Saturday, June 19, 2010

Failed Democratic Nominees

The modern Democratic Party has a rich history of losing and this entry is a celebration of their collective failure. Their loserdom is due in large part to weakling nominees who roll over for their better managed Republican opponents. For some unknown reason Democratic nominees often rely on mediocre political strategists like Bob Shrum, Susan Estrich or Donna Brazile. GOP nominees, on the other hand, are more likely to recruit the sociopathic street fighters like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. In 1992 Bill Clinton had James Carville leading a 24/7 rapid response unit within his campaign that effectively neutralized the George HW Bush slime machine, but this was a notable exception. In other presidential election years Democrats have won because of historic Republican malfeasance (Jimmy Carter won a slim victory over incumbent Gerald Ford in 1976 after Watergate; Barack Obama defeated John McCain by a significant margin thanks to eight years of George W. Bush) or spectacularly inept opponents (Clinton beat Bob Dole in 1996 and Obama had the benefit of a twofer in 2008 - the two-term blunders of the incumbent Republican and a spectacularly inept opponent; indeed, the corpse of Adlai Stevenon, the patron saint of Democratic losers, could have won in '08). So, without further delay, here are the men who have made it hard to be a Democrat...

Jimmy Carter graduated from Plains High School in Plains, Georgia in 1941. He played basketball (that's him in the back row, second from left) and, during non-school hours, he ran a profitable peanut business. He went on to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis and was elected governor of Georgia in 1970. Thanks in large part to Richard Nixon's behavior in office and Gerald Ford's unconditional pardoning of him (not to mention Ford's poor debate performance), Carter won the presidency in 1976. His unstinting honesty and his belief that the American public should be treated as intelligent adults did little to help him overcome the pall of failure that shadowed him through much of his term. A terrible economy, the Iranian Hostage Crisis, and Ted Kennedy's primary challenge in 1980 didn't help matters (and neither did his black sheep brother, Billy). Carter suffered a resounding defeat at the hands of Ronald Reagan on November 4, 1980.

Walter "Crazylegs" "Fritz" Mondale graduated from Elmore High School in Elmore, Minnesota in 1946. He ran track, played basketball and was the left halfback on the school's football team (where he earned the unlikely nickname "Crazylegs"). According to the book The Democrat's Dilemma: Walter Mondale and the Liberal Legacy, Mondale's family and peers had little hope for him succeeding in life: "That Fritz, [Mondale's minister father once confided to a Sunday school aide], he'll never amount to anything." The biography also points out that the future vice president of the United States was sometimes a quitter: "while running the 220-yard dash during the final track meet of his high school career, he abruptly quit without finishing the race. 'What the hell, there's no point in this--I'm not interested in this,' he said to himself." Of course, the young Mondale went on to a distinguished career in the U.S. Senate and a very influential role as Jimmy Carter's vice president from 1977 to 1981. In 1984 he picked an unqualified congresswoman from New York, Geraldine Ferraro, as his running mate, laughed at Ronald Reagan's self-deprecating remarks about age during the second presidential debate and lost the race in a historic landslide. To be fair, no Democrat could have won in '84 (a fact that seems lost on Reagan's re-election campaign manager, Ed Rollins, who has dined out on the victory for decades).

Michael Dukakis graduated from Brookline High School in Brookline, Massachusetts in 1951. In his senior year, he was voted one of the "most brilliant" (along with someone named Marilyn Tanner). He also ran for senior class president against his friend, the "most popular" Bob Wool. In the book Dukakis: An American Odyssey, Dukakis recalled the outcome of the race for the authors: "I got my head handed to me." The failed high school candidate eventually went on to become the governor of Massachussets and the unlikely Democratic nominee in 1988. Before George HW Bush and Lee Atwater unleashed their legendarily negative campaign against Dukakis, he held a 16 point lead over the sitting vice president in the polls. The governor also had 70% favorability rating (Bush's unfavorability rating in May of 1988 was at more than 40% - unprecedendented at that time). By the time Atwater and Floyd Brown succeeded in making convicted rapist and murderer, Willie Horton, Dukakis's defacto running mate, the race was all but over. Dukakis's unfortunate decision to ride in a tank and his bloodless answer to a debate question about his wife's hypothetical violation and murder sealed his fate. His clueless campaign manager, Susan Estrich, who reportedly arranged for the tank photo op (she denies it) is now one of the liberal punching bags employed by Fox News.

Al Gore graduated cum laude from Harvard University with a degree in government in 1969. Years later, when Gore was vice president under Bill Clinton, he claimed that he and his then-girlfriend, Tipper, were the real-life models for the couple in the Harvard-set bestseller Love Story. In 1997, the novelist Erich Segal told the New York Times that he based a small part of the character of rich boy athlete Oliver Barrett IV on Gore. The majority of the inspiration came from Gore's roommate, football player and future Oscar winning actor Tommy Lee Jones. As for the female protagonist, Siegal told the Times: "I did not draw a thing from Tipper." During the 2000 primary race against Senator Bill Bradley, Gore inartfully cited his championing of Internet leglislation in a CNN interview as "I took the initiative in creating the Internet..." which contributed to the public perception (effectvely exploited by the Republicans) of him as a serial exaggerator. Gore's haughty public manner, his early reliance on feminist author Naomi Wolf for wardobe advice and his resistance to using Bill Clinton's campaign help in key states wound up contributing to his electoral loss (including his home state of Tennessee!) to a tongue-tied Texas governor.    

Like his 2004 opponent for the presidency, George W. Bush, John Kerry attended Yale University, joined the secret Skull and Bones society and racked up some lackluster grades. He graduated in 1966, went to Vietnam and served on a swift boat and eventually was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. He came home to protest the war and went into politics, becoming the junior senator from Massacussets in 1985 after a stint as Michael Dukakis's lieutenant governor. Somehow, Bob Shrum--Kerry's utterly useless campaign manager--allowed his candidate's war record to become a liability. Indeed, Kerry's inability to quickly and forcefully rebut the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth organization's blatant lies about his service record helped sink his chances of unseating Texas Air National Guard veteran Bush. Of course, the senator's wooden personality and half-crazed wife didn't help matters much either.

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