November 5, 2004
By PAUL KRUGMAN
President Bush isn't a conservative. He's a radical - the leader of
a coalition that deeply dislikes America as it is. Part of that
coalition wants to tear down the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt,
eviscerating Social Security and, eventually, Medicare. Another part
wants to break down the barriers between church and state. And
thanks to a heavy turnout by evangelical Christians, Mr. Bush has
four more years to advance that radical agenda.
Democrats are now, understandably, engaged in self-examination. But
while it's O.K. to think things over, those who abhor the direction
Mr. Bush is taking the country must maintain their intensity; they
must not succumb to defeatism.
This election did not prove the Republicans unbeatable. Mr.
Bush did not win in a landslide. Without the fading but still potent
aura of 9/11, when the nation was ready to rally around any leader,
he wouldn't have won at all. And future events will almost surely
offer opportunities for a Democratic comeback.
I don't hope for more and worse scandals and failures during Mr.
Bush's second term, but I do expect them. The resurgence of Al
Qaeda, the debacle in Iraq, the explosion of the budget deficit and
the failure to create jobs weren't things that just happened to
occur on Mr. Bush's watch. They were the consequences of bad
policies made by people who let ideology trump reality.
Those people still have Mr. Bush's ear, and his election victory
will only give them the confidence to make even bigger mistakes.
So what should the Democrats do?
One faction of the party is already calling for the Democrats to
blur the differences between themselves and the Republicans. Or at
least that's what I think Al From of the Democratic Leadership
Council means when he says, "We've got to close the cultural gap."
But that's a losing proposition.
Yes, Democrats need to make it clear that they support personal
virtue, that they value fidelity, responsibility, honesty and faith.
This shouldn't be a hard case to make:
Democrats are as likely as Republicans to be faithful spouses and
good parents, and Republicans are as likely as Democrats to be
adulterers, gamblers or drug abusers.
Massachusetts has the lowest divorce rate in the country; blue
states, on average, have lower rates of out-of-wedlock births than
But Democrats are not going to get the support of people whose votes
are motivated, above all, by their opposition to abortion and gay
rights (and, in the background, opposition to minority rights). All
they will do if they try to cater to intolerance is alienate their
Does this mean that the Democrats are condemned to permanent
minority status? No. The religious right - not to be confused with
religious Americans in general - isn't a majority, or even a
dominant minority. It's just one bloc of voters, whom the Republican
Party has learned to mobilize with wedge issues like this year's
polarizing debate over gay marriage.
Rather than catering to voters who will never support them, the
Democrats - who are doing pretty well at getting the votes of
moderates and independents - need to become equally effective at
mobilizing their own base.
In fact, they have made good strides, showing much more unity and
intensity than anyone thought possible a year ago. But for the
lingering aura of 9/11, they would have won.
What they need to do now is develop a political program aimed at
maintaining and increasing the intensity. That means setting some
realistic but critical goals for the next year.
Democrats shouldn't cave in to Mr. Bush when he tries to appoint
highly partisan judges - even when the effort to block a bad
appointment fails, it will show supporters that the party stands for
something. They should gear up for a bid to retake the Senate or at
least make a major dent in the Republican lead. They should keep the
pressure on Mr.
Bush when he makes terrible policy decisions, which he will.
It's all right to take a few weeks to think it over. (Heads up to
readers: I'll be starting a long-planned break next week, to work on
a economics textbook. I'll be back in
January.) But Democrats mustn't give up the fight. What's at stake
isn't just the fate of their party, but the fate of America as we