Party strategist James Carville and Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg are founders of Democracy Corps, which proposes strategies for the Democratic Party. The two were the featured speakers Wednesday at a Monitor breakfast.
Greenberg: "The most important piece to this [election] was 9-11, which produced a gigantic change in the mood of the country. [Sept. 11 became] the predominate issue for over a year, and produced a new situation for a sustained period when Republicans were viewed more favorably than Democrats. That also produced a shift in party identification....
"[There] was clearly a moment in August when this thing could have moved the other way. Two things happened: The president definitely drove the Iraq issue which dominated the end of the congress...and on the other hand Democrats let it happen. Democrats were frankly in a difficult position to stop it mainly because they had not laid the groundwork for an economic election."
Carville: "We asked if they [voters] have a clear idea what [the parties] want to do. Total Democrats: 20 [percent], total GOP: 45 [percent].... I think therein lies the underlying story of the election."
Carville: "I think there is a cultural problem with the Democratic party. It is we exude weakness. It is not just national defense and foreign policy, it is anything [where] we don't ... make a choice. ...America is not going to trust a political party to defend America that will not defend itself."
Greenberg: "You see a country upset about the economy, determined to vote the issue. ...People who went to the polls said it was the most important issue for them. But two thirds said [party positions on the economy] were unclear, indistinguishable, and gave the Democrats no advantage.
"What this poll shows is that if the Democrats had bold ideas on any subject, but particularly the economy where people wanted to vote in this election, there was very substantial opportunity for gain."
Greenberg: Republicans "defined the election. They were clear and bold on the definition that they created. ...the Democrats remained silent and did not offer either a serious critique or serious alternatives. And the voters who were upset about the economy had not place to go.
"That sets the stage for 2004. The same voters who gave the gift to the Republicans in this election, when asked how they would vote for president in 2004, George Bush versus an unnamed democrat, George Bush gets 48 percent of the vote. People were voting in the election they were given. They were not casting [a vote in] a future election. They were not providing a mandate."
Carville: "Based on what happened last week, if I was [president] I would keep him around....the best way to combat politics of this nature is just to be better at it. I am not offended that this president is political. I am not offended that he goes out and raises money all the time. And I give him credit. These guys put something on the line. They sent him out there. They campaigned in all of these states. You have got to tip your hat to them."