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Bucky

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Name: Mister Rea
Gender: Male
Hometown: Houston
Home country: Moon
Current location: afk
Member since: 2002
Number of posts: 48,808

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mostly harmless

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A history of Democratic Primaries since I've been awake. And why I'm worried.

1980
- Carter, the incumbent, was challenged by two strong opponents. Carter was amazingly weak, having run an undisciplined White House and having been humiliated by the ongoing Iranian hostage crisis, and had approval ratings that stayed in the low 30s. But there were other problems. Another gas crisis, altho not as bad as the '73 crisis, made people antsy. It also triggered a lethl combo of inflation and a stagnant growth rate--"stagflation" they called it.
- Jimmy Carter was an agile campaigner, but his strength was in the moderate and Southern factions of the Democrats, although the Republicans had long since started digging into the Democrat's
- Factional lines were fluid, and personalities dominated more than interest group, but opposition generally broke down as:
- Teddy Kennedy represented the union movement and old line Cold War liberals. He was a flawed campaigner, at various times not being able to give strong off-the-cuff responses to highly predictable media questions like "Why do you want to be president?" and "What really happened at Chappaquiddick?"
- Jerry Brown was a precursor of both Third Way politics and earth-conscious environmental causes. He started late and didn't have a strong base in the early contests.

These were three giants. Brown hovered around 10% in the first contests in February and then dropped to <4% in March. He dropped out in April. Kennedy and Carter battled for the rest of the spring and into the summer. Kennedy eked out a couple of big states, but Carter won many contests by substantial margins, until he was inevitable. Then, once it looked hopeless for Kennedy, he started winning big states like California and New Jersey.


1984

There were four strong contenders and a number of viable also-rans this time.
- Walter Mondale was the establishment candidate, but no one presumed to tell other ambitious senators not to try and challenge him. We were a democracy after all. He had almost unanimous union support--at least from union leaders. He had a strong liberal record and represented both the Kennedy and the Humphrey wings of the party
- Gary Hart was the break out "dark horse" of the campaign, running on a "New Ideas" platform and attracting socially liberal young professionals
- Jesse Jackson put together a strong coalition of the "forgotten man" - urban minorities, family farmers, progressive & single issue activists, and large numbers of university students and intellectuals and civil rights advocates -- the people the party establishment liked to ignore
- John Glenn ran a vigorous candidacy, also drawing from the Kennedy tradition, but was a little too stodgy on the stump to break through to the later primaries & caucuses. He dropped out in March.

These were four giants, but other notables like Ernest Hollings and Alan Cranston ran serious candidacies. (Most heartbreaking was the tepid return of George McGovern, who failed to catch on as he had 16 years earlier in 1972's insurgency campaign)

Generally speaking, Mondale won the eastern states and Hart won the western states and Jackson pulled off three upsets (DC, Louisiana, & Mississippi)




1988
In 1984 Kennedy had shocked everyone by not running. In 1988, it was Mario Cuomo who surprisingly did not run.

A deep bench of mostly new contenders showed the strength of the democratic Democratic party that year. There really wasn't a single "establishment" candidate that year. A few years out of office does that to a party (viz, Republicans in 1980, 2000, & '16, and Democrats in 1992, 2004 & '08). So we had...
- Mike Dukakis combining elements of the Kennedy, Hart, and Cuomo appeals, but also running as supercompetant manager type (it was the 1980s, after all)
- Jesse Jackson repeating, but to less effect, his 1984 Rainbow Coalition. He instead become a regional candidate, but couldn't break out of the South.
- Al Gore combining both the Hart "new ideas" approach and the as-yet-unnamed Third Way that meant appealed to moderates, especially southern moderates, although the country seemed significantly less regional compared to half a generation earlier.
- Dick Gephardt was, if anyone, the union/Humphrey wing candidate. But he was also strong on farm issues and stood for a strong foreign policy in the JFK/Scoop Jackson tradition
- Paul Simon also drew union support as well as professional/Hart-wing & academic support. Bruce Babbitt ran for a while as a conservationist and a westerner (this is when California was considered a potentially flippable Republican state)



Gary Hart blew up in a sex scandal that year. Cuomo began cultivating his Hamlet-on-the-Hudson rep. Joe Biden and Pat Shroeder jumped in and then jumped out when the crowds didn't gather for them.

Again, campaign coalitions were pretty fluid. The people running for the nomination were running on their resumes and their ideas, not their interest bases. All the major candidates were the sorts of leaders the full party could support. Unlike 1980 or today, the party didn't have the sense of being divided into factions, just spread among different candidacies. We lost cause "liberal" had become a dirty word somehow. This was the apex of Nixon's Southern Strategy era.


1992

Bill Clinton happened and Democrats finally got a candidate with some real Elvis in him. He combined Dukakis's & Hart's "governing ideas that work for all the people" appeal with Jerry Brown's liberal-moderate positioning. He swept almost everyone else aside by mid-March. His main rival was...

- Jerry Brown, who now was running a more outsidery/New Age/pro-environment campaign and earned the support of much of the old Rainbow Coalition. Brown kept losing but kept at it until the convention. This is probably the real beginning of the current cultural divide in the party... the candidacy that isn't about resume but about policy approach--the "include us too" coalition of the forgotten families.

A few others also tried to get the nomination, but they were running as job applicants, not interest-base candidates. Still, there was competition and a real question as to "Who would catch on with the people". The small-d democracy mattered still.
- Tom Harkin who won his home state of Iowa and sub-30% victories in the midwest on Super Tuesday before dropping out
- Bob Kerrey who won South Dakota big and couldn't break 15% support anywhere else before dropping out
- Paul Tsongas who had unfair comparisons to the lackluster Dukakis, won New Hampshire and did just as good as Clinton on Super Tuesday (winning Maryland and several western states while Clinton bagged Georgia, South Carolina, and Wyoming and Brown won Colorado in a three-way photo-finish). He was plagued by health rumors tho (he died of cancer before Clinton's 2nd inauguration) and lost every contest (by 2-to-1 margins) except his home state in the two weeks after Super Tuesday.

Again, these were all men of parts, and the contest was decided by the people, although big campaign donations were starting to matter to all but the insurgency candidate.



2000

Succeeding a successful president was bound to fall to the young handsome intelligent vice president. But even then, the Democrats had a real contest with real arguments between two potential leaders.
- Al Gore ran the first Democratic campaign in the Fox News era. He was clearly the establishment Democratic candidate and the moderate in the race. He had boodles of money. Despite the dot-com bubble popping there was plenty of Wall Street money for the Democrats to wallow in. Democrats, it was finally demonstrated, simply ran the economy and the government better than the Republicans (a comparative list of Reagan-Bush-Bush scandals towers over the paltry and mostly naughty Clinton scandal list, while Obama's scandals consist pretty much of one fucked up website). A few potential challengers (Kerry, Kerrey, Gephardt, Howard Dean) "tested the waters", meaning they found out no one would back them against Gore's megabucks. In the end only one candidate challenged him:
- Bill Bradley attempted to capture the liberal banner, but the party wasn't up to monkeying with a successful formula. He didn't really play effectively to the "hey include us too" wing of the party, the forgotten underclass. He was a millionaire and had no feel for the expanding yet shrinking working class. He lost every primary and was out by mid-March.
- There was no one else. We were a party with a short bench.

By this time, the Willie Hortening of the Democrats was more or less de rigueur now. This was the post-Lewinsky election. So the Al and Tipper showed the strength of their marriage by making out on the podium. This wasn't about governance, but about values. He talked like Mister Rodgers during the debates, as if out-dumbing George Bush was a viable strategy.

Democrats' real strength was now being able to trump Republicans on the economy (tho the party of Reagan never gave up the talking point). So they grabbed the culture war theme from the 80s and 90s, which was only meant to keep the South from drifting to moderation, and placed it center stage. They also gussied up Dubya in the veil of "compassionate conservative" and pretended he would be a bipartisan leader--a deeply empty promise it turned out.

so Florida happened

Despite winning, by a hair, we lost the White House.

But oh, our loins ached for Bubba, just as the generation from 1968 to 1988 ached for Bobby's return. Damn that Constitution. We needed that Clinton mojo back. And there was that new senator from New York with her secret weapon. Fox News spent the next three years sneering that we were all puppets for Hillary. And so, of course, CNN and all the newspapers echoed the voice of America's dysfunctional drunk uncle.



2004

Not surprisingly, Sen Clinton didn't run in the next election. I mean, after all, it'd be insane for a 1st term senator, never re-elected, to run for the White House.

So we got another deep bench year. This was DU's first Democratic primary season. Those of us who were here 12 years ago remember the vitriol. It was harsh, but at least it was a race split multiple ways.
- John Kerry represented the old Kennedy wing, the high church liberals, and a strong slice of the union vote--altho to our shame as a nation, the union vote in 21st Century was not as weighty as it'd been in the middle of the 20th.
- John Edwards gave a populist twist to the moderate wing, striking a perfectly inclusive note for the forgotten citizen, but seemed to lack gravitas (and boy howdy! as we found out four years later!)
- Dennis Kucinich recreated the Rainbow Coalition and gave for the leftier activists a true voice
- Wesley Clark went for the intellectual crowd, and was accused of being a Hillary surrogate, but also brought a lot of veterans and suburban professionals into the Democratic tent
- Joe-mentum (!)
- Al Sharpton did his thing, but mostly just diverted the black vote as a bargaining tool for the convention
- and then there was people-powered Howard Dean, who galvanized many activists and more importantly created the internet wing of the Democratic Party.

Every four years every candidate running for president and every surrogate for each party repeats the implausible mantra that "this year's election is uniquely historical... indeed, it may be the most important election of our lifetimes." For short I'll call it the MIEOOL. They have always been wrong, probably even for 2016, except when they said it in 2004. Bush's run for "re"-election was the MIEOOL of your lifetime. Unless you're under 12 [font size="1"](in which case Kanye's run for reelection in 2024 is your MIEOYL)[/font].

Both Dean fully realizing how to use social media and the internet in pulling together a voting block and the American public's failure to repudiate George Bush's reckless warmongering had lasting implications for democracy and for America's global behavior for the rest of this half century. Thirty years from now we will still be cleaning up Bush's mess in the middle east.

When America needs an orgasm, it turns to the Republicans. When it needs a janitor, it turns to us. Each election pretty much comes down to "Do you want to get the house in order or do you want to want to throw a missile at your middle aged insecurities?" And that leads us to the year....


2008

Once again there was a deep bench. But despite the quality candidates coming forth, there was really only two. One ran on Wall Street money, one ran on Chicago money. But the cast was impressive. One was the Clinton establishment and one inherited the liberal opposition to Clinton, despite being discernibly a moderate of the Third Way stripe. He hadn't been bamboozled by the Bushco drumbeat for war in Iraq, but then he hadn't been a senator yet. It was one candidate with connections and another with a sort of professorial version of Bubba's Elvis factor. He shifted his cadences when he went south and it won him important primaries. She turned up the fire and when she did she won, despite her husband's Hermann Munster like inability to help. I won't go all Freud on the Big Dog, but he was not playing his A-game that year.

There was also...
- John Edwards finished a close 2nd or 3rd for January, then dropping out after losing South Carolina.
- Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel splitting the activist and anti-establishment vote, but Kucinich dropping out after South Carolina
- old schoolers Chris Dodd and Joe Biden running shoestring campaigns like it was 1972 again, and thoroughly rejected by the party money-bags
- Bill Richardson who in another time might have made history, but stumbled under rumors of hubris (as if they didn't all suffer from ego inflation!)

But really it was just the two. It was epic. It was civil war. It was razor close again and again. And then we made history. Which leads us to...



2016

And this year, I contend, is different. It's more than just "2000 Jr" with the incumbent successful-despite-shockingly-disciplined-obstruction. In 2000, a mainstream liberal senator was able to mount a serious opposition against a competent-yet-Fox-villified establishment candidate. Gore then was favored, but his opponent was given more or less equal coverage. The terms of the debate was "who could build on the establishment Democrat's worthy record of progress?" In 2000, a few senators tested the waters.

In 2016, no one from the DC establishment tested the waters. There was a presumptive nominee and there was no one, as in no one, who made any noise. I mean, it's still America and so a few gadflies went out there, Dodd/Biden-like to test the waters, to see if they could catch fire as the anti-Hillary as Obama had done 8 years before. Two were jokes and Martin O'Malley lacked charisma. And money--boy, did he lack money. Senator-Secretary Clinton, for all her service and gravitas and experience and connections to the financial world and good works with the Clinton Foundation, was still a flawed candidate with national negatives that hovered around 55%.

To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, it was the story of the donkey who didn't bark. Where have all our giants gone? The country's forgotten citizen, the screwed over working class, is far far more numerous now than it was in 1984 when we still had strong unions and college students expected to live better off than their parents. Both the incumbent and his designated successor represent a genuine compassion for the working class who, despite the compassion, continue to get squeezed down by a relentless globalized economy. No one with a solid Democratic pedigree stood up, like FDR would've, like Hubert Humphrey would've, like Ted Kennedy would've, like Bobby died doing, to speak powerfully for the disincluded American.

Had we become the compassionate conservatives? The Party of Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Kasich, Carson, and Murdoch is quantifiably neither compassionate nor conservative. They are contemptuous reactionaries, perverting the American dream in ways that would mortify Reagan if he were alive (or Poppy Bush if he weren't a whore for energy, pharmaceutical, finance, and construction interests), and polluting the minds of actual conservatives with tribalized resentments that threaten the unity of the nation.

Nope, this year should be a walk for us. The Republicans, long culturally denoted by their ability to conform and line up behind their leader every four years, are fractured like rats on the Titanic ripping out each other's throats over who gets to eat Leonardo's fingers before drowning. Okay I botched that metaphor. They had a few giants of their own ilk this time around and--significantly--rejected every last damn one of them so they could choose between a deranged theocrat, an empty suit, and gold-plated Mussolini.

They're falling apart. And yet they consistently beat our front runner in head to head polling, except for the fascist (but even then we haven't seen his inevitable tactical turn to reforming populist; and ideologically he's the best positioned to pick up independent and moderate votes that currently elude him for his monkeyshines--trust me, those'll go away by the end of May). They conduct their debates with the dignity of a middle school food fight. And yet they still outpoll Clinton.

With so weak a frontrunner, why was there no mainstream challenger this year? Where was our bench?

Of course, instead we saw the rise of a non-Democrat as the voice of the "Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party." Bernie Sanders is a national treasure, but it's not insignificant that he hasn't ever run as a nominal Democrat to Congress. He's been great, speaking for the voiceless, caring for the forgotten. But he's so far out of the mainstream that he hasn't been able to coalesce a working majority against the centrist candidate--a singularly unpopular centrist at that. There's no reason on earth that big money couldn't gather behind a more effective spokesperson--one who hasn't been smeared by a quarter century of lies, vitriol, rumor mongering, conspiracy theories, baseless character attacks, and plain old misogyny. But it hasn't. Either someone up there in the penthouses wants us to lose this year, or there is a corrupt class of one-percenters who are truly out of touch with the mecha-bot they think they're driving.

And don't get me wrong. I do respect Hillary Clinton as an administrator, as commander, as a champion for women's rights, as a foe of global climate change, as a diplomat negotiating treaties. I'd trust her as president as much as any other mainstream Democrat. Part of me wants to see Fox heads explode when she's inaugurated. Sadly, I'm not very confident she can hurtle over that bar, however. And I adore Bernie Sanders's fire and advocacy as a politician, though I do worry about his trade policy and the economic impact of his approach to healthcare (I'm supporting him financially, but mostly because he's tons more electable and probably can't get his more extreme proposals through anyhoo). And they're both wonderful people and they're invited to my barbecue. But from a historical perspective, I gotta ask... is that all we've got?

So, again, I wonder what's going on. How was every ambitious, charismatic senator and governor spooked out of challenging Secretary Clinton? How was the anti-Clinton vote defaulted to a guy who has the political luxury of giving zero fucks (as the kids say) when her cloud-high negatives have been a known entity for so long a time? How was all of the money on Wall Street funneled into only one candidate's warchest?

In a phrase, what on God's green Earth happened to our Democratic Party?
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