Of Mice and Dems
With baseball players reporting for spring training, this is the time of year in which fans of even the most hapless teams are hopeful that this might be their year. For Democrats, however, this air of hopefulness is limited to the baseball diamond since as they look ahead to the upcoming elections they are growing increasingly restive and fear that they will lose ground again as they have for every election since Sept. 11. Those concerns will continue to escalate until the Democrats understand who and why they lost in 2004.
In 2004, John Kerry narrowly carried every age group in the five key battleground states — Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Nevada and New Mexico — except for “Generation Jones.” Generation Jones covers those born during the end of the baby boom, or at the beginning of Generation X who came of age during the Carter and/or Reagan presidencies. Kerry would be president today were it not for the fact that Generation Jones voters, also known as “Jonesers,” overwhelmingly supported President Bush by margins of 9 to 19 percent in those key states.
Jonesers’ political views were shaped by Reagan’s success, Carter’s failures and the fact that Republicans constantly reminded them of both throughout the Reagan-Bush era. Today we forget the fact that the Republicans so effectively stigmatized the Democrats with the failures of the Carter administration that it was only after the passage of 20 years that the former president was permitted to address his own party’s convention.
Democrats now have the opportunity to return the favor in a way that should resonate with the Jonesers. President Bush, like Carter, has very low approval ratings due to a weak economy, rising gas prices, setbacks in the Persian Gulf that have left Americans feeling less secure and questions of competence. Even though President Bush will not be on the ballot in 2006 and 2008, Democrats must seize this opportunity to “Carterize” him and link the Republicans with the failures of this administration for years to come.
While Jonesers have been more comfortable with the Republicans on national security issues, they are not out of reach to the Democrats. Women Jonesers were one of the largest blocs of swing voters in 2004 and shifted between Bush and Kerry throughout the campaign. The Democrats’ biggest obstacle to winning the Generation Jones vote is themselves. This was illustrated by my recent exchange with a senior Democratic staffer who responded to my suggestion that Senate Democrats should, instead of filibustering the Alito nomination, block everything altogether and use Alito as a bargaining chip to get a special prosecutor named for at least one of the many current scandals plaguing the administration, by declaring it impossible since it would require something the Democrats simply lacked — a spine.
Throughout their voting lives, Jonesers have seen vertebrally challenged Democrats dodge fight after fight and respond to the Republicans’ success by abandoning the word “liberal,” embracing the death penalty and ducking any fight over gay rights. During the Bush administration alone, Democrats have rolled over like lap dogs on Iraq, tax cuts and bankruptcy “reform,” and then failed to effectively respond to the Swift Boat Veterans’ smear campaign in the 2004 race. It does not matter how many wars or weapons programs the Democrats support or war heroes they nominate, Jonesers will never trust them to defend their country if they continue to lack the courage or will to stand up to the Republicans and defend themselves.
The rub for the Democrats is that Jonesers and other voters supported Reagan and the current president, despite often disagreeing with them on the issues. What mattered most to them was that their president was authentic and they knew where he stood. That is why whenever Ronald Reagan was on the ropes politically — the sure fire solution was always to let Reagan be Reagan.
The 2005 Virginia governor’s race demonstrates that this also may be the solution for Democrats. Tim Kaine, a longtime opponent of the death penalty who openly discussed his moral views on the issue won a decisive victory in a state that is second only to Texas in executions.
Andrew Jackson once said that “one man with courage makes a majority.” If Democrats listened to Jackson more and their pollsters less they might solve their Generation Jones problem. “Letting Democrats be Democrats,” could make the difference between another long season and this finally being the Democrats’ year.