Politics & Policy

Dreaming of a Landslide

Listening to James Carville and Stanley Greenberg.

How confident are the Democrats in Boston? The guy sitting next to me, a North Dakotan attending a workshop for Democratic activists, thinks that the Kerry campaign can “make it an interesting race” in his state.

The speakers at the event–Stanley Greenberg and James Carville, the well-known Democratic strategists who, with Bob Shrum, founded Democracy Corps–are almost as giddy. Greenberg says that Democracy Corps exists to provide advice for Democrats that is “not Pollyanna-ish.” But he also says that if the election were held today, the Democrats would win the presidency, the Senate, and the House.

There is, of course, huge applause at this point, as there will be at the mention of each piece of favorable polling data. I have never been in a crowd that was so enthusiastic about poll numbers. Even dubious ones: Greenberg insists that Kerry is leading Bush on taxes and that public perceptions on the economy are not changing, although other polls suggest he is wrong.

Greenberg argues that the Republican strategy of tending the conservative base has inspired a counter-reaction: “They have unintentionally created you.” Bush is not doing as well with his base as he did in 2000. “Independents are breaking for John Kerry; they’re thinking very much like Democrats; this election is constructed in a way that favors Democrats.” Democrats should therefore not be going for “a marginal win,” but a victory “that gives us a real majority and puts the Republicans conservatives on the defensive for many years.”

Greenberg made a few other comments that drew applause. Every time Carville or Greenberg mentioned Bill Clinton, the crowd went wild–far more so than when they said nice things about the current nominee. There was also clapping when Greenberg mentioned one of his cutesily named demographic groups: the “secular warriors,” “people who don’t own guns and don’t go to church.” They’re solid for Kerry–and, as Greenberg noted after the applause, were well represented in this auditorium.

I heard something else I had never heard before while Greenberg spoke. He noted that “some journalists” were saying that there was “progress in the green zone of Baghdad.” The crowd actually seemed to snort in unison. I had not thought such a thing was possible. Anyway, not to worry: There is no danger that people will perceive any progress in Iraq. “The country has formed an impression about Iraq and foreign policy and it is a deepening impression.” An impression, that is, of failure.

Greenberg’s polls show Democrats so far ahead on the war, the economy, and even taxes that it’s a bit mysterious why the race is tied. Not to worry, he says: the divergence between these underlying numbers and the head-to-head polls suggest that the convention will have a big impact.

There were a very few dark spots in Greenberg’s analysis. After months of parity following 9/11, Democrats have regained an advantage in the number of voters who identify with them rather than with the Republicans: But this change is “entirely” a result of falling Republican numbers, not of rising Democratic ones. Then there is Ralph Nader: “I’d pay close attention to Nader’s 4 percent.”

Finally, there was the question of social issues. Greenberg mentioned them only in passing, predicting that Republicans would talk about gay marriage to make inroads in the white working class. Carville didn’t mention them at all, except in a stray reference to stem-cell research.

You would think that the Democrats could find a formulation that made the marriage issue, or at least the marriage-amendment issue, work in their favor. But both their convention speakers and their strategists certainly seem to be afraid of the question.

I haven’t written much about Carville’s speech because he phoned it in. In 2004, he is still making Dan Quayle jokes. It’s the same old shtick. “I graduated 4.0–blood alcohol level!” He stroked every erogenous zone in his audience. He said that President Bush had lectured Jacques Chirac that the trouble with him is that French has no word for entrepreneur. The North Dakotan next to me slapped his knee. Slightly more interestingly, he said that it was important for Democrats to insist that John Kerry is a better man than the incumbent.

“John Kerry is just a better man that George Bush. Our guy is just better than your guy,” he said. “George Bush can’t even stand up to John Kerry…. To be strong is not cocking your head…. Being strong is not getting in the National Guard. And not showing up to the meetings. Being strong is not relying on your daddy, it’s going out and making your own way in the world.” Or marrying rich.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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