"Liberal" where is thy sting?

A great piece by Peter Beinart today. He asks why Bush's last ditch strategy, i.e. calling Kerry a liberal whenever possible, isn't working very well, and hasn't been for a while:

The mystifying thing about this change of course is that, while character attacks have worked well for the GOP in recent years--both against Al Gore in 2000 and against Kerry this year--the liberal charge has not. Poppy used the L word effectively against Michael Dukakis in 1988, and, as late as 1994, it helped slay New York Governor Mario Cuomo, whom George Pataki dubbed "too liberal for too long." But, by 1996, the magic had run out. Bob Dole hurled the charge at Bill Clinton to little avail. And, as Jonathan Cohn has noted ("Fade to Black," November 13, 2000), Pataki's consultant, Arthur Finkelstein, played the liberal card against three Democratic Senate candidates that year--Robert Torricelli in New Jersey, Paul Wellstone in Minnesota, and Jack Reed in Rhode Island. After losing all three races, Finkelstein admitted that the epithet had lost its sting.

Beinart goes on to say that "liberal" as the term was employed in the 80s, has lost its power because A) on the domestic front, it is nearly meaningless after 8 years of Clintonism and B) enough people are ambivalent about Bush's national security policies to be interested in an alternative.

As regards A, Beinart says, the kernel at the heart of the liberal epithet was always about one thing: implying that Democrats were going to give your money to poor black people. That was the GOP's dominant trump card in the 80s, and while it was hot, they were able to parlay it into a whole arsenal of sticks with which to beat Democrats: crime, the federal budget, family politics, and the list goes on. But that was 20 plus years ago. And both parties bear little resemblance to their 1982 keywords, even as GOP strategists try their damndest to make it so.


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