Back when he was Republican national chairman, Bill Brock became upset and concerned because too many of his party's candidates were winning fewer than one out of 10 black votes. He concluded, logically, that Republicans were doing something wrong; he set about trying to change the party's appearance, its approach and its message to black voters.
Contrast that with the attitude of a number of today's Democrats. Confronted with the bad news that their presidential ticket won only three out of 10 white male votes Tuesday, they find no fault with their ideas or themselves. Instead, they exhibit a marked preference for blaming the results on terminal macho-ness in the population, or racial polarization. As an explanation or excuse, that may be convenient, but it is wrong.
Excuses are nothing new to Democrats after big defeats. Four years ago, when the party lost 33 House seats and control of the Senate for the first time since Ike's first term, Jimmy Carter was the most convenient scapegoat. Nobody really liked the Georgian, the indictment read. In 1972 the fault was George McGov In 1968 Gene McCarthy was the villain for preventing the election of Hubert Humphrey.
But this time it's not even a candidate who's to be blamed. The villain of the piece in 1984 turns out to be a constituency: white male voters, who comprise about 45 percent of the nation's electorate, a rather sizable group to dismiss as cretinous or otherwise unworthy of our attention.
This latest excuse gets a strong dissent from Arkansas Democratic Sen. Dale Bumpers, who has been winning statewide elections, as well as the votes of white males, for 15 years. Bumpers rejects the macho/racist explanation:
"Americans, male as well as female, are not meaner than a one-eyed water moccasin. People do not want to be polarized. And we cannot blame our political failures on the voters."
Bumpers' reading is supported by this year's Senate campaign in neighboring Mississippi, where incumbent Thad Cochran became the first home- state Republican since Reconstruction to win a majority of the vote. Both Cochnt, former Democratic governor William Winter, ran honorable campaigns free of the ugly racial politics that for so long sullied their state.
Americans have, in the past 20 years, made historic progress in overcoming centuries of segregation and discrimination, and worse. Civil rights laws enacted over the insensitive and unthinking opposition of Ronald Reagan and others have made large and positive differences.
Of course prejudice, as indicated by Jesse Helms's successful North Carolina Senate campaign, remains -- sadly -- a factor in American politics. But this should not prevent Democrats from confronting reality.
The party's candidates have suffered landslide defeats in three of the last four presidential elections, not because the electorate is mean-spirited or vengeful. No, Democrats have lost because what they have stood for in those elections -- and in between -- has not been particularly relevant or believable or intelligent to a majority of American voters. Candidates who blame their problems on the intellectual or moral shortcomings of the voters deserve defeat. And they get what they deserve.
Fritz Mondale, especially in the last six weeks of the campaign, was an excellent presidential candidate, and the prenomination choice of all the principal leadership of his party: speaker of the House and most Democratic House members with the guts to state a preference; the black mayors of Detroit and Philadephia; the AFL-CIO and the teachers' union; environmentalists and feminists and gays; prominent Hispanic and Jewish and ethnic Democrats.
It was not the messenger. It was not the charm of Ronald Reagan. It was not the meanness of any or all of the voters. It was and it is the Democrats' flawed message that voters are rejecting.