Republicans better at elections than Democrats

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For much of the campaign the issue was: who would get out the vote? The answer is the right.

Whatever the electoral outcome, George W. Bush has won a major politicalvictory, thanks to the forces of the right. The old text book view ofAmerican politics as driven by interest group bargaining needs to beupdated.

Parties matter. The Republicans are better at elections than theDemocrats. Backing from social movements counts. The religious right putmore people on the ground for Bush than the trade unions and its alliesdid for John Kerry. And control of the House of Representatives, and Senate bythe party of the President means a Bush administration has the potentialto carry on with its missionary aims at home and abroad.

Bush wins the popular vote, with Kerry managing only 48 per cent. Ralph Naderwon only one-third of a percentage point, so he was not a factor in thepopular vote outcome. For much of the campaign the issue was: who wouldget out the vote? The answer is the right.

In Ohio the Republicans madeone million phone calls in the last days of the campaign. To do that theyneeded their allies in every right wing group to cooperate fully. Grantedthe vote was probably stolen from Kerry, but it was also organized forBush.

It used to be that the major players could stay aloof from the electoralprocess. Corporations made political investments through the disbursementof election funds to favoured candidates, called in the markers when thetime came, knocked on doors, and visited on both sides of the aisle, butleft the politics to the electoral machines.

Today, the Republican machinehas changed. It still recruits candidates, and collects money, but to getout the vote it not only makes alliances with civil society groups on theright, it makes the right agenda its own, and mobilizes electorally withits forces, becoming a mass party in the process.

Kerry had billionaire George Soros and moveon.org, Bruce Springsteen, the Dixie Chicks, and its traditional constituencies — which have been hard hitin good times and bad — the poor, sick, unemployed, urban, black, old andyoung. Election 2004 proved it is not enough to have a target audience anda voting drive. You need a program.

I asked a prominent Americaneconomist why Kerry was unable to make his agenda the basis for hiscampaign. The short answer was that Kerry did not have an agenda. Withoutan agenda he was short of allies and partners. It showed election night.At the time this is written he has to rely on lawyers to win Ohio.

When Lyndon Baines Johnson was president he brought in the most importantcivil rights legislation since the Civil War. Lawrence O'Brien, BostonIrish, was asked by Johnson to stay on as his legislative aide after theassassination of John F. Kennedy. O'Brien related how when he told Johnson theydid not have the votes to pass the civil rights bill, Johnson said, “Giveme the list of the hold outs. I have something every one of them needs. Ican break their careers, or get them re-elected.” Johnson made his calls andthe bill passed. This was the same president driven out of office byVietnam war protesters chanting “hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did youkill today.”

The American presidency has been a force for good and for evil — as withJohnson — often in the same presidential term.

Bush or Kerry — it matters.

And it is the American right that is enjoying the result. For now.

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