Readers sound off on Dems targeting Bush as a "phony," and why the DLC is looking like a disaster in '04.

By Salon Staff
August 2, 2003 11:37PM (UTC)
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[Read "The Poseur in Chief," by Jeremy Heimans and Tim Dixon.]

If I knew their e-mail addresses, I would forward this article to every possible Democratic candidate, consultant and spokesperson. I would, however, add one caveat: This strategy cannot be applied in such a way that voters can see it as a strident personal attack upon a figure in whom they've invested so much emotional capital since 9/11.


Instead of going after Bush in a frontal assault, Democrats should seek to raise questions that lead voters to question the product they've been sold. And the way to do this is to drive home consistently the endless contradictions between Bush's own words and his documented actions:

How can a president who dons a uniform on an aircraft carrier deck be the same man who used family connections to avoid active duty during Vietnam, and couldn't even bother to show up for his last 18 months of service?

How can a champion of free enterprise and small government be the same man who got rich through government seizure of land in Arlington?


How can a president who pleads "leave no child behind" be the same governor who gutted insurance for low-income kids in Texas?

How can a man who claims to have been redeemed through faith be the same guy who mocked a born-again Christian woman after approving her execution?

It's a long list. But it should be burned into the brain of everyone who speaks in opposition to Bush -- and repeated at every opportunity. Sure, it's a lot like those infuriatingly robotic "talking points" that Republicans are always parroting, but it works for them. And if the Dems are to expose the facade that Karl Rove has created, they could do a lot worse than turn one of his most effective weapons against him.


-- Isaac Segal

I can't believe that Heimans and Dixon actually believe that calling Bush a phony will make any difference in the upcoming 2004 presidential campaign. Most Americans already believe that most politicians are phonies. Americans know that politicians create images of themselves that are exaggerated or even complete lies. This would be like running a campaign against a "dishonest car salesman." Nobody will get very excited by such a charge. Americans are more concerned with what politicians are actually doing for them. If I think I can get a good deal from the car salesman, let him lie and obfuscate all he wants.


The Bush administration's relationship with companies like Enron and the disastrous effects of the Enron collapse must be emphasized. Bush's disastrous policies in the Middle East need to be exposed for what they are: a dangerous gambit likely to lead to more terrorism directed at the U.S. His handling of the economy must also be hammered on. Bush's relationship to powerful Saudi government officials needs to be revealed. This last issue is probably one of the most potentially damaging. The Democrats should go for the jugular on this House of Saud scandal.

-- Marc Pestana

I first heard Bush referred to as a phony by John Edwards several months ago. The word immediately crystallized everything I've been perceiving about the man for the last three years, and I thought then it was the perfect campaign theme for undermining Bush and all he claims to be doing. I've been repeating it for months and I believe this is the direct, simple, down-home, visceral description of Bush that can appeal to average Americans. If Democrats start to hammer home that Bush is a phony, they'll be very pleased how it defangs Bush's PR: One starts thinking about him in those terms, and nothing he says or does has the same impact.


-- Gregg Rosenberg

Jeremy Heimans and Tim Dixon state that Democrats will not be able to brand Bush an elitist because Republicans will retort that this is "class warfare." I hear this argument over and over again. But when are Democrats going to admit to themselves that class warfare is exactly what it is?

The divide between the upper and middle classes continues to expand under Republicans, and the Democrats do nothing to stop it. So when the Republicans yell, "class warfare!" it is most appropriate to agree with them and let the battle begin.


-- Paul Brandt

Heimans and Dixon have it right. If only you could get them in a forum with Molly Ivins, who said it best years ago, when she called Bush, "shrub."

So, what should the T-shirt say? "Cocaine, Champagne, Petroleum?" Or "Leave no donor behind?"

-- Dan Kemp


[Read "The Democratic Weaselship Council" by Joan Walsh.]

Joan Walsh makes a good case on how negative the DLC has become. But she misses a critical and weird point. Of all the candidates running, Howard Dean is probably closer to the New Democrat concept epitomized by Bill Clinton than anyone in the race. Our ex-president himself recently said as much.

I live in upstate New York near the Vermont border. We get Vermont TV here and I can assure you the Dean portrayed in the DLC's vaporings is nothing like the Dean who was governor of Vermont. Dean emphasized economic development, balanced budgets and manageable, workable programs to help families and kids. Sound like anyone we knew in the '90s? Much of the Vermont left -- and remember, Vermont has the nation's only socialist congressman -- disliked and opposed Dean in the end. Furthermore, he did not go looking for the gay domestic partner dispute; it came to him.

What Dean did not do was line up to drink the neocon Kool-Aid and vote for the Iraq War like so many feckless congressional Democrats. Does that make him a radical? Ask angry and just-plain-scared service families who are wondering when their kids are coming home, if at all. Kerry, et al., have a choice of saying the war was right, they made a mistake, or they were duped. There's no conceivable winning strategy in any of those. That's why Dean's ahead.


The real radicalism of Dean -- and I think this is what really upsets the inside the Beltway types -- is the kind of campaign Dean is running. It is a deliberately conceived ground-up, not top-down movement that empowers average Americans to actually act like citizens, not passive subjects. The last thing the Beltway bunch wants to hear is that the government belongs to the people, not the insiders.

-- Larry Dudley

I appreciated Joan Walsh's article taking the DLC to task for its timid, sullen, constipated approach to Democratic politics. The only energy the DLC can seem to muster is to do hatchet jobs on fellow Democrats -- the "circular firing squad" approach, as Walsh and others have aptly named it.

However, I have to take issue with Ms. Walsh's glib characterization of Howard Dean being in the left wing of the party. I think the jury is still out on Dean's candidacy (as it is on the rest, obviously, at this early date), though I personally find Dean to be one of the more interesting, electable, and worthwhile candidates -- the esteemed John Judis' unconvincing anti-Dean piece notwithstanding. However, to call Dean a member of the left is simply absurd. He may have been to the left of many candidates on the subject of Iraq, but there are many issues where he is a centrist -- economic issues, for instance.


I don't know how political pundits personally feel about Dean or the other candidates, nor do I care. I'm not interested in their personal ax-grinding. However, as commentators -- and specifically as Democratic or even (gasp) liberal commentators -- they owe us more than glib, pre-packaged tripe about which convenient label fits to each candidate. This was a relatively minor current running through Ms. Walsh's essay, though it's a current that runs through the work of all too many Democratic pundits, and it ought to stop. Who needs Karl Rove and the RNC to pigeonhole our candidates when pundits who should know better are already doing it? They might as well hand Rove fistfuls of manure to sling with evil glee.

-- Chris Sonne

How soon can a consortium of Salon contributors take control of the Democratic National Committee? Jeremy Heimans' and Tim Dixon's prescription for beating Bush (along with Joan Walsh's skewering of the DLC, and many other recent Salon articles) shows that outsiders are far more clear-eyed than Democratic operatives when it comes to recapturing the support of the American people. These stories present pragmatic, non-ideological reasons for opposing the Republican Party. The absurd claim that questioning the war in Iraq or the irresponsible tax cut are somehow "far left" issues or "class warfare" is something to expect from Republicans with much to lose, not Democrats with nearly nothing to lose. When will the politicians wake up to this obvious fact?

-- Fred Maslin

Salon Staff

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