Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
December 30, 2003
POLITICS: Changing the Subject
The Weekly Standard had an interesting and sympathetic profile of Dick Gephardt some weeks ago, including some good Dean-bashing. I tend to like Gephardt when I'm just reading about him - on paper, you can make him sound like Harry Truman - but every time I see the guy he's just so full to the brim with idiotic cliched soundbites that lack even a semblance of logic or coherent thought that I have to turn off the TV. He probably is a decent guy, but listening to him drives me up the wall. The problem is one that's endemic to many Democratic politicians (Howard Dean is actually a rare exception): he talks down to his audience like he's speaking to a bunch of grade school students.
Barring a catastrophe in the war on terror or a major economic reversal, I still can't see Gephardt going anywhere, or the Democrats winning in November, unless something happens that forces the candidates to change the subject from war and taxes. Dean is Bush's ideal matchup -- and the one the true believers on the Left want -- because they both want to run on war & taxes, and the two are diametrically opposed on both questions. Other than Gephard't's trade-war talk, none of the other Dems have been able to change that definition of the agenda. And as we know, he who sets the agenda usually wins.
One thing I've been kicking around is whether the cultural issues will matter. A friend suggested that culture issues are bigger now than they were in 1992, but I don't really buy it; if anything, the cultural fissures were more pronounced that election year. 1992 saw Buchanan's "culture war" speech - the battles of that era seem tame only because we've gone so much further down the slippery slope. 1992 was "the year of the woman." Dan Quayle v. Murphy Brown. It was 1992 that the Supreme Court upheld Roe v Wade (or, as Scalia pointed out, completely rewrote Roe under the guise of being bound by precedent). The LA riots were in April 1992. And, of course, Bill Clinton was one big walking cultural issue.
Culture is a big subtext, particularly if Dean wins. But the main topics will still be taxes and war.