On to 1980, and the world changed. Ronald Reagan was why. But first he had to get to the White House. Jimmy Carter certainly did his part to help Reagan get elected, with double-digit inflation, high unemployment at the same time, and a foreign policy that amounted to ’whine and run away’. But even so, Reagan’s clear and idealistic vision which put America first, no excuses, found strong resonance with voters. The lesson is obvious; despair never matches up well against Confidence and a plan.
For 1984, the Democrats ran the most dismal and depressing candidate they could find for the nomination. The lesson was pretty much the same as in 1980, with the same results.
For 1988, the Democrats thought they had figured out the formula. Besides the GOP had never won more than two consecutive elections, or won two consecutive elections with different Presidential candidates, since before the Great Depression. So, the Democrats once again thought it was time to roll out the ’America wants more taxes’. Trying to make Mike Dukakis look human was more successful than with Mondale, but the effort to make him look like a military leader … remember that tank photo? Anyway, the lesson is play to your strengths, but don’t pretend strengths which are not there.
Next, 1992. What a mess. And yes, I’m repeating myself, because 1992 was a repeat of 1968 in some ways. Like the Democrats in 1968, the GOP in 1992 had become fractured, with purists and extremists and various other arrogant egotists trying to hijack the party. They didn’t like G.H.W. Bush, they didn’t like the choices available, so some Republicans stayed home, and some went off the reservation to support the magnificent idiot, Ross ’kinahfinish?’ Perot. The Democrats, as usual, presented a man without a plan to America, a gregarious southern governor who had no competencies to speak off, and little integrity to back up what ideas he did carry along the way. The Democrats rallied behind their man, such as he was, while the Republicans had a lively bickerfest that further soured America’s opinion of Conservatives in particular. Thus we got President Bubba. The lesson? Well it should be obvious.
In 1996, it sure looked like the Republicans were going to get the White House back. President Bubba had managed to alienate himself with just about everyone, but he rallied his troops and rebuilt his image, which was actually pretty easy for a man whose spine was made of jello. Meanwhile, the GOP had somehow gotten the idea that image did not matter, and as a result they nominated a man with an impeccable resume, but with no discernable charisma or specific plans which resonated with the voters. So, while Bubba couldn’t clear 50% on the popular vote, Dole lost to him anyway. The lesson, appearances do count, and it’s kind of important to make sure folks know why you’d be an improvement on the current President.
In 2000, the Democrats felt good. Clinton was high in the polls again, despite his impeachment and voluntary disbarment (not legally speaking, but if a judge asks for your license and you hand it over after pleading ‘no contest’, well …), the economy was good and everything seemed to be running well (the Clinton Administration, contrary to later claims, dealt with Al Qaeda by simply not mentioning it to the American public, nor it seems the next Administration). So Al Gore felt good about his prospects of being the first Democrat to succeed a Democrat in the White House since Lyndon Johnson. Events, however, proved otherwise, and the election, while controversial, proved that either Gore was not nearly as desired by the American public as he thought, or George W. Bush was far more impressive than the Democrats ever thought he could possibly accomplish. For neither the first nor last time, George W. Bush was underestimated, and while Dubya entered the White House, all Al Gore could to go on an eating binge and begin rehearsal of a series of odd and elitist theories. The lesson is, the only real self-fulfilling prophecies are the bad kind.
On to 2004, and the President Bush vs. Senator Kerry matchup. President Bush was already paying for sticking to his position, and his lack of eloquence and media skills cost him several opportunities to put away the election early on. But once again, the Democrats presented a candidate so obviously incapable of the post he sought, that 62 million Americans pulled the lever for Dubya, the most in any U.S. presidential election. The lessons are that a stumbling competency still reflects integrity, standing by the President bears dividends, and a party which thinks that a man who married into hundreds of millions of dollars somehow is best-equipped to speak for the common man, is hopelessly out of touch.
I leave you now to consider the lessons of the past 15 elections, and apply them if you will to our present field of contenders. If nothing else, the obvious misfits should be clear.