2004 Democratic National Convention
Democratic Leadership Council CEO
Monday, July 26, 2004; 2:30 PM
The 2004 Democratic National Convention kicks off in Boston Monday with the party's presidential candidate John Kerry tied in the latest polls with President Bush.
Al From, founder and CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council, was online Monday, July 26 at 2:30 p.m. to discuss the Democratic Convention, the Kerry-Edwards ticket and the 2004 election.
The transcript follows
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
The newspapers say most voters already know which presidential candidate they like. What does Kerry have to do to get those few who haven't yet decided to swing his way?
Al From: It is true that many voters have made up their minds early, but the swing voters will still decide this election. I think many voters have decided they want to replace George Bush. John Kerry needs to convince them he's a viable alternative. That means this week he needs to tell voters who he is, what he stands for, what he believes and what he'll do as President. Most voters are just getting to know him. When they do, I'm convinced he will be the next President of the United States.
Bekeley Springs, W.Va.:
I just read the article that you and Bruce Reed wrote in Blueprint Magazine called "The Comeback Party." You say that the Democratic Party is poised to build a durable new governing majority. I'd be all for that, but it seems like wishful thinking right now. Do you really think it's going to happen any time soon?
What would the long-term consequences be for the Democratic coalition if Kerry loses this year?
Al From: I think a Kerry victory -- which I believe will happen -- will put us on the fast track to becoming the majority party again. We have an excellent chance to win back the Senate this year. The key to becoming a majority is the same as the key was to ending our presidential losing streak -- coming up with compelling ideas that make people want to vote for us again. The first step is to win the presidency because the president sets the tone of the national agenda. Obviously, that's easier with a victory, but even with a loss this fall our challenge remains the same -- to come up with good ideas that voters want to support.
The DLC is a moderate group. Kerry is #1 liberal senator and Edwards is #4. Wouldn't you agree that this ticket is out of sync with moderate and conservative Democrats, like that DLC icon, Zell Miller?
Al From: John Kerry and John Edwards are good, reform New Democrats. Don't believe those voting record analysies. The Democratic Party is very different today than it was when it lost three straight landslides in the 1980s. On the key issues that redefined the party -- fiscal discipline, welfare reform, crime, and trade -- John Kerry voted with Bill Clinton even though large numbers of liberals voted the other way. Zell Miller is not a New Democrat in the progressive center; he's a virtual card carrying Republican. For a complete analysis see our website www.ndol.org. We analyzed the National Journal voting record. Kerry only cast 19 or 63 votes counted -- the DLC agreed with him on almost all of them. So'd we'd be a liberal senator by their standards.
What's the real difference between Al Gore and John Kerry? Isn't Kerry's platform very similiar to what Gore ran on in 2000 -- with the exception of Medicare? Can the Centrist Democrats really lead the party to victory?
Al From: A centrist, New Democrat who can win both core Democrats and swing voters is the only Democrat who can win the White House. John Kerry is such a Democrat. He's running on a platform of national strength, expanding the middle class, and duty and responsibility. His platform is similar to 2000 but the tone of the campaign is aimed more at critical middle class voters.
In your opinion, what foreign policy issue(s) besides the "War on Terror" should Democrats focus on during the campaign and beyond.
Al From: There is no greater challenge foreign or domestic than keeping America safe. So winning the war on terror is a critically high priority. But it's also important that we rebuild America's alliances, deal with the challenge of globalization, work on climate change, and deal with issues like AIDs and hunger and poverty in the world. But our first priority needs to be stopping terrorism, so we can deal with all the others.
People have been marveling at how despite the problems Bush has had, the polls are still effectively tied and that he actually leads John Kerry on who can handle terrorism better. I think that's because Bush uses plainspoken language that signals a determination to defeat terrorists. Kerry talks about restoring alliances more than he talks about aggressively going after terrorists. Therefore Kerry needs to emphasize the muscular part of "muscular internationalis". If he doesn't, he opens himself to GOP attacks that he'd rather please France than protect America. How can he protect himself from those charges?
Al From: Don't pay too much attention to the head to head polls right now. The key numbers to watch are Bush's approval rating and whether the voters think the country is on the right or wrong track. Those numbers are decidedly negative for the President. There's a sequence to the voters' decision to throw out an incumbent president. First, they decide they don't want him. Then they decide whether his challenger is a viable alternative. This year they've made a tentative judgement on the first -- they're disatisfied with Bush and the direction of the country. As they get to know Kerry better, they'll decide he's viable and the head to heads will break in Kerry's favor. Think of the 1980 election as a parallel. Carter stayed even with Reagan until a couple of weeks out, even though his approval ratings were low. When Reagan demonstrated that he could be trusted as president, the bottom fell out under Carter. The same could happen to Bush.
I voted for Gore in 2000, but he seems to have become very strident in recent years. Does the DLC agree with Gore's recent comments? I don't think his vitriol is helpful to our process.
Al From: I believe voters know why they're dissatisfied with George Bush. They don't need Democrats to stridently tell them over and over again. John Kerry just needs to introduce himself to the voters so they know who he is, what he believes, what he stands for and what he'll do as president. That's what he needs to tell them this week at the convention. That's why he's instructed speakers not to attack Bush personally.
Liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans seem to think that moderates lack core convictions. What do Kerry and Edwards have to do to convice voters that it's OK (in fact, it's right) to be for some tax cuts but not all of them, or be for ousting Saddam Hussein but not the way Bush did it?
Al From: Anybody who thinks New Democrats lack core convictions are just wrong. We're modernizers. We take the first principles of the Democratic Party and offer new ways to further them. President Clinton wrote about this in his book. Don't confuse new ideas that don't fit in old ideolgical boxes with lack of conviction. We believe in Andrew Jackson's credo of opportunity for all, special privileges for none -- and the way to be for opportunity is to grow the private economy. We believe in Kennedy's ethic of asking people to give something back to the country -- that's why we supported national service. We believe opportunity and responsibility go together -- that's why we supported the earned income tax credit (the largest poverty program ever) and welfare reform. We believe in a foreign policy grounded in the tough minded internationalism of Roosevelt and Truman. We think we can win the war on terrorism and make friends and allies at the same time.
I am a great admirer of your work and the DLC.
How do you think John Kerry will deal with a Republican Congress (if it so happens) in passing key issues?
Al From: First of all, I hope President Kerry is working with a Democratic Congress. If he has to work with a Republican Congress, the best way to do it is to offer progressive, innovative solutions that go beyond party orthodoxy. Even is a polarized Washington, it is possible to put progress over partisanship. George Bush missed the chance to pull our country together. I hope John Kerry will not.
Jamaica Plain, Mass.:
John Kerry has the resume and the politics to win this race. To put himself over the top, he needs to demonstrate that he is a normal, likable guy without sounding phony. Is this possible? As a Democrat, I hope so. But I think of his many pathetic attempts so far, such as when he wrote in his autobiography "please don't hold against me the fact that I am a NASCAR enthusiast," and I have serious doubts.
Al From: John Kerry is a nice guy. I think that will come through during the campaign. He just needs to act himself during the campaign -- and let the voters be the judge. I think they'll like him -- and they'll understand they're electing a president, not a neighbor.
Pebble Beach, Calif.:
How can Kerry vote for the war but vote against funding to prosecute it? Seems like the seminal question for someone wanting my vote for President.
Al From: John Kerry will support the resources to succeed in Iraq. He's even called for more troops to secure it. Don't confuse a vote to show his dismay with the way the President has prosecuted the war with a lack of support for the troops.
I have been a long advocate of your movement. In what ways do you consider John Kerry a New Democrat? Also, in this regard how do you see John Edwards contributing to a winning centrist ticket?
Al From: John Kerry is a New Democrat. He's running on a new democrat platform of strength, opporunity, and service. He -- and John Edwards -- are strong advocates of expanding the middle class, not just their tax burdens. We did a New Dem Daily on the Kerry-Edwards ticket. You can find it on www.ndol.org. John Edwards was a terrific addition to the ticket. His message -- as you saw in the Wisconsin primary -- is powerful and compliments Kerry's.
Philadelphia specifically asked you how Kerry would address the war on terror and show muscle, and you only answered in terms of politics and electing Kerry. You didn't answer his question, and that is why I think Bush will get re-elected. Bush at least knows we are at war for our very civilization -- Kerry views it as a political position to score votes.
Al From: Sen. Kerry, who has served his nation in combat, understands the threat of the war on terrorism. We need to do everything we can as a nation to defeat the terrorists. But we need to defeat them with all the weapons in our arsenal, not just the military. I'm as hardline as you can get in using military power to smash terrorism, but we also need to go after the funding and we need to expand trade with the Muslim world to help grow their economies and expand opportunities for young people. We need to deal with their education systems that teach hatred against us. My point is that this is a complicated issue as the 9/11 commission said -- and we need more than a simple answer.
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