, when it comes right down to the wire in times like these I want a united government, not the bipartisan one we'd had in recent years. The Dems bicker until they are blue in the face without offering worthwhile solutions. Now's the time to be proactive, not merely reactive.

Furthermore, I see that the Republicans have tried harder and been more successful of late at courting what most of us are, moderates. Whether they mean it, we shall find out. Am I scared? Admittedly, I am a little. However, I back every decision I made Tuesday night. I think the media and its legal and scholarly correspondent community underestimate us average Americans a little more than they should.


-- Claire Huber

This party's over
There has been nothing since the Great Society to suggest that the Democrats have any convictions beyond their sickening, slavish pandering to minorities and on marginal issues (I include the Clintons' healthcare plan -- more about preserving insurers than providing care). Kennedy wanted to take us to the moon; Gephardt and Daschle want to take us to prescription-drug nirvana. We -- probably including even the Republicans -- need more, and there's absolutely nothing to suggest the Democrats have any capacity to step beyond their now generations-old timidity. This is more sickening than any amount of sleaze and corruption. We need another party; this one is just over.

-- Gary Borg

How the Democrats can regroup
I'm no fan of the Democratic Party, but I think in some ways Democrats are too pessimistic. Today's party shifts happen quickly, and tend to be built around an individual -- Clinton or Bush, for instance -- often one who isn't too well known, doesn't have a detailed record, and exudes optimism and newness. The party then follows along. When Clinton emerged, the Dems were grappling with many of the same issues they have today -- and facing, at least at first, a popular president. Clinton had a crowded field of adversaries. Yet once he took over, saw opportunity and pitched an optimistic message, he surged ahead -- and the party wasn't reshaped till after he won. Even many Dems who didn't love him climbed aboard because he looked like a winner.


What's happened with Bush is similar. Not long ago, the GOP was mired in the politics of the past, divided between moderates and conservatives, populated by cartoonish blusterers like Newt Gingrich who seemed negative and horrible and stood for nothing except slamming Clinton. In a matter of a few short years, Bush emerged and changed that, bridging the gap between moderates and conservatives -- and last night finally remaking the party in his image.

This isn't necessarily great news for our democracy, by the way. We seem more and more to be enraptured by individual figures, often unknowns, who win points on TV skills, political ability and charisma, and are less devoted to standard sets of positive principles -- in either party. The parties shift and get shattered and then reshape like the villain in "Terminator 2." But in that fact, I think, is hope for the Democrats -- as long as they move forward, accept the lessons of history, forget Gore, don't nominate a namby-pamby naysayer like Michael Dukakis but instead find a smart, energetic, optimistic and appealing critic of the president who can offer a better plan and argue for it.

-- M.J. Murray

Starved for statesmen
You've got it wrong, Joe Conason. The Republicans dealt squarely with the issues in their campaign this time, while our Democratic leadership brought a couple of corrupt political skeletons out of the closet to shore up our party and then mostly resorted to thinly veiled mudslinging. The voting public is fed up with the Machiavellian tactics that the Democrats have represented since Clinton has been in office. People can see through the talking points now and are hungry for statesmen who will speak truth and deal with the issues. Take heed or we will fail again!


It is time for the Democrats to throw out the current crop of self-interested politicians and vote in a new Democratic leadership that has integrity and the public's interest in mind rather than their own.

-- Peter Horowitz

Voting as political hygiene
Joe Conason's post-election ideas are right on target. It's the Democratic Party's fault that it was unable or unwilling to criticize the gun-toting, war-mongering, anti-choice, regressive-taxing, CEO-loving Republicans for what they were. But even more so, it is the fault of all the lazy Americans who insist that "there is no difference between the candidates" and stayed home yesterday, as they always do.

If a few more people had moved their lazy butts and gone to vote, there might well be a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress. It's the basic hygiene of being a citizen in a democracy -- there's no need for stupid "I Voted" stickers to show you fulfilled your responsibility, any more than there is for "I Showered" or "I Used Deodorant" stickers.

-- Adam Korengold

Candidates who stand for nothing
Watching election coverage into the wee hours of this morning, it seemed that Paul Begala was the only one who called the devastating loss to Democrats correctly. If you don't stand up against the war in Iraq, corporate abuse and huge tax cuts that don't help the economy, the voters are left with two options: a candidate that stands for something and a candidate that stands for nothing. Democrats never took a position against Bush (except Paul Wellstone). They ran with him! I received many requests from the campaign of Sen. Jean Carnahan in Missouri for donations. This is a key race! The future of the Democratic Party rests in your hands! Help Jean stand up against Bush! The enthusiasm is nice but Jean didn't get any of my money because she votes with Bush on issues that are important to me, like this absurd unilateral war with Iraq. Go to the left, boys and girls! There is a huge constituency just waiting for you to offer us something worth fighting for.

-- Megan Garbe

Who's got the star power?
We still have a 50-50 country and Democrats still have the issues on their side, but there are 10 more Republican states than Democratic ones. The playing field is tilted. Except in New Hampshire, the Democrats also failed to recruit any star candidates like the GOP recruited Coleman, Talent and Thune. Then there's the GOP team of McCain, Giuliani and Bush -- any one of whose help is worth five times Daschle's.

-- Jeff Bennett

It's not enough to attack Bush
It's not quite right to say that "Somebody's got to get fired over this one," but the brutal truth is that neither Daschle nor Gephardt have the credibility to lead a partisan campaign against Bush. They've spent too much time in the Rose Garden. They've celebrated their "bipartisanship" too much. While the Democrats do need new leadership and do need to oppose and, indeed, attack Bush, this is not enough. They need to advance a positive program.

For example:

-- National security depends upon alternative energy.

-- We need foreign allies and support, not just because this feels good, but rather because our economy -- and ultimately our military might -- depends upon their continued investing their money here.

-- The white male is not the national scapegoat.

-- The only tax cut to be considered is a cut in the payroll tax.

-- Duncan C. Kinder

Don't play nasty
Message to Joe: The Democrats blew Florida in a big way by making it personal and now Terry, Bill, Hillary and Al have all compromised their personal credibility, and have nothing to show for it. The Democrats blew Minnesota, which they had a reasonable chance to win because they were nasty to people who simply wanted to pay their respects to a principled fallen colleague.

Being nasty may play well with rabid partisans, but most voters aren't rabid partisans. They are turned off and offended by nastiness. Looks like Tim Johnson may have survived in South Dakota. Wonder how he managed that? Take a lesson here, Joe!

-- Tim Copeland

Blame the Republicans, too
What about the amoral right with their money-machine? They are blameless? Dirty campaigns, lies, phony issues? These are all business as usual? Should Democrats completely lower themselves to the level of "team-players," pushing to win, win, win, without regard for actual governance? Is that what American can look forward to for the next century? Politics reduced to no more than a noisome super-bowl, winner-take-all?

Yeah, OK, we could use a spine, too. But we're in that situation where the current government has declared an enemy, is beating the drum of war, and can declare anyone daring to question that direction a treasonist terrorist-coddler. Insert "communist" or "Jew" or "slave" and you can read this as any number of historical disasters.

Joe Conason's article is like blaming abused spouses for the abuse. Why don't you turn it around and ask the right questions? Start with this: Do human beings in the United States have the right to a decent life or not? Somehow, we've slipped on that. Somehow, now, decent people have to earn the right to live. Or be heard.

-- O. Neimon

Do not fear the truth
Joe is a whiner. All the evil he predicts under Republicans will fail to materialize. Joe, like most liberals, lives in a fantasyland and fears the truth. America is a place that is far from perfect, but is the preferred destination of any immigrant. America is about freedom, and freedom chose to kick the Democrats and liberals from power. Get used to it.

-- Shay Nyunt

The one, true savior
There is only one person I know of with the right stuff to reenergize the Democratic Party. Yes, the Democrats need to get Bill Clinton to head the DNC -- pronto. And our new Democratic leaders had better listen to him carefully because he's the only one who can lead the party out of this morass and back into victory.

-- Mark D. Hamill

Draft Bush
Never have I ever heard so much garbage being slung and so many lies from a president ... I am ashamed. I truly hope that the next two years of this domination by the Republicans will open everyone's eyes. I am only for war if the whole Bush administration marches in the front line. Don't the people of this country realize the tremendous cost of Bush's politicking on an already stressed-out budget? He may be your president but he will never be mine!

-- Suzy McLendon

"Mealymouthed stooges"
As a lifelong Democrat, I am sickened by our leadership. However, it seems that the Republicans have now lost two of their major pillars of support -- the press, which can now come out of hiding after a two-year sleep, and the congressional Democrats. Daschle, Feinstein et al. have blown their wads. Out the door with them! It is time for John Kerry, John Edwards and the New Demos like that to be heard and for someone other than mealy-mouthed stooges such as Tim Russert and Howard Fineman to be heard.

-- Edward Ryan

The wrong time to attack Bush
Conason's theory that the GOP made gains because Democrats were unwilling to criticize President Bush just doesn't wash. In fact, voters have been bombarded for the past two years with little else: "Illiterate," "born to wealth," "out of touch with 'Real Americans,'" "unilateralist," "appointed, not elected."

In fact, I can't think of anything positive Democrats did say about Bush. So, just for the sake of argument, let's consider a contrarian possibility: that unrelenting personal attacks on the president, in a time of national crisis, may have drawn the voters to him and the GOP. You'll have to admit, it's at least a possibility.

While we're at it, let's also look at recent Democrat campaign positions.

1. Agree that we must fight terrorism, but delay intervention in Iraq through obfuscation.

2. Call for an end to dependence on foreign oil, but vote against drilling in Alaska.

3. Point out that workers deserve a higher standard of living, but vote against tax cuts.

4. Warm the cockles of retirees' hearts by assuring them you're for retirement security, but campaign against Social Security reform.

5. Agree that our kids deserve better education, but don't permit even the mildest test of school vouchers.

Democrats refer to their party as "the big tent" where everyone is welcome. They should recall that "the big tent" was popularized by P.T. Barnum. His motto: "There's a sucker born every minute." I think yesterday's election results show that, when it comes to contradictory messages, people are less likely to be suckered these days.

-- Rich Black

Imitate the Republicans
I was struggling this morning to explain to a right-wing friend that I feel like we've been done in by political apathy and inertia and she pointed out that Republicans have been neither apathetic nor inert. In truth, I am angry with those of us on the left who have only talked among ourselves about what we've seen happening but have neither protested in the streets nor held our representatives' feet to the fire nor apparently grown enough spine to stand up and be counted in opposition to our president. Nor have we held our leadership (particularly in the DNC) to a higher standard based on principles rather than obscure infighting and public pettiness. Could we have some grace and idealism please? A vision?

-- Madeline Vann

The Greens were right
Joe Conason writes, "Unlike the debacle in 2000, the Democrats have no one but themselves to blame for this defeat." News flash: The Democrats largely had themselves to blame for their failure in 2000. You'd think they've been deliberately proving the Green Party's point in recent years.

-- James J. Matthews

Salon Staff

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