Blair for President
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN - NYT Dec 18, 2002With Al Gore now out of the presidential race, everyone is giving the Democrats advice on who their candidate should be. All I know is that whoever the Democrats choose needs to keep in mind a few basic rules that Democrats have forgotten in recent years.
Rule #1: People listen through their stomachs. The key to the success of any presidential candidate is to convey to voters — in a way they can feel in their gut — that you as a leader know what world they're living in. George Bush Sr. lost to Bill Clinton because he failed to convey to voters in their gut that he knew what world they were living in — a world of rising economic insecurity.
Mr. Clinton's campaign conveyed through one phrase, "It's the economy, stupid," that he knew exactly what world people were living in; and because of that, they were ready to overlook his foibles. Connect with people's gut concerns and they'll go anywhere with you — without asking for the details. Don't connect, and you'll never be able to show people enough details to get them to follow.
George W. Bush has conveyed to Americans in their gut that he understands exactly what world they're living in now — a world threatened by terrorism in which, as the former N.S.C. adviser Sandy Berger put it, "national security is now personal security." In this new world, Mr. Bush has been a warrior without mercy. No Democratic leader has — yet — forged such a gut connection with the American people on this issue.
Rule #2: Never put yourself in a position where you succeed only if your country fails. The Democrats can't just wait for Mr. Bush to fail in Iraq, or hope the economy collapses, and assume they will benefit. People want to hear a positive alternative agenda. There can be a hard-nosed Democratic alternative. It is one that would say, "Yes, let's win the war on terrorism, but that requires a multi-pronged approach that addresses all our vulnerabilities and levels with the American people."
Right now the Bush bumper sticker reads: "You Can Have It All: Guns, Butter, War With Iraq, Tax Cuts & Humvees." This is nonsense. America has never won a war without the public's being enlisted and summoned to sacrifice. Is there a Democrat ready to push for a crash oil conservation program and development of renewable energy alternatives — that would also respond to European anger over Kyoto? Is there a Democrat ready to take on our absurd farm subsidies and textile tariffs that help keep countries like Pakistan poor by keeping them hooked on aid, not trade? Is there a Democrat ready to take on the far-right Bush forces, which are now trying to undermine all U.S. support for global population controls? (Just what we need: more failed states with exploding populations.)
Is there a Democrat ready to say we don't need more long-term tax cuts, which will only produce chronic large deficits that will reduce resources for both homeland security and Head Start? And our economy doesn't need more short-term tax stimulus either — it needs a successful war on terrorism. The economy is recovering slowly on its own. What's holding it back now are fears about terrorism and war with Iraq, which keep oil prices high and investment low. The minute those are resolved, you will see consumers ready to spend and companies ready to invest.
Rule #3: Get a candidate people like. I don't know George Bush, and I do not like his domestic policies. But I find him hard to dislike. The "likability factor" is hugely underestimated in politics.
Rule #4: Get a candidate who can give a fireside chat. In these confusing times, people crave a leader who can explain why we're doing what we're doing and how it will lead to a better world. That is what the Democrats need. Mr. Bush conveys a lot of sincerity, but he lacks the emotional or intellectual depth to really reassure people. I'm convinced that one reason for his high poll ratings is projection: We desperately want to believe that he knows what he is doing, and that he is always acting in the best interests of the nation — and not on naked political considerations — because if he isn't, we're all sunk.
Right now there is only one Democrat who could live up to all these rules: the British prime minister, Tony Blair. Maybe the Democrats should give him a green card. He's tough on national security, he has an alternative global vision, people like him and he is a beautiful, reassuring speaker. He's Bill Clinton without baggage. I'd say he's a natural.