On November 2, Democrats suffered one of the most devastating electoral losses experienced by a national party in decades. Not only did the Democratic nominee lose a heated presidential race, but the House and the Senate remained in Republican hands. The results forced Democratic leaders to deal with the harsh reality that Democrats are no longer competitive in much of the country.
In "Clintonism, R.I.P." (January/February 2005 Atlantic), Chuck Todd, the editor of National Journal's Hotline (a daily briefing on politics), argues that while the Democratic Party recognizes it has a problem, the cause may be exactly where many Democrats refuse to look—in the legacy of former President Bill Clinton. Clinton's political strategy, still considered to be dogma among many of the Democrats' leaders, was to try to formulate a middle-of-the-road set of positions that would appeal to a broad swathe of voters.
This approach allowed Clinton to dissociate himself (and, by extension, his party) from many of the unpopular liberal policies of the past, steering a course between traditional liberal and conservative positions with bold and often controversial plans for highly charged issues such as race, welfare reform, and free trade, and in the process managing to neutralize many of the old criticisms.
But the party's current woes may indicate that Clinton's success wasn't due to his use of that strategy, but to his unique charisma and his good fortune with the economy. Todd contends that absent Clinton's appealing persona and canny political talent, the "Clintonism" approach actually ends up working against Democrats by making them seem like crassly political operators with no core beliefs. The more Kerry tried Clinton's approach during the 2004 election, Todd points out, "the more the effect was magnified, until the long-lasting criticism of Clinton—that he didn't really stand for anything—became the definitive charge against Kerry."