Original Party Animals

Democrats say they are hopeful about the coming election. But then, they have to say that.

The antiwar message was received warmly by many in attendance, but it figures to be a moot point so far as the insider nominees (John Kerry, Dick Gephardt, Joe Lieberman) are concerned. They have already lined up on the side of Bush's war; if it turns out to have been sold on false facts, they are stained too.

Here's another problem for the Democrats in 2004: An alarming percentage of Americans simply don't know, and apparently don't care to know, the truth about the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq. Consider the recent poll conducted at the University of Maryland. The survey found that one-third of the public believes WMDs have already been discovered in Iraq, and more than a fifth believe that the Iraqis used chemical or biological weapons in the war. (An earlier version of the poll--taken in January--found that just 19 percent of respondents understood that none of the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqis.)

That, in a nutshell, is the Democratic conundrum. If crucial swing voters don't care about the facts, what good is having the facts on your side? And it's a problem that goes beyond WMD. In Bush's preemptory swing through the Twin Cities, the President once again made the assertion that his tax cuts constitute a boon to the common man. In the blizzard of coverage that accompanied the president's visit, there were the requisite challenges to the claim, but the drop-head in the Star Tribune--and the theme in the TV coverage--was this: The rebate check's in the mail.

Party of three: Al Sharpton, Dennis Kucinich, and Howard Dean (left to right) make their cases to the party faithful in St. Paul
Craig Lassig
Party of three: Al Sharpton, Dennis Kucinich, and Howard Dean (left to right) make their cases to the party faithful in St. Paul

 

On Saturday morning, with the candidates all long gone and party functionaries tending to the final day of business, Mary Stanley was selling political buttons from a table in the Radisson basement. A retired businesswoman from Fresno, Stanley volunteers for the National Women's Political Caucus, an ostensibly nonpartisan organization that aims to get more women elected and appointed to government jobs.

Sales, Stanley reported, had been brisk. She figured she unloaded about $3,000 worth of *merchandise, which is above average for an event of this size. The Bush-bashing items moved quite nicely. Stanley said she sold all of her "I did not have corporate relations with that man" buttons. Another button, depicting Attorney General John Ashcroft in mullah garb with the legend "We have to destroy civil liberties in order to save them," also sold well, she said.

Among the candidate merchandise, the best seller was the Dean stuff. "I came in with about a hundred Dean buttons, sold out, and I've taken orders to send about 30," Stanley said. "Democrats need someone who can get their juices flowing, and Dean seems to have that knack."

She figured she sold about 85 Kerry buttons, 25 Kucinich buttons, and about 25 John Edwards buttons, this in spite of the fact the North Carolina senator was a no-show. Attendees purchased a meager 10 Lieberman buttons, which was an especially poor showing considering the Connecticut senator's reputed status as one of the leading candidates. Heck, the "You've gotta have Hart" buttons sold nearly as well.

Stanley said there was a lot of interest in merchandise that she didn't have. Inquiries about General Wesley Clark buttons were high. Plenty of folks snapped up "Al Gore in 2004" buttons.

The best seller of all? Those would be the Hillary buttons.

That may portend well for 2008. But it doesn't say much for '04.

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