The great Democratic crack-up
Nov 4th 2004
From The Economist print edition
Hillary may not be the best person to put her party together again. But she is better than the rabid left
"NOVEMBER 2nd, which will be remembered as the blackest of days for the Democratic Party, did not dawn that way. Democrats had thought that the stars were aligned in their favour—a problem-ridden war in Iraq; a president with iffy job-approval ratings; a sputtering economy; and, on the day, a huge voter turn-out together with exit polls that showed John Kerry with a clean sweep of the battleground states. By early next morning elation had turned to despair. The battle for the future of the Democratic Party had begun in earnest.
How is this battle likely to shape up, and who will be the warriors? Mr Kerry and his running-mate, John Edwards, are destined for the terrible limbo that the People's Party reserves for its failed champions. Mr Kerry's fate will be a little easier to bear than Al Gore's: he has a fabulously rich wife, a brace of mansions and a seat in the Senate. But he will draw bitter criticism for running an ill-conceived campaign.
Mr Edwards is well on the way to becoming a man with a brilliant future behind him. What did he add to the Democratic ticket other than a boyish smile and a well-honed stump speech? He failed to deliver either of the Carolinas to the party (even though he was born in the southern one and represented the northern one in the Senate). He has no clear ideological constituency.
US Election 2004
Hillary Clinton is the big Democratic winner from Tuesday night's debacle. Mrs Clinton is very much the front-runner for the presidential nomination in 2008. By then the country may be desperate for respite from Republican rule and the Iraq war may at last be over. She has plenty of credibility with the left because of her record (particularly on health-care reform) and her sex (remember that the majority of voters in the Democratic primaries are women).
But she has moved to the centre since becoming a senator for New York: she has been careful to support the Iraq war and has found herself a seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee. The Clintonistas control most of the party machinery, from think-tanks such as the Centre for American Progress to get-out-the-vote organisations such as The Media Fund. And her husband is one of the best political operators on the Democratic side.
Yet Mrs Clinton can expect no coronation. The left of the Democratic Party is spoiling for a fight over what it sees as the party establishment's instinctive centrism. The left is convinced that the problem with Howard Dean was not the message but the great screamer himself. And they are equally convinced that the best way to beat George Bush is to fight as hard for the left of the political spectrum as Mr Bush has fought for the right.
They believe that Mr Kerry's campaign caught fire only when he decided to confront the administration over Iraq. And they argue that the left needs to build a network of supporting institutions—from think-tanks to pressure groups—that will be able to drag their party (and the nation) in their direction. For them, the internet-based campaigns of groups such as MoveOn.org are harbingers of a rebirth of left-wing politics that will return the Democratic Party to its radical populist roots."