Would Gephardt have won ?

by John Quiggin on November 4, 2004

Most of the post-election discussion I’ve seen has focused on the impact of religion, and quite a few commentators have suggested that the Democrats need to shift their policies to appeal more to religiously-motivated voters. This approach would entail some fairly substantial compromises in the search for marginal votes.

If we’re the mood for pragmatic populism, there’s a policy option that might well have delivered the Democrats the election, without the risk of fracturing the Democratic base as an appeal to the religious right would have done. That option is protectionism, of the kind espoused during the campaign by Gephardt[1]. Gephardt had his electoral problems, but I think he could have carried Ohio and his home state of Missouri, as well as having a good chance in West Virginia and even Indiana. He might have lost some coastal states but overall he would have had a better chance of a majority in both the popular vote and the electoral college.

I don’t think protectionist policies are beneficial or even particularly effective, but I don’t share the quasi-religious abhorrence of tariffs and other trade restrictions many economists have had drilled into them from their earliest youth. In the current environment, the big threat to the world economy isn’t the possibility of a trade war, but the danger that the imbalances created by the US trade and budget deficits will bring the whole system crashing down[2]. Unlike Kerry, Gephardt favored the complete repeal of the Bush tax cuts, the crucial first step towards a resolution of the imbalances. This position would have been bitterly attacked by the Republicans, but those attacks would have shifted the ground to the economy, the issue where Bush was weakest.

There are good arguments against going in this direction. It would certainly have cost the Democrats a lot of support among the policy elite, who backed Kerry almost uniformly, for what that was worth. But this is a good time to take a clear-eyed look at all the options, rather than focusing exclusively on the first one that catches our attention. If it’s necessary to compromise in order to win, religiously-motivated voters aren’t the only fish in the sea.

fn1. Kerry tilted in this direction, but not enough to have much of an impact, favorable or otherwise.

fn2. Even in the Great Depression, the Smoot-Hawley tariff of 1930 was only a secondary factor, at most. Competitive devaluations in other countries had much the same effect. The central cause was the failure of the financial system.

{ 21 comments }

1

Jason McCullough 11.04.04 at 7:50 am

Wouldn’t help, just directly handing out money to white evangelicals wouldn’t help. They’re so convinced that everything the government does is evil that they’ll quite happily vote against things that directly benefit them.

See Thomas Frank’s book; he has tons of disturbing examples.

Basically, we need to fix the culture war – not minimize it. That doesn’t mean “ok, never mind on gay marriage and abortion” – it means work to resurrect the dormant political influence of the liberal and moderate congregations, among other things. The third great awakening around the turn of the century resulted in the midwest voting for socialists……

A liberal coalition that can barely break 50 with white working class voters will never be a majority.

2

Anno-nymous 11.04.04 at 9:39 am

Here’s a counterfactual for you. Would *Gore* have won? Remember, the nomination was his to take if he wanted it.

3

Cal 11.04.04 at 9:49 am

Unlike Kerry, Gephardt favored the complete repeal of the Bush tax cuts, the crucial first step towards a resolution of the imbalances. This position would have been bitterly attacked by the Republicans, but those attacks would have shifted the ground to the economy, the issue where Bush was weakest.

Nonsense. This would have fit right into the “tax and spend” stereotype and Rove would have hanged him with it. We’d be lucky to avoid a landslide.

I like your idea about changing the Dems’ economic policies. Not only is it imperative that we get our current accounts deficit under control, but it would give the Dems a chance to capitilize on the next inevitable Enron-like scandal.

But what does it take to get the Dems to change? Slate reported last summer that anyone who was against the Iraq war was being purged from leadership positions in the party. The liberal hawks have cemented their control even as they themselves admit they were horribly wrong.

I don’t have much hope that the Brad DeLongs will be tossed out anytime soon.

4

SqueakyRat 11.04.04 at 10:44 am

I think we should start taking seriously the idea that the US has just stepped off the cliff. At the bottom is theofascism, and there is absolutely nothing between us and it. It’s useless to talk about what the Democratic party should do. Nothing the Democratic party does matters anymore. We’re fucked.

5

Dan Hardie 11.04.04 at 11:35 am

Can American readers tell me if this is complete hogwash? I think Sam Nunn, former Georgia Senator and the best chair of the Armed Services Committee that America has ever had, should have been either the Vice-Presidential nominee, or a major campaign spokesman and the presumed Defence Secretary in a Kerry administration. Might have helped.

6

mcm 11.04.04 at 11:43 am

I’m not sure I can agree with you that Gephardt would have been a better choice. But I certainly agree that appealing to religious voters (with religion, that is) “would entail some fairly substantial compromises in the search for marginal votes.”

I’m getting really irked by the notion that this “God is in the White House” stuff just springs up spontaneously from the heartland soil. I’m not prepared to give it the presumption of authenticity. As far as I’m concerned, this is a political ideology, which we need to counter on political terms. As a friend of mine put it, “we need to repudiate religiosity, which is not to say religion.” Not easy to do, admittedly. But if we want to stop America from sliding into theocracy, we need to be prepared to stand up and fight for the principle of separation of church and state.

7

Rob 11.04.04 at 11:55 am

Rove was able to make Kerry look like a flip-flopper. Imagine what he could have doen witha real one like Gephardt. Gephardt’s policies would have been one thing, but Gephardt the man has serious limitations.

8

John 11.04.04 at 12:37 pm

I’m starting to lean towards that viewpoint too. Well, my military service continues until 2007, so I’m onboard the sinking ship at least until then. Hopefully after that I can hide out in my home state of Illinois for 4 more years before taking two bachelors degrees and 7 years of military experience up to Canada to see if they have a place for me.

9

Russell Arben Fox 11.04.04 at 12:42 pm

You miss out on one potentially important consideration: protectionism and the religious values so common throughout the red states share a populist concern for limitations. The former says there are only so many jobs, so much opportunity, so much wealth to go around, and so we owe it to ourselves to hold onto it, distribute it fairly, and respect (and protect) those working people who have carved out a little economic space for themselves. The latter says there is only so much diversity and so many choices that God can tolerate; beyond a certain point, we’ve got to be able to hold to our identity and submit to divine law. To a person whose vision of both the economy and the moral life is truly open-ended, both of these positions are anathema. But to a working-class Catholic in St. Louis, or a rural Baptist in Arkansas, they go together, even if not one in a hundred could articulate them this way. (See Christopher Lasch for more of this.)

Gephardt knows this language, because it’s his; he respects it, and has voted in accordance with it all his life (trade, partial-birth abortion, the works). It’s not a rigorous philosophy, it’s filled with flip-flops and inconsistencies and is easily mocked. But it could pulled in for Gephardt some thousands of white Christian voters in Iowa, Missouri, Ohio, West Virginia and Arkansas. That would have made all the difference.

10

Russell Arben Fox 11.04.04 at 12:43 pm

You miss out on one potentially important consideration: protectionism and the religious values so common throughout the red states share a populist concern for limitations. The former says there are only so many jobs, so much opportunity, so much wealth to go around, and so we owe it to ourselves to hold onto it, distribute it fairly, and respect (and protect) those working people who have carved out a little economic space for themselves. The latter says there is only so much diversity and so many choices that God can tolerate; beyond a certain point, we’ve got to be able to hold to our identity and submit to divine law. To a person whose vision of both the economy and the moral life is truly open-ended, both of these positions are anathema. But to a working-class Catholic in St. Louis, or a rural Baptist in Arkansas, they go together, even if not one in a hundred could articulate them this way. (See Christopher Lasch for more of this.)

Gephardt knows this language, because it’s his; he respects it, and has voted in accordance with it all his life (trade, partial-birth abortion, the works). It’s not a rigorous philosophy, it’s filled with flip-flops and inconsistencies and is easily mocked. But it could have pulled in for Gephardt some thousands of white Christian voters in Iowa, Missouri, Ohio, West Virginia and Arkansas. That would have made all the difference.

11

jet 11.04.04 at 1:00 pm

Okay, I think I’m missing something. How exactly has the US turned into a religious theocracy in the last 2 days? Public funding of religious charity organizations and a lot of political rhetoric. That’s what you are basing your decision on. When the laws concerning morality start getting more repressive than they were 15 years ago, maybe then you should start worrying. But so far, there is no evidence that the sky is falling. But then again, maybe I’m missing something.

12

Ken Houghton 11.04.04 at 1:41 pm

Thank you. I was about to send a note saying that I plan to go around for the next four years saying the Dems don’t appeal to worker and small businessmen who make more than $100K a year, and then fully expect Kieran and Eszter to come all over themselves talking about how I was a Visionary.

And since Tyler Cowen has now confirmed that the “populist concern for limitations” cited by Russell Arban Fox above are accurate (http://tinyurl.com/43874), the Dems should work in areas where the memes already run near their favor.

13

Cranky Observer 11.04.04 at 2:33 pm

You would need to talk to some people who live in Missouri. Gephardt is reasonably well-respected statewide, for a flag-burning liberal, and liked in some areas of the City of St. Louis. But the reaction of every Missourian I talked too – liberal or conservative, Demo or Repub – to the news that Gephardt was going to run again was laughter. He is basically a 1950s machine Democrat who has survived into the oughts. Problem being there is no longer a machine or a union base to support him.

Cranky

14

Angry Moderate 11.04.04 at 2:52 pm

This is exactly one of those questions that needs to be asked. And not just counter-factually about 2004, but very pragmatically about 2008. After all, it is not Gephardt who is the likely nominee in 2004, but Edwards; it is not Gephardt who mobilized protectionist rhetoric most effectively in 2004, but Edwards.

Should we cosmopolitans abandon the Rubin/Summers/DeLong, etc. orthodoxy on free trade, which for many of us cosmopolitans is not rooted so much in arguments about economic efficiency, but rather in the moral necessity of keeping the American market open to horrifically impoverished developing economies, since that appears the only way we’ve seen for such economies to grow (and yes, it’s worked in a distressingly small number of cases but does appear to be working now for 2 countries with over 1/3 of the world’s poor).

Should we give this up? I don’t know, but if we want the Democratic coalition to include a sizable percent of the white working class – more specifically, whites without a college degree – we have to give them SOMETHING they want, and something the Republicans are not giving them. We think we’re giving them the New Deal programs, but those are now taken for granted, or they don’t believe Democrats will protect them any more than republicans (as unions weren’t protected). Protectionism clearly is something with broad appeal to this section of voters; it’s still there for the taking; and Edwards has shown he can talk that language.

Should we cosmpolitans support this? Accept it? Tolerate it? I don’t know, but we cosmopolitans also do not want the US to pursue an actively imperialist foreign policy. We don’t want it to wreck the international order established by Roosevelt and Truman. And we have to face that fact that American is an extremely nationist country, dangerously so since 9/11. It was that nationalism that put Bush over the top despite great concerns over the incompetent way in which he has pursued his goals. The Democrats face a great nationalism deficit.

We cosmpolitans do not want to have to appeal to nationalism, because we’re anti-nationalist; and for many, many good reasons. But it the choice is between adopting a nationalist idiom through protectionism or through imperialism, which do we choose?

If that’s the choice…

15

roger 11.04.04 at 5:31 pm

Jet — check out the civil unions legislation passed in Ohio.
This is the first election, I’d say, since the Civil War to be won on promising less freedom for a selected group of people. I couldn’t stand Reagan’s politics, but he did appeal –as has every Republican and Democratic president — to expanding freedom (making more money, defeating Communism, etc.) While he might have played with segregationist fire, he never tried to repeal the Civil Rights acts.

This president appealed to restricting people’s freedom — moreover, going across state lines and restricting people’s freedom. That hasn’t happened since the Fugitive Slave Act.
Yeah, this was a different presidential race.

16

angry moderate 11.04.04 at 8:37 pm

Angry Moderate:You are the problem with the Dem party. Unless you can make sure the livelihood of the workers in America are protected, they will never vote for you. They will vote on social issues instead. Why shouldn’t they? And you wonder why Dems lose elections? Improverishing one set of people to (supposedly help another group of people and I could argue with you on this-read One Market Under God or Wealth and Democracy) is a morally bankrupt and stupid idea and rightly deserves the contempt of the working class voter.
I’m glad that you get to redistribute any wealth we middle-class Americans have built up on our own, what makes you any different from King George?

Please leave our party and take DeLong with you

17

roger 11.04.04 at 8:55 pm

“angry Moderate:You are the problem with the Dem party. Unless you can make sure the livelihood of the workers in America are protected, they will never vote for you. They will vote on social issues instead. Why shouldn’t they?”

Well, hmm, let’s think of some reasons. Perhaps because the people who are the most enthusiastic about free trade have bwen the Republicans? And perhaps because they’ve publicized this fact? And perhaps because the imnpoverished who you mention can, actually, read. So they know who got the tax breaks. THey know perfectly well where the money is going. And they have been operating like classic free-riders. That is, using a social welfare system that they can depend on to be defended by the people they vote against because of the ‘values” issue.

To defend this behavior, you first have to remove agency and intelligence from the class you are defending.

In other countries that have social welfare systems, it is true, there are party/union organizations that defend them, while in this country the unions have been cut to naught. That still doesn’t address just what values the workers are voting for. What were they again? I forget. Wasn’t it extending the blessing of liberty and civil rights to their fellow men and women, regardless of sexual preference?
Oh, sorry. That was the opporessive free traders. They were defending making civil unions legally null and void. A real display of the Internationale spirit, there.

18

roger 11.04.04 at 9:02 pm

Oops, lot of mis-typings there. Sorry.

19

Cryptic Ned 11.04.04 at 9:40 pm

I don’t think Gephardt would have had any chance of delivering Missouri for the ticket. He isn’t a Senator, he’s the Representative from part of St. Louis. I don’t think he’s ever run for statewide office. It’s a completely different situation from somebody who’s been building up supporters statewide for decades. He’s probably viewed as the liberal extreme of Missouri politics. Plus, he has no eyebrows.

20

Thomas 11.05.04 at 12:45 am

A couple of thoughts, from a non-Democrat midwesterner:

1. As noted above, Gephardt has never run statewide in MO. He wouldn’t have helped carry MO, a state that is now firmly and reliably Republican. (How Republican? So Republican that a 33-year non-entity, a man who looks like he’s in high school and who is scared to speak publicly, is now the governor-elect.) Kerry wasn’t going to carry MO.

2. But Gephardt would have hurt. How did John Edwards help? Is there any evidence anywhere that he did? Heck, even Vilsack might have been more useful. At least, I could think of scenarios where his support would be useful, even if in the end IA didn’t matter.

3. “angry moderate” reveals a lot about the Democratic party. The Republican party is a coalition, and very few get everything they want. For example, think of all those foes of gay marriage and of abortion who turned out in OH. Kind of remind you of Pat Buchanan? Do you think that maybe they’re not crazy about the war in Iraq? You’d probably be right. Similarly, the Wall Streeters aren’t particularly worked up about gay marriage. It’s a coalition.

Is there anything in “angry moderates” platform that he’d be willing to throw overboard?

If not, feel comfortable where you are, because you’re likely to be there awhile.

21

Adam Kotsko 11.06.04 at 3:18 am

Or here’s another counterfactual — would Bono have won?! I know he’s not a citizen, but just pretend.

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