[This is written by a fellow Kerry blogger.]
When I sat down to watch the returns on Election Day in 2004, after working a year and a half as a full-time volunteer for the Kerry campaign, I believed the race would come down to Ohio, and I believed the state could go either way. I also believed, however, that no matter what happened in the coming hours, the fight we had waged would stand the test of time, advancing the Democratic and progressive agendas against the forces of nationalism and fundamentalism running rampant in America.
If Kerry won, I believed we would be able to divert the war in Iraq away from a ruinous course that was weakening our military, our economy and our national security. It would allow us to shift the focus of the fight against terrorism back to Afghanistan, where it should have been all along, and where it would inevitably have to return. A Kerry victory would mean that thousands if not tens of thousands of human beings – including our own troops — would be spared death, carnage and misery, because the war would be conducted and ended by adults, instead of perpetuated by ideologically arrogant and blindingly naive fools. I also believed that Kerry would finally address issues such as national health care, global warming, and fossil fuels — particularly by putting money into new energy technologies instead of massive subsidies for the oil industry.
If Kerry lost I believed it would mean only that the rest of the country had not yet realized what I had realized, which was that George W. Bush was an utter failure as a President and as an American. Such a loss would subject us to four more years of Constitutional abuses and failed policies, but it would also teach the rest of the electorate a lesson that would lead not simply to a change of leadership in our country, but to a dramatic change in course away from George W. Bush’s failed policies and incompetence. I could not have imagined Katrina, of course, or the gross mismanagement of the economy, but I did know that sooner or later George W. Bush would be held responsible for his failures by the American people. More importantly, I knew that another four years of George W. Bush would mean that the evangelicals and radical neoconservatives on the right would not be able to blame John Kerry and the Democrats for the disasters that George W. Bush had wrought. The Republicans would own the full eight years unambiguously, with nowhere to hide, and there would be no Democrat to scapegoat.
I cannot say I was surprised when Kerry lost in 2004. I didn’t know if Americans would be ready to change leadership so soon after 9/11, particularly when the Bush administration was so committed to terrorizing its own electorate with the specter of another attack. But in the aftermath of the loss and the expected recriminations I remained convinced that we had waged the right fight, and that we nominated the right candidate. Not because I was against Dean or anyone else, but because Kerry’s selection and the way he ran announced at a critical moment – in the first election after 9/11 — that Democrats were willing to take national security seriously. To take responsibility for the defense of the nation in a way that the Democratic party had not done in my lifetime.
During his campaign, John Kerry outlined a course of conduct in foreign affairs that the Bush/Cheney team ridiculed, but which it has now effectively adopted as of this date. It is a foreign policy that leans heavily on the diplomacy that George W. Bush rejected until he realized that the last tattered shreds of his legacy hung in the balance. Kerry’s vision also put the emphasis for fighting Al Qaeda on law enforcement tactics, which again the Bush administration ridiculed in 2004, but which everyone now agrees is the right approach.
In 2006 the Democratic party made the same policy arguments that we’d made in 2004. Kerry led the way in congressional races, raising as much or more than any other Democrat for other candidates, and using his own considerable online outreach and activism to do so. Before Barack Obama’s team blew the doors of every fundraising record in 2008, Kerry’s three-million-strong email list showed what could be done in 2006 focused races around the country, and Congress fell to the Democrats as a result.
Elected in 2006, among others, was Senator Jim Webb of Virginia. Webb — a former Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan Administration, a former Republican, and a veteran of the Vietnam War — had taken notice of the Democratic party and its willingness to embrace national security and foreign policy in a mature way in the 2004 campaign. After rejecting the fear mongering of the Republican party and the arrogance and incompetence of George W. Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq, Webb signed on with the Democrats and went on to win a narrow, pivotal, critical come-from-behind victory over a Republican candidate who had been considered a front runner for the Republican nomination for President in 2008. In doing so, Jim Webb became, in 2006, a leading indicator of what has now become a wave of Republicans embracing that same Democratic message in 2008, as put forward by Barack Obama.
Critical in all of this is that the message Democrats projected to voters in 2004, 2006 and now in 2008 has not changed. Where in previous years we might have swung wildly back and forth between policy positions, Democrats are now seen as the adults in the room, recognizing the problems we face and offering reasoned – as opposed to ideological — solutions. There has been very little trash talk or in-your-face values mongering on the part of Democrats and progressives over the past four years. Instead, the emphasis has been on the problems at hand, and how reason and resolve can solve those problems. The candidates may have changed, but the message has stayed the same, and it is a message that crystallized in 2004.
While the race for the 2004 nomination created friction within the Democratic party, it also produced agreement. After Kerry took the nomination he embraced not only the online fundraising example of the Dean campaign, which pioneered so many of the techniques now being used by the Obama campaign, but Kerry also supported Howard Dean’s candidacy for chairmanship of the DNC. Later, when Dean announced that he would pursue a 50-state strategy, foreshadowing if not laying the groundwork for the Obama campaign, Kerry defended Dean against James Carville, who brazenly tried to oust Dean from his chairmanship. While the 50-state strategy didn’t pay off at the presidential level in 2004, it delivered Congress to the Democrats in 2006, and has now helped position a Democratic presidential nominee to take states that were considered solidly Republican only a few years ago. Again, a clear line of continuity exists between John Kerry’s politic choices in 2004, the expanding of the map in 2006, and the explosion of the map in 2008.
It is said that although the Republicans lost in 1964, Barry Goldwater laid down a conservative course in that year that would lead the Republican party to victories by Nixon, Reagan, Bush and Bush. Whatever you think of those presidents, the Republican party adopted Goldwater’s course in large measure and stuck with it, gaining credibility with moderate and independent voters along the way as the Vietnam War went awry.
In 2004 John Kerry and you and I may not have won the fight for the White House, but we charted a course and embraced a point of view that the Democratic party is still holding to. It is the vision of Kerry and Dean, and now, Obama, and it defines a new direction for the Democratic Party. For the first time in over twenty-five years, we will not have a Bush or a Clinton running the country — or the Machiavellian Carville/Matalin cabal behind both families — and I can’t help but think that’s a good thing.
I do not know what toll the loss in 2004 took on John Kerry. What I do know is th
at he never broke stride. He simply went back to work, fought the fight again in 2006, and helped deliver Congress to the Democrats. In 2008, when Barack Obama stumbled in New Hampshire, John Kerry was the first to step in and endorse Obama in the wake of his loss, giving legitimacy to Obama’s candidacy at a critical time and making it clear that the Democratic party was not the private property of the Clinton campaign.
I became involved in the 2004 campaign, and supported John Kerry, because I knew as an American and as a citizen that I would not respect myself if I stood on the sidelines. It wasn’t that I needed to win, it was that I needed to stand in opposition to the course George W. Bush had charted for our country and the world, and I did that. For a year and a half, as a volunteer putting in full-time hours, I fought for my country. And if I learned anything along the way about John Kerry it’s that I think he decided to run in 2004 — against a sitting war President — for the same reason. He knew the odds were against him, and he knew — as the Clintons clearly did — that 2008 would be an easier row to hoe, but he didn’t take the easy road. I will always respect him for that.
It didn’t surprise me that John Kerry gave Barack Obama the keynote address at Kerry’s own convention in 2004. Barack Obama’s 2008 platform is almost identical to John Kerry’s platform, and that doesn’t surprise me either. Obama’s fundraising machinery is the 2.0 version of the online activism pioneered by Dean and Kerry in 2004, and battle-tested again in 2006. And the seeds of the fights now taking place in traditional Republican states like Missouri and Virginia and North Caroline were planted by Dean and Kerry when they laid the groundwork for a 50-state strategy by refusing to knuckle under to the bullying of James Carville.
Where we are now in 2008 is directly related to where we were and what we did in 2004. And I want to take this moment to thank John Kerry personally for setting us on a course that we have not had to back away from.