Why the Democrats Keep Losing

Why the Democrats Keep Losing

One of the differences between the two political parties over the past ten years is that the Republican presidential candidates forget many things; the Democrats only one. On a range of questions small and large—the date of Pearl Harbor Day, whether nuclear missiles can be recalled, their own whereabouts in the shipping of arms to Iran—the Republicans are remarkably unretentive. Democratic candidates, by comparison, are masters of detail.

Their memory lapses are of a highly rarefied type. They forget only the raison d’être for their candidacy —why they wish to be president. Michael Dukakis was only the latest in a line of Democratic nominees to flounder in search of a theme. Before Walter Mondale flung himself into the bottomless pit of deficit reductions through tax hikes, his overarching theme was his own experience. “I’m ready!” he would cry at the end of his speeches, begging the question of ready-for-what? In 1980 Jimmy Carter galvanized the electorate around the idea that he was better able than Ronald Reagan to grasp the complexities of the modern world. The candidacy of Carter’s 1980 primary challenger, Ted Kennedy, never recovered from the dumbstruck silence with which Kennedy greeted Roger Mudd’s question as to why he sought the presidency.

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