I'm supposed to be scouring exit polls looking for reasons for the Kerry loss, but I think Kerry had a problem that isn't going to show up in any exit poll -- a problem he shares with most Democrats.
I call it the Protocols of the Elders of Liberalism.
That's not really an accurate name -- it isn't a document. It's more like a collection of urban legends -- urban legends that an awful lot of people actually believe.
The Protocols of the Elders of Liberalism say that Democrats (who are all presumed to be liberal) devote their lives to destroying the nation with Kafkaesque government bureaucracies, high taxes, wasteful spending, unilateral disarmament, and vile popular culture. Never mind that Clinton balanced the budget and ran surpluses during an economic boom, while Bush runs up deficits that sap our economic strength almost as much as Reagan's did. Never mind that Bush's prescription-drug benefit is bureaucratic and bewildering (as were the heartless HMOs that rose in the wake of Hillarycare's demise). Never mind that gangsta rap and country music improve the bottom lines of the same corporations, or that Rupert Murdoch is one of the world's top sleazemongers. The Protocols tell us: If something stinks, it's Democratic, and if something's Democratic, it probably stinks.
The Protocols have been a staple of virtually every GOP campaign speech dating back to Reagan, if not to Nixon and Goldwater. The Protocols are the source of much of the ranting on talk radio and Fox News. Ann Coulter's books are paraphrases of the Protocols.
Kerry's health plan wasn't socialized medicine -- but Bush said it was, citing no evidence, and lots of people presumably believed him. What was his evidence? The Protocols. Kerry said he wouldn't raise taxes on the middle class and would cut the deficit, and he said he'd focus on capturing or killing members of al-Qaeda. Bush said, in effect, that Kerry was wrong about what Kerry himself intended to do -- Bush said Kerry would be a tax-and-spender and would make the country vulnerable and weak. How could Bush know all this? And why did voters believe it? Simple -- it's all in the Protocols. They've heard the Protocols for years. When it comes to Democrats, they know the truth.
Kerry lost because he started at a disadvantage, one he never understood: that, just by dint of being a Democrat, he was seen by much of the population as a conniving plotter against America's best interests, as a man whose values are diametrically opposed to those of decent Americans.
There are ways to confound the Protocols if you're a Democrat. You can respond to a Protocols accusation immediately and forcefully, telling voters that Republicans are trying to scare them. (This makes the Republicans look like the tricksters.) You can anticipate an attack based on the Protocols and preempt it months in advance. You can make voters realize you're not a monster by turning on the humanity.
Bill Clinton did all three. Bill Clinton won two presidential elections.
We have to talk about the Protocols. We have to neutralize the Protocols.