John Kerry has just begun his concession speech as I write the first words of this piece, so there can be no doubt that the Democrats have managed to lose an election that last spring seemed to belong to whichever candidate would spend the requisite number of nights in a Holiday Inn. (For the patrician Kerry, no doubt it was the Hyatt Regency, but no matter, it was not one of his five mansions and it was a hotel, after all.)
Beginning today, Democrats will begin to discuss just how the heck they managed to lose this one. The economy is fairly stagnant, the war in Iraq is going badly, everyone knows that Al-Qaeda is going to strike hard here in the near future, and Bush’s approval ratings have stayed below 50 percent for more than a year. In other words, the Republicans generously had set the table for Democrats, only to find that once again those jackasses had decided to eat at McDonald’s.
No doubt, one person who will be listening to this concession speech is Hillary Clinton, who certainly is going to be a candidate in 2008 — unless bin Laden kills enough of us between now and then to deny us a quorum. I have some advice for Democrats who believe that Hillary is The Answer: Don’t even go there. If you think that the Christian fundamentalists crowded the polls to stop Kerry, just wait until Hillary is on the ballot. Entire congregations of fundamentalist and evangelical churches will line up at the voting booths. Hillary, please stay in New York and write more bad books. Since government already has performed the equivalent of a nuclear blast on the state’s economy in the upstate, your presence cannot make things there any worse. Quit while you have the title of Senator.
The Democrats have a much deeper problem than the incompetence of their presidential candidates. After all, Bill Clinton steamrolled a couple of Republicans on his way to serving two terms, and that was with one hand (and Ross Perot) tied behind his back. No, the problem isn’t charisma or the lack thereof. Instead, every Democrat wants to emulate the party’s Big Hero, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Let me suggest a new hero for Democrats, a person whose integrity could not be challenged, and who governed as well as any president in the last century: Grover Cleveland.
In my opinion, Cleveland was the last great U.S. president, a man who took his duties to "protect and defend" the U.S. Constitution to heart. He governed as a true liberal, recognizing the dangers of the overreaching state. On the pressing issues of this past campaign, let us look at what the present candidates said and what Cleveland would have done.
War in Iraq
This one is easy. Cleveland would not have invaded that hapless country. He would have understood how overbearing U.S. foreign policy needlessly has created countless enemies abroad. Had Cleveland been in Kerry’s place, he would have called for a withdrawal of troops — and a heartfelt apology to the Iraqis for having destroyed their country. (I think that Howard Dean was saying the same thing, but after the pro-war Democrats ganged up on him in Iowa, that anti-war option for the party was ended. No wonder Dean gave such a primal scream afterward.)
Grover Cleveland never would have permitted the government to have the stranglehold of controls that now guarantees that we will pay more for less care. Cleveland easily would have recognized that the continual process of making doctors and patients wards of the state would have predictable results. I suspect that he would have called for government agents to end the occupation of hospitals and doctors’ offices la Iraq.
Between taxes, government spending, regulation that grows faster than a cancer cell and the expansion of the categories of "white collar crime," the amazing thing is not that we have relatively low growth and high unemployment, but that this economy creates any wealth at all. It is testament to the institution of private property (which is quickly disappearing in this fair land) and the relentless drive of entrepreneurs — the same ones that the political classes want to have consigned to the dungeons.
Cleveland was mindful of how government can choke a healthy economy. Furthermore, he realized the problems associated with government taking money from one set of people and giving it to favored constituents. (He once vetoed a bill that was to send $10,000 to cotton farmers in Texas who were suffering weather-related crop damage. In so doing, he declared that "the people support the government, but the government cannot support the people." Would be that a person of such wisdom were to occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue today.
Most Democrats today consider Franklin D. Roosevelt to be the standard of the party, just as Republicans like to call themselves the "party of Lincoln." As far as I am concerned, you can let them have Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. Should you have any doubts, contact Tom DiLorenzo who can tell you everything you need to know about these two scoundrels.
The closest thing that Republicans can have as heroes are Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge, but even in their best moments they could not compare to Cleveland as defenders of freedom and men who understood the predations of the state. But FDR is NOT a hero. How can a man who extended the life of this country’s worst economic calamity, the Great Depression, be anything but a villain? Here is someone who openly assaulted the U.S. Constitution and made mockery of liberty.
No, Democrats need a real hero, one that will resonate with the electorate. Cleveland was a man of principle, someone who believed that his job was to restrain those forces of government that will enslave a country; FDR’s mantra was "there are no limits to the growth of the state."
Just think how people might have reacted to John Kerry quoting Cleveland, and promising to protect the rights of individuals. Instead, we got someone who tried to out "law-and-order" the Republicans. Just as the Republicans cannot outdo the Democrats on promoting the welfare state (although the Republicans are trying to do just that), Democrats cannot successfully run on expanding the police state.
Yes, going to such a platform and embracing Grover Cleveland would mean that there would be major cracks in the current coalitions that keep the Democrats together. But let’s face it; the Democrats no longer are a real political party. Democrats are a hodgepodge of the very wealthy (from inherited wealth), the educated elite (such as my favorite "distorian," Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.), the very poor, minority groups, rabid environmentalists, feminists, and the American Trial Lawyers Association, which funds this whole unwieldy operation.
A coalition is not a political party. Cleveland presided over a real political party, one whose members believed in individual rights, the sanctity of private property and contract, limited government, and principles of non-intervention abroad. That this organization was hijacked first by William Jennings Bryan in 1896 (running on a platform of silver-based inflation, a reminder of the days that even inflationists wanted "sound" money as compared with Alan Greenspan today) and the warmongering Woodrow Wilson in 1912 does not take away from what the Democrats once believed.
The roots of the Republicans are statism, corporate welfare, destruction of the Constitution, and war without end. No one hijacked them; their brief dalliances with libertarianism are the exception, not the norm. Some Republicans may talk against Big Government, but at least at one time the Democrats actually were identified by their enmity to the Leviathan State.
So, my advice to the Democrats is this: go back to your roots. Let the Republicans have Leviathan. If you choose liberty, private property, and a real rollback of the state, you will win election after election. In fact, you will become a real political party again.
In the aftermath of this latest election loss, remember this one important point: you never will win national elections trying to out-Republican the Republicans. No, you can win if and only if you once again become real Democrats.
November 4, 2004