It's morning in America -- again. The 2004 presidential election is beginning to look more and more like a 1984 repeat.
During the first three years of President Reagan's administration, millions of jobs were lost, the deficit ballooned, and critics questioned the president's hard-line foreign policy. During the fourth year, unemployment dropped drastically, and the market began to climb. But deficits remained high, and foreign policy remained a political question mark. As of Feb. 9, 1984, 38 percent of Americans approved of Reagan's foreign policy, while 49 percent disapproved.
Yet Reagan completely dominated Walter Mondale in November 1984. That election, like this one, was driven by message. While Reagan offered a message of hope, Mondale and the Democrats offered a message of dissatisfaction and anger in a time when things were truly getting better, not worse. The Mondale/Ferraro slogan: "America needs a change."
Today's Democrats are playing the same game. Take Howard Dean's slogan (truly the mantra of the Democratic Party in general): "Taking Back America." Democrats are hoping that Americans hate Bush so much they'll vote for change, just for the sake of change. John Kerry's message is relentlessly depressing. Instead of stumping for a better America, a stronger America, a better and brighter America, Kerry has chosen to focus on attacking the president in the strongest possible terms. It's working now. It won't work forever.
The Democratic Party message worked against Reagan for a while. Even before the Democrats had anointed a candidate, back in February 1984, polls showed a dead heat between Reagan and either Mondale or John Glenn, the two leading Democratic candidates. Pollster Louis Harris told U.S. News and World Report that Reagan had "polarized the nation more than anyone since Franklin Roosevelt ... This looks to me to be very close -- a 50-50 election." Four months before the election, Mondale led Reagan by 2 percentage points. Since Mondale only won the nomination in July, that August poll showed Mondale at his high point, with Reagan at his low. By Election Day, the 2-point deficit had become an 18-point blowout.
As it did in 1984, the negativity of the Democratic election machine will begin to grate on the American public this year. After all, the economic outlook is strong. Unemployment is down to 5.6 percent, the lowest level in two years, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average is over 10,000 again. This despite the severe shock of Sept. 11, coupled with the spate of corporate scandals. And George W. Bush's foreign policy is far more popular than Reagan's was during his re-election campaign.
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