Just Shut Up!

If Sen. John Kerry believes he was cheated out of the White House, he should have challenged the outcome of the election. Since it is too late for that, he should just shut up and get on with trying to salvage the party from the wreckage he helped bring about.

Kerry doesn’t enhance his chances for a repeat nomination by fostering the belief among African Americans or anyone else for that matter that they were disenfranchised by corrupt Republican _ i.e., racist _ election officials. But that certainly is what he seemed to be doing when at a Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., birthday celebration he alleged that, “thousands of people were suppressed in their efforts to vote.” The fact that the annual Boston breakfast to honor the slain civil rights leader included a large number of blacks, who, because of past injustices, are naturally susceptible to such charges whether provable or not, couldn’t have been lost on the Massachusetts Democrat.

Kerry declared as fact that voting machines were distributed unevenly and that in Democratic districts “it took people four, five, 11 hours to vote, while Republicans went through in 10 minutes _ same voting machines, same process, our America.

“In a nation which is willing to spend several hundred million dollars in Iraq to bring them democracy, we cannot tolerate that here in America too many people were denied that democracy,” he continued.

These harsh words were based on Democratic challenges in battleground Ohio where the party alleged there were major voting irregularities. The Ohio Supreme Court recently dismissed a suit charging that long lines and a shortage of voting machines in mainly minority precincts had kept Kerry from winning. That claim is undercut by the huge turnout across the country that kept voters standing in long lines for hours. In this city alone where Republicans are scarce, it took some voters as long as two hours to cast their ballots depending on what time of day they went to the polls.

Kerry’s remarks are symptomatic of the problems that have caused the Democrats to lose the last three national election _ two presidential and one congressional _ since Bill Clinton left office in 2000. It never seems to be their fault. When one adds the steady erosion in statehouses and legislatures, the last decade has been a disaster for a party that seems to have lost its compass and relies heavily on opposing rather than proposing solutions. Sen. Edward Kennedy, Kerry’s colleague from Massachusetts, has taken the lead in trying to change this course, offering several plans for education and healthcare that although liberal, expensive and probably not passable, are at least positive in approach.

There are indications that Kerry would like to run again in 2008. If that is so, carping about the unfairness of 2004 is not a good start on convincing party skeptics that he can be a winner. As the presidential candidate, he normally would be considered the titular head of the party. But like former Vice President Al Gore, who lost to Bush in 2000, he so far hasn’t assumed that role. His failure to fill the leadership vacuum is highlighted by the free for all now under way for the Democratic Party chairmanship where the most prominent of those seeking the job is the volatile, liberal former presidential candidate, Howard Dean. Normally, the immediate past presidential nominee would have a major influence in that selection.

The Democrats failure to connect with voters is reflected in the reelection of a president despite his low approval rating, mounting discomfort over Iraq and a host of domestic problems. May I suggest here that the inability to properly interpret the electorate’s leanings on values and other social issues might just lie with the party’s professional strategists who seem to allow their personal passions and disdain for conservatives to override their better judgment? Political arrogance clearly played a role. Did Kerry get good advice? The evidence is overwhelming that he didn’t.

Listening to a couple of professional demographers who are aligned with the party answer questions from reporters the other day, I was convinced that these longtime strategists still didn’t have a clue about how to meet the coming challenges. The one thing the Democrats can’t do if they are to get their train back on track is waste their energy crying about how they were cheated every time they lose. Someone should wise up Kerry and if he doesn’t understand, forget him. Even Richard Nixon knew enough not to complain about 1960 despite the fact more dead people may have voted in Chicago that election than live ones.

(Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.)