Women may be showing signs of “turning away” from the Republicans, but will the Democrats give them a party to turn toward, or will we continue to follow the demands of the center/right, DLC, “third way” Democrats and merely continue to turn our party into a nicer shadow of the Republican Party?
That question isn’t limited to women voters, but also to other traditional constituencies, as Garance Franke-Ruta reports in the American Prospect:
The frustration of some black and Latino operatives raises the question: How much longer can Democrats count on historic loyalties?
In May of 2004, Paul Rivera had an idea. His proposal, based on his experience working in three previous presidential contests: Put staff in every market where Hispanic and African American voters were important and spend $1 million to test different base-vote mobilization strategies so that by July, the best one could be implemented and carried out as part of the overall ﬁeld operation. Rivera, a Puerto-Rican Democratic operative from the Bronx who was the highest-ranking Latino in John Kerry’s campaign, took the plan up the ladder.
But Mary Beth Cahill, Kerry’s campaign manager, let the proposal die on the vine. Her intentions may have been understandable — she wanted to run a streamlined, centralized ﬁeld operation, say insiders, not a bunch of different projects — but the net result of the strategy she oversaw was an election-day shocker for the Kerry campaign. Not only did Kerry win a smaller fraction of the Hispanic vote than any Democratic presidential candidate in recent history; he lost a couple of points with black voters, too. And, unlike Bill Clinton in 1996, Kerry lost white women voters, who have by and large remained loyal to the Democratic Party even as their husbands, boyfriends, and brothers grew into a core Republican constituency over the past 40 years.
“One of the biggest problems with the Democratic Party is we don’t know how to speak to the people we claim to represent,” Rivera told me in late May over a plate of mini-burgers and parmesan onion curls at hip downtown D.C. eatery Matchbox. “If we say blacks are for Democrats, Hispanics are for Democrats, women are for Democrats — the data don’t show that any more.”
This is a growing problem, but not beyond repair — yet. However, if we continue to parrot Republican talking points then we fail to offer a true alternative. The “third way” is a way leading to continued political disaster. Minority voters were shown how little value they held with the party in the aftermath of the last two Presidential elections. Now, we are demonstrating, by championing candidates who are hostile to women’s control of their own bodies, candidates like Casey & Langevin, that we are willing to abandon women too.
Some would ask how we can ignore the impact of “moral values” on the last election. As Emily’s List reports:
We can protect abortion as a medical procedure without “celebrating” it, as the Republicans, and sadly too many Democrats, distort a very principled stand. It is time to take principled stands. Fuzzy consensus is not a position. For some time, DC was mired in a sort of policy ennui, until the Reagan campaign showed that political power could be gained by claiming to fight for a vision of the future. THAT is the secret of their success, and in response the Democratic Party has offered only muttered lists of policy positions and spineless echoes of Republican distortions.
It is time for the Democratic Party to tap into the very thing that makes us a truer reflection of 21st Century America — diversity. There is an enormous pool of talent and passion for us to tap, and to empower. Sadly, we fail to do so over and over again, as described by Franke-Ruta:
In the Democratic Party, ensuring minority turnout has always been seen as something best solved through the traditional transactional political relationships that have characterized the Democratic Party’s approach to minorities for decades. Transactional politics means, essentially, that we’ll give you X in return for Y — the “you” often being a high-ranking ﬁgure in a given community who can be counted on to deliver votes. It’s a top-down model, and it’s the one the Kerry campaign emphasized, turning to prominent minority leaders to help it out, just as Democratic presidential campaigns have done for decades.
But even in the African American community, where the model was developed, times have changed. During the general election, the campaign had the Democratic National Committee (DNC) pay $86,000 to race-baiter Al Sharpton, who at most can move 140,000 voters in midnight-blue New York City, as well as substantial sums to the Reverend Jesse Jackson, an aging civil-rights leader whose currency among younger black voters is open to question (and whose organization, Rainbow/PUSH, was recently ﬁned by the Federal Election Commission for campaign-ﬁnance rule violations during the 2000 election). What that campaign got in exchange for this was an electorate that was just as white as in 2000, even as the country became more diverse.
The transactional model’s opposite is a ground-up operation that involves more direct outreach and ﬁnancial support for local get-out-the-vote efforts and ethnic media, and a recognition that in immigrant communities, there may not be a leadership or organizational infrastructure capable of moving and turning out voters, no matter how well they are cultivated. The Republican Party, truth be told, recognizes this more than the Democrats do, which has led some younger Democrats to feel that the party is either out of touch or taking minority votes for granted. “There are Democratic decision-makers who ask, ‘How little can I spend on these voters to get them to shut up?’” Rivera says.
In May, Rivera, along with Navarro and three other high-ranking former Kerry campaign and DNC Hispanic political operatives, sent the Democratic leadership and potential ’08 candidates a biting 13-page memo. “Instead of developing strategies and political capacity in communities of color to increase the number of voters and votes, the Democratic Party is steeped in token commercial relationships and unaccountable voter-contact methods,” they wrote. “If the Democratic Party does not improve its performance with Latinos, it is doomed.” The memo, which grew out of a series of meetings of more than 30 elected and appointed Hispanic Democratic leaders, as well as political operatives, in November and March, has been understood within the party as the shot across the bow. Nonetheless, there are still those who ask, says Rivera, “How little can I spend on communities of color?”
If we continue to listen to corporatist beltway insiders who have offered bi-partisan cover for policies that damage our country, the Democratic Party will continue to founder and lose. The Party, in fear of the Republicans hanging distortions of policies from the seventies around the neck of the Democrats, continues to fail to offer a true alternative. Merely being “nicer” Republicans is not a recipe for party health. As Emily’s List concludes their report:
Overall, this survey contains three central lessons for Democrats. First, Democrats have an enormous opportunity in 2006 to expand their base, particularly among women, but they can do more to solidify these advantages. Women’s mood for change, combined with their focus on domestic issues—leading with Social Security—has resulted in defections of up to 20 points in some cases, in their support of Bush from just six months ago.
Second, any debate between the primacy of values and economics is irrelevant in reaching women who care about both and combine the importance of both in considering their families’ futures. Democrats need an agenda that addresses poignant economic insecurities among women, but that does so with due respect for the centrality of families and care giving in their values system.
Finally, in recognizing the centrality of families and care giving, Democrats can take advantage of Republicans’ overreaching on issues of intrusion. While Democrats do not have the advantage on values that they do on a prospective economic agenda, Republicans have promoted defections by appearing to endorse government intrusions into family privacy.
Democrats must be the party of change and hope. They also need a clear agenda that makes families more secure and must develop language that respects families and care giving to take full advantage of the opportunity that they have been granted. While women voters have lost confidence in President Bush and the Republicans, Democrats have not
yet closed the deal with women voters.
“Democrats must be the party of change and hope” Yes, and to that I would offer Democrats must be the party of INCLUSION. The Republicans are making the argument that they are the more inclusive party, and it’s very easy for us to chuckle at that, but at least they are out there listening and courting voters:
Democrats often attribute the GOP’s gains among Latinos to such factors as homophobia and anti-abortion sentiment. But in fact, such explosive personal issues are rarely discussed or even mentioned in GOP media for Hispanics (whether outside groups do so is another question). Those subjects, explains Bendixen, are so taboo in traditional Hispanic cultures that when he conducted focus groups to gauge Latino opinions on gay marriage (among other issues), more than 70 percent of one group said afterward that this was the ﬁrst time they had ever discussed homosexuality with another person in their lives.
Thus, in 2004, Bush ads aimed at Latino voters showed pictures of college students graduating, prosperous-looking families with four kids laughing, and well-to-do-looking Hispanics at the ofﬁce, while a very sentimental, specially composed Spanish song played in the background. Ads proclaimed that America is our country and Bush is our president. The message: Nos conocemos. We know each other. All told, Bush spent about $5.5 million on uplifting, aspiration-based emotional appeals in Spanish-language media in 2004 — a small cost, due to the inexpensive nature of the media markets in Hispanic battleground states — with a tremendous bang for the buck. The GOP increased its Hispanic margin by 10 percent in the states where 79 percent of Hispanic voters reside and where Democrats declined to target them, and overwhelmed ethnic media markets in battleground states. In New Mexico, which Gore won in 2000 and where Bush won in 2004 by less than 6,000 votes, Hispanics provided his margin of victory; Democratic targeting in the last few weeks before the election simply came too late.
In other words, the Republicans offer visions of hope, while the Democrats offer … what? To fight for people’s votes? To cross the aisle and protect the “right” of usurers to bankrupt American families? To continue to promote free trade over fair trade? To abandon American citizens, especially women, the dying and the sick to intrusions into their personal medical decisions? Too many “Democrats” support these Republican policies, PUSH these policies. Yes, they are Republican policies, but the Republicans do a masterful PR job of putting a happy face on those policies, while at the same time pointing out that Democrats believe them too. No wonder we continue to lose as a political party — we offer NOTHING if we continue to follow the prescriptions of the party leaders who continue to betray large swaths of our voters.
It is important that we support the progressive reformers in the Democratic Party, and the efforts of Howard Dean to tap into the enormous well of talent and passion in our natural constituencies.
It’s going to take action, not just promises, to rebuild a coalition to the future. Continuing to echo the distortions of the right will only drive members of our coalition out of politics, or into the arms of our opposition. Expanding the big tent so far to the right that it leaves women & their doctors, the poor and American workers out in the rain will serve only to continue our string of losses.
The Democrats have to remake themselvs as a party of hope and diversity, in opposition to the Repulican Party of intrusion and irresponsibilty.
(note: kudos to Ramsey’s diary on Wednesday at dailyKos for the excellent summary of the Emily’s List report that brought it to my attention.)