Friday, May 9, 2003

Getting There in ‘04

Bill Clinton, it is said, won the presidency with his laser-like focus on the economy. Don't believe it. Bill Clinton was elected because of his laser-like focus on winning. Remember that stuff about "fire in the belly?" When Roger Mudd interviewed candidate Ted Kennedy decades ago, it was clear that the Senator simply didn't have it. He folded his tent a few weeks later. Perhaps George Bush doesn't have the same level of Clintonesque focus, but clearly Karl Rove does and that's enough for both of them. Without question, we want a President who has depth and who will lead us in the right direction — all of us, regardless of our political views, want that. If we're learned anything in the past couple of years it is that content, where a President stands on issues, matters. But you can't deliver content without winning first, and takes a laser-like focus.

I watched the Democratic South Carolina debate last week on C-Span. Decent credentialed people and, while I would argue with some of their specific positions, each would be an improvement over George Bush. But Bill Clinton didn't seem to be present in the hall. Not Bill Clinton the man (though I sorely wish he had been there), but someone with a discernable laser-like focus on winning. I think this is going to be a very tough race, even though that shouldn't be the case. No one can claim that we're better off today than they were before Bush took office, at least not with a straight face. The arguments for change are compelling. The war, even if deemed "successful," represented a new and ominous turn in foreign policy. I continue to believe it to be inconsistent with who we are however obscured that may be by hype and superficial flag waving. Patriotism is not the issue here, but why we should have reason to be patriotic. The future of both Afghanistan and Iraq is by no means a certain. History is not on the side of promised transformation. The war on terrorism is mired in building a new and cumbersome bureaucracy, shockingly inadequate resources at the local level, a grab for our civil liberties and a still elusive Osama Bin Laden. The economy sucks. Real issues are not the problem for Democrats here. They abound. I would love to see some new approaches and ideas, less of the "same old, same old," but I don't think that's the problem either.

In the end, someone has to have the burning desire to win, a passion for victory and the unmistakable energy that always goes with it. That has yet to be exhibited. Joe Lieberman says he knows George Bush is beatable, "because (exhibiting a little smile and wink) Al Gore and I already did it." Really? Well why is Bush sitting in the White House and why has he been able to change our course so dramatically in so many ways? Perhaps the Supreme Court, rather than voters, cast the deciding ballot, but it was legal and with it came the considerable power of the Presidency. Hello, Bush won and he's made more than the most of it. It will take far more than a wink and claim of electability. Remember when Walter Mondale asked Gary Hart, "where's the beef?" OK, guys where is the focus on winning? Please don't tell me that none of you have it. And a Karl Rove of our own wouldn't hurt.

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