Sunday, December 7, 2003

Revenge? How About A Victory

Vengence was in the air at the Florida Democratic Convention this weekend. Memories of the 2000 election were on the minds of a lot of the delegates, and Sen. Joe Liebermann reminded them of it again with his stump speech:

So, here I am back in Florida,” Lieberman said during the state party convention. “I love this state and its people and I won’t ever forget how hard you worked for Al Gore and me in 2000. You helped us win this state until others took it away. And we got mad, didn’t we, but now let’s get even.”


But after the speech, the Connecticut senator insisted he is not trying to make the recount an issue in the campaign.

“Campaigns are always about the future, the recount of 2000 is the past,” he said. “It’s fact. I don’t dwell on it. Coming back to Florida for me is like coming back to your family after you’ve been through a crisis in the family together. We went through a trauma together here and it would have been thoughtless of me not to talk about it.”

Liebermann’s sentiments were popular, but many delegates seemed torn between re-living 2000 and moving on.

Florida Democratic activists remain angry over the 2000 election, but as they heard from the party’s major presidential candidates this weekend, a brewing rift emerged over how to approach the 2004 campaign: Fume over the past or move on?

The fuming was palpable Saturday, as thousands of delegates to the state party’s annual convention erupted in laughter and hisses at the very sight of a photo of former Secretary of State Katherine Harris. They jumped to their feet when former U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek of Miami said she wanted ”revenge” and Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said, “Al Gore won the state of Florida in 2000 and we should never forget it.”

But, in one of the first public signs of disagreement within the party ranks, those emotions were tempered when one of the leading presidential hopefuls appealed to the activists to sing a new tune.

U.S. Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri didn’t mention the recount in his address to the convention Saturday and appeared visibly uneasy when reporters later asked him about it — prompting a grudging acknowledgement that Gore may have won and a demand that Democrats get over it.

”I’m not an expert, and I didn’t study every ballot,” Gephardt said. “While I think it’s unfortunate, we have to look to the future.”

The diverging approaches underscore a broader national debate within the party — highlighted by the fast rise of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean to front-runner status — over whether to excite the base with red-meat rhetoric or woo moderate swing voters who probably don’t obsess about the 2000 election.

Dean makes the recount a staple of nearly every speech he delivers, including Saturday, when he declared, “This time, the one with the most votes is going to win the White House.”

The convention marked a bit of a Florida coming-out for Dean, who has made limited appearances in the state. But he drew 2,000 supporters to pack the convention hall by spending tens of thousands of dollars and kicking his extensive e-mail network into action.

Gephardt has a good point. Generals are always fighting the last war – present example included – and we’re not going to win this election by re-running the last one. Gov. Dean can rally the base, but if he’s going to win, he’s going to win on his ideas for the future and show America how much better off we’re going to be with a Democrat in the White House. That would be the best revenge.