Were the Democrats repudiated as too left wing for the country, especially on cultural issues? Or were they mainly outplayed? Depending on what one concludes, dramatically different remedies follow. In fact, the country was split almost evenly, as in 2000. Democrats would make a grave mistake to take 2004 as a wholesale repudiation. Rather, John Kerry lost the election and Democrats lost ground for four distinct reasons.
First, the Republicans enjoy a structural advantage. As a party they are better financed, more disciplined and strategic, and willing to play far dirtier. They also benefit from captive broadcast media (FOX, Rush Limbaugh, et al.) and docile mainstream media. Once, the press gave itself permission to conclude in hard news stories that Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton lied to the American people. George W. Bush also lied, but the major dailies and networks would not say so.
Second, the Republicans shamelessly used September 11. Despite the palpable lies and bungles in the Iraq War, Bush's people, abetted by a tame media, succeeded in conflating Saddam Hussein, 9-11, and general apprehension about terrorism.
Third, Kerry took too long to focus. He took far too long to make the election a referendum on Bush. Kerry won the Iowa precinct caucuses by not
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