I’d like to offer some friendly advice to whoever ends up as the Democratic Party candidate for President – a word or two to the wise, so to speak.
First off, a history lesson: In 1984, running against Reagan, a month before the elections Walter Mondale was behind, way behind, in the polls. In a last-ditch effort, he finally began to talk directly, forcefully and energetically about issues facing working people. He began, if you will, to campaign more on class issues.
What happened? Mondale started to rapidly pull up in the polls. There was more excitement being generated by his campaign, people started to listen to what he had to say, and he started to make clear the real differences between him and Reagan.
He ended up about two weeks short of success; if he’d had two more weeks to campaign, and he kept gaining in the polls at the same accelerated rate, he would have defeated Reagan.
What does this one example mean? By itself, it might only be an example of 20-20 hindsight.
But then, four years later, Michael Dukakis, running against Bush the First, found himself trailing badly in the polls a month before Election Day. Up to that point, he had been running as a technocrat, a fiscally conservative liberal, a good administrator. His poll numbers were sinking – in fact, with his lackluster campaign approach, he’d squandered what had been a commanding lead in the polls. Due to his own bumbling, and to the viciously racist Willie Horton ads orchestrated by Bush campaign manager Lee Attwater, Dukakis was far behind and slipping.
What happened? Dukakis started talking in a much more forthright fashion, speaking directly to the issues of concern to working people. He aggressively attacked Bush’s record and program that benefited the ruling class. He talked about wages, working conditions, family leave, and the sense that the rich were ripping off the rest of us.
And, lo and behold, his poll numbers started to improve, rapidly. By the time of the election, he had almost pulled even with Bush. If there had only been another two or three weeks, he might have pulled off a victory. But no, he didn’t start soon enough.
So here’s my advice: Don’t wait until the last minute to start campaigning for the working-class vote by talking directly and seriously about the issues facing working-class people.
This advice goes directly against the proposals of the Democratic Leadership Council, which wants Democrats to campaign like watered-down Republicans. Given the choice between a real Republican and a faux wannabe, why wouldn’t voters choose the real thing? If Democrats offer only weakened versions of Republican programs, why should voters think there is any difference between them? If Democrats refuse to speak up for workers, why should workers campaign for them?
In my view, the only path to victory for whoever is the eventual Democratic presidential nominee is to base his or her campaign on fighting the rich and super-rich, promoting policies that would benefit workers and poor people, and acting like there are real differences with the Republicans, not just cosmetic ones.
Otherwise, the Dems could end up another two weeks short in 2004.
Marc Brodine is chair of the Washington State Communist Party. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org