By Ciro Scotti The Democrats have long been the Eeyore Party. Everyone, it often seems, has a personal problem, as the drill instructors used to say in the Army.
Environmentalists talk darkly about God's green earth going to hell in a mercury- and arsenic-infused handbasket. After millions of aborted fetuses, pro-choice activists still warn that the control of women's bodies is at dire risk. Minorities, ever angry, continue to be put upon in dozens of different ways. Unionists in their loaded Dodge Ram pickups moan about lost jobs and crummy wages (but then, that's a movement that would cease to exist without allegations of inequity and injustice). From rights-for-illegal-immigrant freaks to gun-control nuts, the Democrats love walking around with a cloud over their heads.
But all that is about to change. Yes, folks, h-e-e-e-r-r-e's Johnny! Edwards, that is. The selection of Mr. Happy Face as John Kerry's running mate puts the Republicans on notice that the politics of optimism -- taken to its zenith by the late, great master Ronald Reagan -- is up for grabs again.
GORE'S FOLLY. Bill Clinton, the Man from Hope, picked up that ball from the Gipper and ran with it through the roar of the late Nineties. In Clinton's America, even more so than in Reagan's, anything was possible. Just ask one of those brash, young dot-comers -- right after they get off work at Mickey D's.
Then along came Al Gore and the Clinton-denying Democrats. As the Presidential candidate in 2000, Gore shed his New Democrat clothes, put on the hair shirt of the oppressed, and talked about what was wrong with America. And he chose as his running mate the cerebral, fair-minded, and contagiously monotonous Joe Lieberman, a man who could make you grab for the Wellbutrin just by opening his mouth.
Had Gore chosen a partner who exudes good news like the junior senator from North Carolina, he might be running for reelection today. As Senator Joe Biden of Delaware said as he felt the enthusiasm and optimism on the floor of the FleetCenter in Boston: "The difference between this year and 2000 is night and day."
GLOOM-AND-DOOM PREZ. And this year the Republicans are even more vulnerable on the politics of optimism than they were when George H.W. Bush ran for reelection. Of course, September 11 has a lot to do with that. But George W. Bush unnecessarily exacerbated the public malaise by shutting off the outflow of post-attack global goodwill and ramrodding into Iraq.
Now, this Administration needs to keep Americans red-alert scared if Bush wants to stay in power. Being the War on Terror President by definition means being the doom-and-gloom President. And no face is more emblematic of Mourning in America than the dour, sour Dick Cheney.
Watching the young, cheerleader-pretty Cate Edwards introduce her mother last night and listening to plainly good-hearted Elizabeth Edwards say she married John "because he was the single most optimistic person I ever met," you almost feel sorry for the Un-sunshine Boys Bush and Cheney.
LOTTO-THINKERS. As New York delegate Mike Kaster, 25, said as he listened to Edwards' speech about better tomorrows: "I got involved because of John Edwards. He's one of the most inspiring politicians ever.... He's a genuine person...and that's why I'm so optimistic."
Of course, Edwards can be so irrepressibly upbeat that he sometimes seems about to go overboard and become a Music Man parody -- a too-slick-by-half peddler of dreams. But this is a country of possibilities, and we Americans are lotto-thinkers and suckers for dreams. That's why the slogan that John Edwards repeated over and over last night should strike fear into the hearts -- or whatever they are -- that thump in Republican chests: "Hope is on the way." For more on the Democratic National Convention, see BusinessWeek Online's continuing coverage at www.businessweek.com/election2004.htm
Scotti, senior editor for government and sports business, offers his views every week in A Not-So-Neutral Corner, only for BusinessWeek Online