Kerry Loss: A Blessing in Disguise


David Rohde has a piece up at The New Republic that makes an argument I’ve been thinking since the election: Barack Obama is a much stronger win for the Democrats in 2008 than John Kerry would have been in 2004.

fter the 2004 presidential election Democrats were crushed. Four more years of George W. Bush seemed unthinkable, disastrous. But now that the Obama era is beginning, Democrats should view John Kerry’s defeat as something else entirely: the luckiest break the party has caught since at least the 1964 election, which yielded the presidency of Lyndon Johnson and two-thirds Democratic congressional majorities. (Those 1964 victories made possible the passage of a long list of legislation backed by northern Democrats, including federal aid to education, Medicare, and the Voting Rights Act.) Indeed, had Bush lost in 2004, the Democrats simply wouldn’t be anywhere near as powerful as they are now.

Of course, many will assert that a second Bush term is a very steep price to pay for today’s success. But consider the pattern of events that likely would have followed Kerry’s election. He would have faced a Republican Congress substantially weighted against him and hell-bent on disrupting his legislative agenda. That means no universal health care coverage and no elimination of Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy. Past experience also indicates that the electorate probably would not have blamed the Republicans for the congressional gridlock. For example, in the months leading up to the 1994 midterms, the Senate GOP used the filibuster to frustrate almost all of the proposals the Democrats sought to pass, but it was President Clinton and his party who took the blame. In fact, only three times since 1900 has the party of a sitting president failed to lose House seats in a midterm election, and given the political conditions, there’s little reason to think President Kerry would have bucked the trend.

For me personally, my support for Kerry was so much more tepid than my support for Obama was during the campaign. I thought Kerry was a wimp who backed down to Republican bullying much too easily, but I voted for him because I felt he was the lesser of two evils. I was not enthusiastic about him as a candidate. But when I pressed the button next to Obama’s name on November 4, I was choosing a president I really believed had what it took to effectively address the problems we’re facing. Voting without holding your nose — what a concept.

The last four years have been excruciating, and have done incalculable additional damage to our national security and our moral standing in the world, undeniably. But if it’s made the possibilities for progressive politics that much stronger, then I think Rohde is correct when he says that Kerry’s defeat four years ago was “the luckiest thing to happen to Democrats in 40 years.”

Explore posts in the same categories: Politics

2 Comments on “Kerry Loss: A Blessing in Disguise”

  1. danps Says:

    Hi Kathy. I wasn’t blogging at the time so I can’t prove I said it, but I thought the 2004 presidency was the biggest booby prize in American political history. Short version: The situation in Iraq was going to get worse, as was our international situation generally, and the economy was already on an unsustainable path. Everything looked to get worse in four years, and darned if it didn’t happen. In that sense the 2008 presidency is solid gold: Things almost have to improve by 2012, even if just by regression to the mean.

  2. Kathy Says:

    *I* believe you said it, Dan!


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