I’ve been trying to broaden my horizons a bit. When Howard Dean lost Iowa, I was shocked. Shocked isn’t the word, really. To really get an idea of what I felt, imagine how the wingnuts that have worked themselves into a slather over Terry Schiavo must feel upon realizing that George W. Bush – a man of principle, a man unswayed by polls – has looked at polling data, sided with “activist judges” and turned his back on life. I guess what I’m describing is the moment when cognitive dissonance is corrected and reality bites.
It’s no fun, and I take no solace in the fact that I was not alone – that there were thousands of other Dean supporters that had their versions of reality shaken that fateful day.
It was with these thoughts in mind that I decided to take a look at The New Democrat – a publication produced by the DLC. You see, like it or not my blogosphere brothers and sisters, we aren’t the force they are. We seem to be making marginal progress here and there, but aside from our well-waged fight to preserve social security, our political leadership has more in common with DLC positions than we like to admit.
So yeah… I thought it might be useful and instructive to learn more about the “democratic consultants” we hear so much about. Maybe if I understood them better, I could be a more effective advocate for change.
So I jumped in. In this month’s issue, the two heavyweights of the DLC, Bruce Reed and Al From, pen an article entitled, “What We Stand For.” Let’s examine it together. (emphasis throughout is mine)
F&R begin with something I think is indusputable:
Here are some simple truths every Democrat needs to hear. To win back the White House in 2008, our party must change. We must be willing to discard political strategies that may make us feel good but that keep falling short. We must finally reject the false choice between exciting our base and expanding our appeal, because unless we both motivate and persuade, we’ll lose every time.
But above all, Democrats must be bold and clear about what we stand for. It’s time to show the millions of people who can’t tell what Democrats stand for that any American who believes in security, opportunity, and responsibility has a home in the Democratic Party.
We congratulate Gov. Howard Dean on his new job as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He needs to raise hundreds of millions of dollars, hone the party’s political machinery to rival the Republican juggernaut, and rebuild state parties, particularly in red states. That’s a tall order, even for someone with Dean’s energy and tenacity. We’ve had differences with Governor Dean in the past, but we wish him well in this endeavor. If he succeeds in building and funding our party, all Democrats will benefit.
In the end, the success of any national party chairman depends not on how well he does his job, but on whether his party wins the White House on his watch. The chairman’s role is to be chief cheerleader for the party. But if Democrats are to win in 2008, we must be willing to take on a few basic problems that party headquarters is in no position to fix. A party gets only one chance every four years to define itself for the voters. That comes in the presidential nominating process, and that definition is determined by the party’s presidential nominee and what he or she stands for. Ironically, the best thing a party chairman can do is to keep his head down and his nose to the grindstone, and give potential candidates a clear field to have that debate. Dean will do fine as long as he remembers the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm.
OK then, I think I see where this is going.
“We’ve had differences with Governor Dean in the past, but we wish him well in this endeavor.”
“The chairman’s role is to be chief cheerleader for the party.”
“the best thing a party chairman can do is to keep his head down and his nose to the grindstone… Dean will do fine as long as he remembers the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm.”
Perhaps I’m a sensitive fellow, but to me the tone of the excerpts is “Alright buddy, you won… don’t get uppity about it… and most of all, listen to us, because we know better than you do.”
Now, take it easy… I said I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt. So I won’t ask them about their qualifications to give such advice… Not yet, anyway. Let’s read some more first.
Since Roosevelt, only two Democratic candidates in 15 elections — Johnson in 1964 and Carter in 1976 — have won a majority of the popular vote for president. In that six-decade period, only one Democrat — Clinton in 1992 and 1996 — has won election and re-election to the White House.
If we’re going to improve on that track record, we need to discard failed strategies, not return to them.
Now, do you guys think it would be fair to bring up the facts that Johnson was elected after pushing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress? You know, a triumph of liberalism at its boldest and most pure? That in LBJ’s administration the USA saw the first environmental legislation passed, Head Start created, Medicare and Medicaid initiated and the Job Corps was launched? That each of these are pillars of liberal achievement unrivaled by anything done since? Would it be prudent to ask F&R about the conditions that led to the election of Jimmy Carter? To remind them that America was coming out of a failed and mismanaged war and a period of rampant political corruption under a Republican President?
Seriously, I want to know: why is it that F & R think that timid, republican light strategies are the preferred method for electoral success. By their own admission, Clinton failed to win a majority of the electorate in either of his elections. If third party candidates had not run – if Clinton wasn’t such an charismatically empathetic character – would Democrats be staring down a history of 24 years of successive Republican administrations? And if Clinton had run as a true liberal, might he have won the majority? Ya know, Jimmy Carter was no titan of political acumen. He was no Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton. But he ran with conviction and he won a majority of the popular vote. It’s worth noting.
More stuff I agree with. Except I don’t think they agree with me. Where, praytell, do you think we will find these persuadable voters? And since you, F & R, have held the reins of the party for the last twenty years, give or take, what the hell have we been doing? Are you telling me that you are just now divining this great truth that politics is about persuasion?
Well, before I get too excited, let’s see who F & R think the “persuadables” are.
OK – this is reasonable. Almost. The elephant in the room F & R never want to talk about is non-voters. You know – we all have friends that refuse to pay attention to politics unless it is somehow made relevant to them. If a person can’t tell the difference between John Kerry and George Bush – and many can’t – then they have little reason to take the time to register and vote. On the other hand, a populist candidate that can make the case that you have fewer dollars in your pocket, fewer environmental options, fewer government services, and an increased risk of losing a loved one due to war/terror as a result of Republican leadership… well, then – now you’ve given millions of disaffected voters reason to get up off their asses.
It got me off mine, and I’ll bet it got you off yours.
Hmmm… I wonder if these folks think Howard was mistaken when he said the capture of Saddam Hussein has not made any of us safer. I wonder if they would have counseled John Kerry to call the President, his Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense and National Security Adviso liars? Because ya know what – that would’ve cut through the media filter. And when John Kerry backed up the accusation with bullet points, the media would have been forced to report the bullet points. And when John Kerry (as counseled by yours truly) compared the impeachment of Bill Clinton to the lies told about 9/11 and the Iraq war… well, all Republicans would be exposed as hypocritical frauds unworthy of American trust. The result: President Kerry, a blue Senate, a blue House and a whole new generation of blue Americans.
Let’s see what else F & R have for us:
Am I crazy or does it sound like they are calling for a dialogue with those that drive pick-up trucks with confederate stickers in the window?
And who’s candidate was John Kerry? And who got all frothy in the mouth attacking Howard Dean? Tell me again who wanted the mealy-mouthed candidate with strong military credentials and a pro-war voting record…
So Howard Dean was a bad choice for Dem. nominee because….? And we should be listening to you folks because….?
Allright, now I can no longer hold back. Please tell me about the “glory days” of Clinton. Because looking back, I remember him promising universal health care. Didn’t get it. I also remember losing the House and Senate. In fact, the only halfway decent legacy of the Big Dog was his record of surpluses… but that even came because of an equity bubble. So I dunno – maybe it’s just me… but mentioning Clinton in the same paragraph as FDR and JFK just seems like sacrilige…
Fucking duh. Americans won’t trust leaders who will not vigorously abstain from sodomizing young men and women either… This is exactly the kind of empty rhetoric that gets democrats unelected. Show me one Democratic leader that doesn’t care about defending this country. If you can’t, then shut the fuck up. Morons.
It’s easy to warm Democratic hearts by promising “competence, not ideology,” as Michael Dukakis did in 1988, or “confidence, not ideology,” as Dean has done now. But in the end, ideas and ideology decide elections, and Democrats rise or fall based on whether we get them right. Like it or not, making the world safe from terror will be America’s central challenge for the next decade, if not beyond, and voters deserve a better choice that is neither weak nor wrong, but strong and right.
I guess I’m missing the point too. Maybe it’s because I learn from history. In spite of LBJ’s electoral success, his hubristic war (and it was his war) in Vietnam made him untenable as a presidential candidate.
And I want to point something else out also. These bastards just keep setting up straw men in order to bash their own. Unless you can explain how war in Iraq – a war which has extended this country to the breaking point militarily and exposed our vulnerability to a war of insurgency – is the “strong” course of action, then once again, F & R, I must throw the bullshit flag on you. Remember, it was FDR that said “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”
At our strongest, Democrats have been the party of the middle class and those who aspire to join its ranks. Opportunity is the value that unites our party like no other. Moreover, we are the party of opportunity in a decade that is likely to produce the greatest concentration of wealth since the 1920s and the greatest erosion of middle-class opportunity since the 1970s.
But Americans will never know we’re the opportunity party unless we offer a bold, clear vision of economic growth that will help them get ahead. Our side has been talking about programs for so long, we’ve forgotten that it took an overarching vision for Democratic presidents to create them. The New Deal, the Great Society, and the New Covenant came first, and made later victories on Social Security, Head Start, and the Earned Income Tax Credit possible.
The good news is that we share a common vision of a country that gives every citizen willing to work hard the promise of a better life and the chance to make the most of it. Bush has promised an Ownership Society. John Edwards and others are right to propose an Opportunity Society instead. Once again, our ideas ought to be on the scale of the problem: Demand tax reform that rewards work, not wealth, and gives everyone a chance to own a piece of the rock, not a bigger piece of the debt. Make college free for all who are willing to work or serve. Close corporate loopholes to restore fiscal responsibility and make the market work.
These ideas and others offer an upward mobility strategy for all those who, in Clinton’s words, go to work every day and play by the rules, and who see rapid economic change and competition from low-wage nations clouding the future for them and their children. The Republicans have no such strategy; we Democrats need to articulate one.
I agree with this, but wish they would have included the final piece. One of the biggest components of economic security is freedom from catastrophic health care expenses.
Uh-oh… I’m starting to sound like Howard Dean again… too “grass-roots” for F & R’s tastes, I’m afraid… but ya know, maybe we should give them the benefit of the doubt… how could they possibly know? when’s the last time they went without pate, caviar and champaigne, let alone health care?
We can’t let the Republicans set the moral and cultural debate in election after election. If we do, they’ll keep using wedge issues to help them, hurt us, and divide the country. It doesn’t have to be that way, and we don’t need to compromise our values to change it. We can win the cultural debate, but only if we offer a values and cultural agenda of our own.
The last two elections were all reflex, all the time — deflecting Republican charges on same-sex marriage, guns, and abortion. The best way to stop having the same old phony debate on cultural issues is to force a real one on issues that matter: strengthening families, helping parents teach kids right from wrong, coupling rights with responsibilities, and asking all Americans to give something back to their country.
Americans in the heartland will stop thinking Democrats look down on them once we demonstrate that we honestly understand their concerns. Parents are right to worry about the coarsening of the culture, and about needing more time with their children. Sen. Hillary Clinton is right to make clear that our goal should be fewer unwanted pregnancies and fewer abortions. Sen. Barack Obama is right that there’s a limit to what government can achieve if we forget about personal responsibility. Republicans will never step up as the responsibility party. Why can’t we?
Now wait a second here, fellas… didn’t you just say, “Democrats like to believe that we have the right message and our problem is one of communication — of getting our message out more effectively. The Republicans, we like to argue, win with an inferior message, because they’re better at getting it out.“?
If you can’t even be consistent in your own fucking essay, why the hell should anyone care what you say?
Of course the values debate is killing us. It’s rousing Christain conservatives. A significant percentage of them will be unreachable. Instead of wasting effort on them, we need to reach voters that have reddish tendencies for softer, less faith-based reasons. You know, the guys with confederate stickers on their bumpers…
In order to restore these great values, Democrats need to remember our calling as the true party of reform. Last time we looked, the Republicans controlled the White House, both houses of Congress, a majority of governorships, and a plurality of state legislatures. Yet the Republicans are the party of fiscal profligacy, special interests, and K Street corruption. Congressional leaders rewrite their rules faster than the old Soviet Union. In a country built on a free press, the administration has admitted putting columnists on the take.
Democrats have a duty to blow the whistle and champion radical reform. We need to be willing to take political risks and embrace new ideas: breaking the redistricting racket that leaves most incumbents more likely to die in office than be defeated; ensuring all Americans can vote and have their votes counted; opening primaries to enfranchise independents and break the grip of organized interests on the nominating process and the parties; restoring spending caps and pay-as-you-go policies to put our fiscal house back in order; promoting family-friendly tax policies that help middle-class families with retirement savings, college costs, homeownership, and raising families; putting a stop to Washington’s costly revolving door; and ending corporate welfare that puts the tax code up for sale.
We need to reclaim the mantle of reform and innovation and show the Republicans for what they are — the party of Washington, corruption, and the status quo. Then we can speak to Americans, as we did in our finest days under Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Clinton, in terms of our vision, our values, and our sense of national purpose, not in the bureaucratic doubletalk of Washington.
The American people deserve a Democratic Party that champions the values, interests, and safety of the broad middle class and all who aspire to join it. We can and will be a majority party again, but only if we do the hard work to earn the majority’s trust. When we look at that map from Election Night 2004, it breaks our hearts to see America’s heartland covered in red. Only time will tell who our party’s Moses will be. In the meantime, we all have a job to do to make that Red Sea part.
At least they close with something that is unassailable. I can finally go to bed.