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November 24th, 2003 - 12:46 am

Michael Barone on what ails the Democrats:

The country is closely divided between Republicans and Democrats, but it’s not a symmetrical division. The Republicans are united and the Democrats are divided. Republicans are solidly behind George W. Bush. Democrats are about evenly divided on issues like military action in Iraq and gay marriage (a possible election-year issue given the decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court last week). About a third of all Democrats give Bush a positive job rating.

The Democrats seem divided roughly evenly between Bush haters and people who have mixed feelings about the president.

To be fair, it’s always tougher for the party out of power to remain cohesive, if only because they don’t have a national leader to coalesce around. But in this time of war, Barone argues, the Democrats’ problem runs a little deeper:

Democrats will have a problem either way. If the un-Dean wins, Dean’s enthusiastic supporters will be bitterly disappointed. Some will not want to vote for a Democrat who voted for military action in Iraq. The Green Party nominee, whether Ralph Nader runs or not, could easily exceed the 3 percent Nader won in 2000. That would hurt with the electorate this closely divided. Just ask Al Gore.

The Democrats’ problem will be different if Dean is nominated. Their problem will be with American exceptionalism. That is the idea, shared by most Americans, that this country is unique and special, with unique virtues and special responsibilities–a city on a hill, as John Winthrop and Ronald Reagan put it, with the responsibility to spread freedom and democracy around the world. Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan were all American exceptionalists.

And who is the exceptionalist in today’s field of Democratic nominee wanna-bes?

Anyone?

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