Democratic dismay
Jenny Brown
November/December 2002

Suddenly it wasn't just Ralph Nader saying it. And it wasn't just Green Party or Labor Party people saying it. After the defeat of many Democrats in the 2002 election, lots of people were saying it in many different ways: The Democratic Party lost votes because it's too conservative, too indistinguishable from the Republicans.

At, a website set up by union organizer and anti-Bush campaigner Zack Exley, Democrats and former Democrats vented on election night at the "Angry Dems Wall of Frustration."

"The story is that rank-and-file Democrats are incredibly angry about the direction the party has been going for a long time," Exley told the Houston Chronicle. "They have been angry for years, but this latest defeat has sent people over the top."

NAACP chair Julian Bond summarized the election more bluntly. Quoted in Newsweek, he noted, "When the shameless compete against the spineless, the shameless always win."

The 'wall' recorded such early morning post-election comments as: "What do we expect after 14 months of Daschle licking Bush's boots??? Where are the leaders who can bring back the Democratic Party?????" [2:41am]

And: "Maybe if the dems hadn't kept saying "President Bush has done a great job in the war on terror!" What if they had said, "Bush is losing the war on terror by squandering the surplus on things that have nothing to do with national security." What if they had gone on the offensive. Really, what are these people afraid of?" [2:55am]

And: "Don't blame the media. Don't blame the Republicans. Sure as hell don't blame the American people! Blame the Democratic Party. It's OK to be pissed. Terry McAuliffe is a #^$&ing idiot. Daschle is a complete wuss. And you know they're not even going to draw the right lesson from this. No, instead they're going to decide that they need to pull back even further, to submit even more completely. What the hell are we going to do? The American people have no leaders who represent them: that's why only 40% of registered voters turn out." [3:28am]

And: "Democratic Party needs to change their mascot from a jackass to a gelded jellyfish..." [4:47am]

And: "The Democrats had no message. They caved to the Republicans. In most arenas, you had to wait for the tag at the end of the TV spot to figure out if the candidate was Democratic or Republican, otherwise you couldn't tell. Get organized in your local districts! Take back the party!" [7:03am]

(The Wall of Frustration can be viewed on the Web at

Exley also created "possibly the world's shortest petition," the entire text of which reads: "Terry, You're Fired" referring to Democratic Party chair Terry McAuliffe. It had accumulated 10,000 signatures by Thursday following the election.

Still, it was up to the likes of Nader and the Labor Party to deliver an analysis that went beyond outrage. In "An Open Letter to the Democratic Party" written shortly before the election, Nader noted:

"Why is the overall contest for Party control of Congress too close to call? Because Democrats are not clearly, relentlessly and aggressively emphasizing [the] fundamental issues to distinguish themselves from the Republicans. Why? Are they unaware, neglectful or torpid? No, their chronic ambiguity flows from being largely indentured to the same monied commercial interests as the Republicans." (November 2, 2002. The complete letter is at right.)

New York writer and columnist Jimmy Breslin wrote in Newsday on November 7: "The Democrats got carried out everywhere on Tuesday. Why not? Why would you ever vote for a Democrat when you can vote for the original, the Republicans?"

Voter turnout figures support this view. Voter turnout was slightly higher than in the last mid-term elections. In 1998, 37.6 percent of the voting age population voted. In 2002 it was 39.1 percent. But the gains were mostly in the Republican column, according to Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate. "The Republicans got their vote out better than the Democrats," Gans told the Washington Post. "The Democrats lost votes nationally, and the Republicans gained votes... As far as I can see, the Democrats tried to raise the economy as an issue but offered no program."

Perhaps the most vituperative attacks were reserved for those Democrats who gave Bush a blank check on invading Iraq, in what was supposed to be a savvy election strategy. Breslin writes: "You don't have to go past New York to see what hyphen politics-Democrat-Republican-has done. The two Democratic senators voted for the Republican resolution to invade Iraq. [Hillary Clinton votes] aye for all New Yorkers. Let's blow Iraq up. The other senator, Schumer, usually has a Sunday press conference to announce a new red light in Bay Ridge. This time he went bigger and voted to give the government a green light on killing. All officials listed as Democrats, but we know they are in a hyphen party, must get out of the way. The people are going to have to manage a peace movement themselves that is certain to give legitimate Democratic voters a chance at something real."

Will the Democratic Party leadership get it? Some seem to be flirting with the crazy idea of standing up for people at the expense of corporations. Al Gore recently claimed he supports single-payer national health care, a system which would cut out the big insurance companies and their even larger profits. As big insurance comes down on him, we'll see how strong this new resolve is.

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