Monday, November 17, 2008

Why John Kerry's loss in 2004 was "the luckiest thing to happen to Democrats in 40 years"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Duke political scientist David Rohde has an interesting piece at The New Republic today on why the Democrats are much better off today because of Kerry's loss to Bush in '04.

Basically, Rohde's argument goes, "had Bush lost in 2004, the Democrats simply wouldn't be anywhere near as powerful as they are now." Kerry and Edwards would have faced "a hostile GOP Congress" unwilling to support their legislative agenda and, at best, they would have been "narrowly reelected" this year. And while it is true that "a second Bush term is a very steep price to pay for today's success," there is no denying just how successful the Democrats have become. "[T]he Bush administration survived, and the public grew increasingly disenchanted with its performance and the Republican brand." The Democrats won back Congress in '06, adding to their majorities this year. And, of course, there was "Obama's crushing White House victory." In addition, the Democrats have a "new, mammoth fundraising advantage" over the Republicans:

It will take time to discover whether the developments in 2006 and 2008 constitute an enduring pro-Democratic shift in the electorate, rather than just a transitory negative reaction to Bush and the GOP. But the benefits the Democrats have realized from 2006 and 2008 -- the ample mandate and the majorities the Democrats now possess -- have put the party on the path toward substantial progress in its policy goals. And if John Kerry and John Edwards had found their way into office four years ago, they would have found a much more difficult, possibly impossible, road ahead of them.

In other words, Kerry simply might not have been able to get much done (though he likely would have provided much better leadership on Iraq and Katrina). Now, though, Obama comes into office with an impressive victory behind him, a clear mandate for change (in a liberal direction), significant Democratic majorities in Congress, and a rejuvenated and re-empowered Democratic Party. There was hope in '04, if not as much this year, but there is now the opportunity, as there wasn't back then, to move forward not just on Iraq but on health care, education, energy, global warming, and tax policy, and well as to address the current financial crisis in a meaningful way.

I hesitate to say this, given how much I supported Kerry in '04 and continue to admire him, but I suspect that Professor Rohde is right: For the Democrats, and for those of us who support them, things have turned out for the best.

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