Since 1980, Democrats have tended to blame their losing candidates for not being tough enough. They somehow believe that their attacks on Republicans were not sufficiently sharp, and that Republicans are more focused on winning and more willing to do whatever it takes to win.
I think this is nonsense generally, but especially so this year. There is no question that on the shrillness meter, Democrats have won hands-down. Democrat friends of mine maintain that George Bush drives them to it and that shrillness is the only way of breaking through the political stupor in which most Americans live.
If they believe this, it is fine with me, speaking as a Republican. It is utterly counterproductive in terms of winning over undecided voters and only preaches to the choir that already hates Bush. It even makes lifelong liberals consider the possibility of voting Republican. As Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen recently wrote, "Bush haters go so far they end up adding a dash of red to my blue, pushing me by revulsion into a color I otherwise would not have."
I understand the futility of this sort of hate because Republicans used to be this way. Just read some of the vitriol hurled at John F. Kennedy by Republicans and conservatives in the early 1960s. It appears ludicrous now, since Kennedy's championing of big tax cuts, free trade and a strong national defense would put him on the far right wing of the Democratic Party -- out there with Georgia Sen. Zell Miller -- if he were alive today.
The hate was borne of frustration, a feeling of powerlessness in a political system that was utterly dominated by liberal Democrats -- Dwight Eisenhower's two terms notwithstanding. Just as Kennedy would hold down the right wing of his party today, Eisenhower would certainly hold down the left wing of the Republican Party today.
Over the years, responsible conservatives have purged most of the real haters from the movement. They are still out there, of course, but are totally marginalized, with no political power or intellectual influence whatsoever. And Ronald Reagan taught Republicans that optimism and a sunny disposition are extraordinarily powerful politically. Whatever one may think of Bush's policies, he is much more like Reagan in his personality than John Kerry, who often comes across as dour and impatient.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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