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Stuck in the Middle with You

By Nathaniel A. Smith

With the 2004 elections stampeding onwards, America is once again coming due for its periodic reminder of who really runs this country. Moneyed interests? Nope. The CIA? Wrong. The Skull and Bones? Get real, Eli. The real power in this country lies in the hands of the ugly, mushy middle: swing voters.

Already we can see the major parties getting ready to do a little dance called the Soccer Mom Shuffle. The main step in this little jig is bending over backwards to assure those swing voters: “Hey, don’t worry, I don’t stand for anything either!” Then the two parties link arms and spin around until nobody’s sure where they used to stand. Because, in truth, most swing voters don’t really stand for anything. They are image voters. They like candidates who know how to play nice. They cast their votes the way other people buy cars.

The Democrats, having some rudimentary understanding of swing voters, hope to confuse them by disguising themselves as Republicans. Thence we get the odd notion, which seems to have become common-knowledge, that any successful Democratic presidential candidate will be a moderate from the South (part of Bob Graham’s “electable wing of the Democratic Party”). In all fairness, the Democrats may have adopted this notion in the name of inclusiveness, showing that they think Affirmative Action should apply to everybody, including white Southern men.

Enter the candidates and their swing-voter induced dysfunctions. The first stop on the Soccer Mom Shuffle World Tour 2004 was the debate between the Democratic candidates in South Carolina earlier this month. The debate gave us our first taste of just how silly this primary is going to be. While Joe Lieberman boldly accused his opponents of liberalism, Al Sharpton was busy trying to arbitrate a peace between mortal enemies Howard Dean and John Kerry. Dennis Kucinich suddenly realized that even he had never heard of himself, while Carol Moseley-Braun drew heavily upon whatever-the-heck it was she majored in during college.

Dick Gephardt continued his gradual descent into schizophrenia. He’s so full of “wink-winks” and “nudge-nudges” that ultimately we have no idea what he’s trying to tell us. After years of pussyfooting moderateness in the House, he appeared last month with his behemoth Health Care Plan to End All Health Care Plans (not to mention Bush’s tax-cut plan). Gephardt wants very badly to be Clinton. Clinton had so fully mastered the art of chicanery that we all relished those little winks. He was like a magician: we knew we were being bamboozled, but that’s what we paid admission for. Gephardt does not have this.

It may well be that Gephardt has fallen victim to the terrible mystery disease that has been devastating the ranks of the Democrats. The symptoms of this disease, known as Dixie Chick Syndrome (DCS), consist of making bold statements, then hopping around with foot-in-mouth before country music listening swing voters get too flustered.

Democrats have a terrible habit of never, ever, sticking to their guns except when crushing the judicial aspirations of hard-working Honduran immigrants. Have they learned nothing from the demise of Trent “Sneaker Breath” Lott? The Democrats would do far better to take a page from the consistently repulsive Rick Santorum, who, by equating homosexuality and polygamy, has offended scores of polygamists nationwide. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the dream team Democratic presidential ticket that already has insiders salivating consists of two noted war heroes. Having hawks John Kerry and Wesley Clark on their ticket would neatly eliminate any misperception of the Democrats as the opposition party. For their part, the Republicans should take note of the success they have had with the draft-dodger-in-chief.

The truth is that all of this mess is due to the swing voters. In the 43 years since JFK beat Nixon on coolness points in the first televised presidential debates, the style-over-substance junta has come to rule this nation with an iron-fist. If their influence continues to grow unchecked, I project that we will see presidential debates replaced with Zoolander-style “walk offs” no later than 2016. Then again, this may not be such a bad thing, as it couldn’t hurt to have a leader with grace, poise and physique.

Nathaniel A. Smith is a news editor.

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