Hindsight may be 20-20, but the question weighs on the mind of every democrat post-election: Where did Kerry go wrong?
With the issues of the economy, a war on terror, a troubling conflict in Iraq and a majority of voters unsure about the president’s next move, many analysts predicted that John Forbes Kerry would be the guy celebrating on November 2. Now, with George W. Bush reclaiming his job as commander-in-chief, many critics at MSU are now re-evaluating the 2004 presidential race, mulling over the key mistakes the Kerry camp made during the his bid for the White House. [kerry]
One of his primary blunders appears to be his ambivalent position on the War in Iraq. MSU Students For Bush vice-chair Mike Flis thinks that Kerry had to take a much more decisive stance to win voter’s support.
“He had a big problem with taking a strong stance on the issues, and I don’t think that most people could take him for his word,” said Flis. “This is especially true with the War in Iraq. I couldn’t tell day-to-day what his position was.”
Mathematics junior and self-described independent Cliff Kraus agrees. “Kerry’s position needed to be crystal clear and it just wasn’t,” commented Kraus. “Was it ‘the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time,’ or was it necessary to disarm Saddam Hussein?”
Krauss went on to note that Kerry missed an opportunity for a strong critique of the Bush administration at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. “Instead of working to characterize his position on Iraq at the convention, Kerry decided to focus on his Vietnam credentials,” added Krauss. “I don’t think this election was decided based on who did what during that war. I would rather know who is willing to win this war.”
Kerry’s focus on his war record opened the doors for groups like the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” to shift the dialogue to his anti-war activities after returning from service. These attacks went prominently unanswered for weeks, and some analysts believe that they were quite damaging for Kerry in swing states like Ohio and Iowa.
According to exit polls, the issue of “moral values” ranked very high among voters. Sarah Chesney, a member of the MSU College Democrats believes that this gave Bush an advantage. “Bush spent so much time talking about his religion,” explained Chesney. “Kerry should have had stronger language regarding his religious beliefs. I think, especially in the last debate, that Kerry’s religious values came off as artificial. Bush seemed to speak from his heart a lot more.”
Professor Doug Hoekstra, who teaches political science at James Madison College, feels that larger mistakes made by the Democratic party contributed to Kerry’s downfall. “Traditionally voters see Democrats as being stronger on domestic issues,” remarked Hoekstra. “Bill Clinton advised the campaign to run a campaign based on domestic issues, but they put a tremendous focus on Iraq and the war on terror.”[class]
Curtis Stokes, who is also a political science professor as well as the director of the Ph.D. program in African American and African studies, agreed that the Democratic party misplaced its focus.
“The Democratic Party has not really acted as a working class party in recent years,” he said. “Corporate control runs rampant in the party, and I think that a new party will have to emerge to play the role of a party that represents American workers.”
Whether or not the Democrats need to reinvent or just rejuvenate the party will be the subject of four more years of debate. The leaders of the party will study every move, second guess every word and try again in 2008 with another candidate they hope can steal the wind the Republicans’ sails.
Despite all of the talk regarding the weakness of the party, some partisans are not giving in to what they see as mere hype. In an e-mail sent to members of the MSU College Democrats, President Randy Neice proclaimed the strength of the Democratic Party was still evident, especially here on campus. It read, “Do not lose faith in the Democratic Party. The true majority of Americans know that our values are their values. In 2006, Congress is up for re-election and our voices will be heard, and the message that our voices will be yelling is liberal and proud.”

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