After the 2000 presidential elections, Democrats blamed voters who supported Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, particularly those in Florida, for handing the election to Bush.
As a Nader voter in 2000 and the publisher of a Gainesville magazine that heartily endorsed his candidacy over Gore and Bush, I maintained that Bush's victory was more likely due to the Democrats who voted for Bush, as there were far more of those voters than there were Nader supporters.
True, had I been precognizant, I would have endorsed Gore, but at the time both candidates were mumbling the same rhetoric and Nader's candidacy had the hope of creating a viable third party that would address progressive, populist issues that the two main parties typically ignore. Bush was not promising to wage war preventatively against nations not threatening anyone and in fact promised to move away from "nation building," which he used as a catchphrase for President Clinton's "humanitarian interventions" in the Balkans.
Now we all know better, and in the 2004 election Nader was a non-factor. Still Bush won, and in large part thanks to many Democrats who voted for him. In Florida, Democrats have a large advantage in registered voters over Republicans, yet Bush won big. Nader got squat.
Dems have been agonizing over what to do next and how to convert themselves so that they appeal to Bush voters who schizophrenically support fiscal and environmental policies that do them harm. How to win the "moral" vote? How to appeal to "red state" mentalities? And on and on…
The reason Republicans are winning is because they are more Machiavellian than Democrats. To the GOP, the end always justifies the means, which is why they so ruthlessly lie about their Democratic opponents. They developed a strategy back in the 1970s to divide the Democratic base by portraying the Dems as elites who care little about values, as big spenders who prefer to give handouts to minorities, and as purveyors of depraved cultural mores.
The Dems have maintained the same strategy of trying to win minds and not hearts, using silly things like facts to prove how their policies are superior. And while they are right, the argument falls into the GOP trap by making Dems appear to many Americans as know-it-alls. Bush was happy to avoid discussing issues and instead paint Kerry as out of touch with American values.
In 2004, the GOP strategy worked, but not as well as people think. After 9-11, the GOP's jingoistic call to protect America overshadowed Bush's many failings. At first I thought it was frightening that America could not agree that this was one of the worst failures of a US president in history, but now I see it more clearly – despite 9-11's obviously rallying point for America behind Bush, and despite the GOP's strategy of deflecting the debate away from its failed policies, the election was still close. If not for 9-11, Bush would have lost in a landslide.
The strategy that Dems need to take, unfortunately, needs to resemble the GOP's. Worry less about facts and more about the elitist nature of the GOP. Don't play nice. Expose Bush's economic policies for what they are – theft from our grandchildren to enrich his wealthy buddies. Point out that the so-called cultural depravity in TV and movies is not being controlled by liberal actors like Tim Robbins but by right-wing media owners like Rupert Murdoch and General Electric. Stop rationalizing our imperial foreign policies as protecting America, which is a lie that we pay for with our pocketbooks and lives. And most importantly, stop being the voice of corporate America and instead become to voice of the workers – remember that in Florida Bush won by a safe margin but the minimum wage increase won huge.
The Dems need to spend more time painting portraits of the GOP, which should be easy because Republicans control all levels of government and must take ownership of all of its policies. They need to talk about morals and such, but not so much as to say "we're moral, too," but to explain how the GOP only pays lip service to morality. Even the conservative religious leader who Bush hired to run his faith-based initiative quit because, he said, Bush was using the program to play politics and hand out pork projects.
I admit, I am advocating an escalation of the nastiness that elections have become, but the GOP started this and will not relinquish a successful strategy. The Dems need to care more about the end and less about the means.