WSJ: Democrats Need to Remember that Americans Are Optimists

Roundup: Media's Take

Brendan Miniter, in the WSJ (Nov. 16, 2004):

It's time to let Democrats in on a little secret. America is a land of perpetual rebirth and reform--always has been. That's why George W. Bush gets a pass on whatever he did before he found Jesus and swore off drinking. And it's why Bill Clinton received the benefit of the doubt over his "youthful indiscretions" in 1992. And it is why John Kerry probably would have been given a pass on his anti-Vietnam War activities, if only he could plausibly claim to have seen the error in calling his fellow veterans war criminals and equating America with communist Vietnam.

As Democrats search for an American value they can embrace, they also might want to consider that voters tend believe in American exceptionalism--that this nation is a beacon of freedom for the rest of the world. Put these two ideas together and what Donna Brazile will discover as she mixes with the common folk at Denny's and Applebee's is while Americans may complain about the daily struggle of their lives, they expect hardship on the path to a better life. It's the old biblical story of wandering in the wilderness in order to find the promised land, which is how Jonathan Edwards explained it to the generation of Americans who would turn out to fight the Revolution. And it's a much more appealing story for a nation that still identifies more with life on the frontier than it does with John Edwards's story of "two Americas."

What Americans will not tolerate is pessimism, defeatism and stagnation. It's not for nothing that Jimmy Carter's presidency ended amid an era of "stagflation." When Mr. Carter put a sweater on in the Oval Office and told Americans to get ready to start accepting less, he might as well have resigned. Ronald Reagan won the presidency in a landslide in 1980, promising a brighter, better and stronger America. Four years later he won in a walk talking about "morning in America."

Americans don't want to make do with less or accept defeat. They want a new beginning, a fresh start, a rebirth. Franklin D. Roosevelt knew he couldn't offer the same old tired solutions to the greatest economic crisis to beset the nation. Instead he offered the New Deal, itself a derivation from his cousin Teddy Roosevelt's Square Deal decades earlier. Bill Clinton similarly understood this and ran for president as a "new Democrat"--a Democrat who would be tough on crime, strong on defense and not a big spender. ...