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Core Beliefs? Try Core Fears

Commentary by Greg Lewis /
January 20, 2004

There are more than 600,00 registered Democrats in the state of Iowa. By late Monday evening, the approximately 120,000 participants in some 1,900 Democratic caucus meetings throughout the state's 99 counties had expressed their preferences, and we now have a better idea of which set of Democrat core fears prevailed. Was it the core fears of Howard "Shining Bike Path Guerilla" Dean, or of Bill Clinton, via his avatar Wesley Clark (although we won't know until after New Hampshire how real this possibility is).

In the end, John Kerry moved to the front, and one of my core fears was realized, that of having to listen to his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry (she of the old condiment money), hold forth in the tradition of Barbra Streisand on the important issues of the day. Her core fears include, as she made clear in a talk broadcast on C-Span last week, that the arts are disappearing from education, and she does not hesitate to expound on how John Kerry is going to bring the arts back into education, this accompanied by an explanation of how she can't paint but she does have a good eye and by the way she can play the piano, played it for 13 years as a matter of fact . . . The issue of the arts in education is, if Kerry is the Democrat candidate, the odds-on favorite to be the 2004 campaign's equivalent of Al Gore's Midnight Basketball leagues. And by the way, how come nobody in the press is making fun of Mrs. Kerry's accent the way they did Arnold Schwarzenegger's?

This is not insignificant, this matter of core fears. We're going to be inundated with them for the next ten months as Democrats try to convince America to eschew the path of courage and forthrightness and follow them down Anxiety Alley as they make the reality TV show "Fear Factor" look like amateur night.

From the outset we need to be clear that we're talking about "professional" core fears and not "personal" core fears here. For instance, Howard Dean's fear that if he gets the nomination he may be forced to unclench his teeth in order to run for President is really a personal core fear and will most likely not be a formal plank of the Democrat platform.

And so, although it's too early for the Democrat Party to have put together its platform for the 2004 elections, it's not too early to speculate as to which of the Democrats' core fears will become the anchor planks in that document. Of course, Howard Dean's core fears and Bill Clinton's core fears are not the same, and so a great deal depends on whether or not Dean can wrest control of the Party away from Clinton and Terry McAuliffe and, by extension, Wesley Clark. And in view of John Kerry's recent rebirth in the Iowa overnight polls, we've got to give his core fears some consideration. Bottom line: We can be pretty sure that by enumerating some of the candidates' core fears, we can get an early clue to the new direction that's likely to be taken in the Democrat Party platform.

Kerry's actually pretty easy. His core fears almost all center on military uniforms. While he's playing up his service in Vietnam (for which I thank him profoundly and for which he has my respect and admiration), he's also very worried that liberal women are turned off by the sight of a man in uniform. (He wouldn't have this problem if he were a Republican. At that end of the political spectrum, uniforms play pretty well, as witness the response to our President in a flight suit on the deck of an aircraft carrier.) And so, if Kerry is the nominee, we can be pretty sure that one plank in the platform will articulate a promise not to flaunt military garb, this to complement his Midnight Art Class plank.

Howard Dean, on the other hand, fears only other Democrats, and not without reason. His most pressing core fear seems to be that President Bush will show some vulnerability in the next six months and Democrats, knowing he hasn't got a snowball's chance in hell even if Bush is vulnerable, will at the last minute ditch him and draft Hillary, even if he was chosen fair and square at the convention. This fear is at the root of Dean's most recent outbursts of petulance, in which he first threatened that his supporters would withdraw, pack up, and go home, there to sit out the election altogether if he's not the Democratic candidate. He then complained that his fellow Democrats were treating him unfairly and ran some pretty vicious attack ads on them, which had the effect of emphasizing just how much of a one-note candidate he really is.

As long as it was Dean's ball, if he went home in a snit, then the game was over. He might just have been able to leverage his little-kid outburst into a guarantee of his candidacy; Democrats are that weak this year. However, since Clark has been cherry-picking in New Hampshire while the rest of the Dems are slugging it out in the heartland, the Dean threat seems less likely to become reality.

There's really not much point in delving into Bill Clinton's core fears. It's obvious that the biggest of those is that he'll lose control over the Democratic Party coffers, that he and his cronies will be unable to continue to oversee one of the most striking losses of power and influence ever witnessed in American politics. Clinton's disastrous "leadership" of the party has meant that Democrats have been marginalized in a way that would have seemed unimaginable even after the 1994 mid-year election debacle, the first of the Clinton losses. One has only to look at the slate of candidates vying for the nomination to understand that, if they think they can get one of these bozos elected, the Democrats have completely lost touch with the electorate. This can pretty much be laid at the feet of Bill Clinton.

It's worth noting that Democrat core fears center almost exclusively on themselves and have nothing to do with the real issues facing the nation, primary among them being national security. And so, it waits for the prescient and incisive TV talk show host to ask the question that's really on the minds of most Americans with regard to Democratic candidates for President. That question is not "What are your core beliefs?" Rather, it is, "What are your core fears?"

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