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Plotting a Campaign

Here’s how I think the Democrats should approach the 2006 and 2008 campaigns.  I don’t think I’ve got everything completely worked out here, but that’s the beauty of the comments section.  I’m confident that, together, we can work our way toward some useful—and usable—ideas.  Then we’ll mail then off to Howard Dean.

The Democrats need a unifying theme, a plot, some strong images, and a good mixture of negative and positive talking points.  They cannot, as every one keeps stressing, merely run a negative campaign.  True, their base will come out to vote against the Republicans.  But they need more than their base to win.

The unifying theme of the campaign should be “work” and “fairness.” I know that’s two themes, but the point is to articulate them together.  I’m not a PR guy, but the slogan should be some variant of “You Get What You Work For” or “Working for America, Working with Americans.” The basic message is that the Democrats will work to give every American access to a decent job and that they will work to protect the ability of working Americans to afford health care, retirement, college for their kids, and a decent life during their working years. 

The negative side of the campaign obviously comes from emphasizing how Republican policies threaten all of those basic amenities.  The “fairness” theme has to show how we are becoming two nations, the privileged and the scorned.  Start with the basic fact that Congress would never subject itself to the kind of inadequate health insurance that most Americans must accept—if they are lucky enough to have health insurance.  Move from there to comparison of pension plans for the wealthy compared to what the average worker has to look forward to.  Then show how the groups who can afford hiring full-time lobbyists and to make large-scale campaign contributions get special favors.  And, finally, explain how the Republicans want to dismantle the safety nets of Medicaid and Social Security.

As a party on the outs, the Democrats have a limited ability to set the agenda of a campaign.  That’s why I think they need a plot.  They should develop a timeline of one theme or issue per week.  Each week they should unfold a different critique of the Republican agenda or piece of their own alternative one.  Yes, they must respond to events as they occur, and to the Republicans’ campaign maneuvers.  But I think way too much emphasis has been put on rapid response teams.  Give the Republicans something to respond to.  Take the campaign as a pedagogical opportunity.  Under the rubric of fairiness, lay out the multiple ways the Republicans have skewed the playing field to favor the most fortunate, the most privileged.  Appeal to Americans’ sense of fair play.

The images of the campaign should be ordinary Americans.  There should be a person connected to each week’s story: the United pilot who is about to lose over 50% of his pension; the elderly American who is squeezed by increases in Medicaid co-payments and who has found the so-called prescription drug benefit unusable; the textile worker whose job was sent overseas and who doesn’t get the “severance package” provided for the executive who also lost a job in the move; the lobbyist who insures that the company that locates its corporate headquarters in the Bahamas continues to avoid paying American corporate income taxes; the plaintiff who was screwed by a right-wing judge’s decision in favor of a corporation in an environmental or working conditions suit.  This should be a campaign of stories—tales of people who are worse off because of this government, or unfairly better off because of its favors.

The positive parts of the agenda are, in many cases, straight-forward enough.  A minimum wage bill; various small steps (for starters) to address the problems of health care and outsourcing of jobs; funding for education instead of grand-standing rhetoric about it; repeal of the various loopholes that reward companies and individuals for economic actions that harm the community as a whole.  The Democrats have to dramatize Republican priorities—and blindnesses.  Over forty million Americans without health insurance and the Republicans don’t plan to address the issue at all in Congress this year or in the foreseeable future.  Instead, they want to spend their vaunted “political capital” downsizing Social Security, even though its deficit won’t appear until 2042. 

Along with promising legislative attention to the needs of average Americans, the Democrats should also stress successful government and citizen joint initiatives.  Gar Alperovitz had a great column on this topic recently over at Tom Paine.  The Democrats need to tell these stories as a way to begin rehabilitating Americans’ image of their government.  One of the biggest problems the Democrats face is the loss of faith in government.  Americans know that our health care “system” (I guess it qualifies as a system within the confines of chaos theory) is broken.  But they are also convinced that anything the government does to fix it would only make things worse.  They would rather muddle through with the devil they know.  The Democrats need to tell stories about successful government action—places where the government enabled people to do things that wouldn’t have happened otherwise, or government worked hand-in-hand with local citizens to accomplish something. 

In sum, then, a vision of America as a place where people can work together to provide prosperity and security to everyone who joins the effort.  A unifying vision as contrasted to Republican divisiveness which separates the rich from the poor, ostracizes gays, and casts aspersions on the patriotism and morality of everyone who doesn’t see the world in exactly their way. 

Can a politics of unity and hope win an election when pitted against a politics of divisiveness and fear?  I don’t know.  But as everyone keeps saying, the Democrats have to stand for something—and the latest polls do suggest that many in this country are finding the Republicans increasingly distasteful, even scary. (So, yes, the Democrats do have a fear element in their campaign—fear of personal economic hardship.  The pension issue is huge—as this Slate essay by Daniel Gross makes clear—but has gotten surprisingly little play so far.  The Democrats need to connect corporate irresponsibility to Republican policies that hurt the economic competitiveness of any company that actually tries to do the right thing by its employees.) Maybe the moderate center that blocked the nuclear option in the Senate (at least temporarily) can hold over the next eighteen months—and point a path away from rightist extremism.  The opportunity is there for the Democrats to articulate clearly that there is a different way to do politics and a different set of priorities we can choose as a nation. 

You will have noticed, of course, that I have said nothing about foreign affairs and homeland security.  The “fairness” theme does work, to a very limited extent, in these realms.  I think the Democrats need to show how much of homeland security has been a pork barrel feeding frenzy in which the public treasury has been ripped off by businesses that fund Republican campaigns and golf junkets.  There are plenty of dramatic stories that can be told there.  The Democrats should also tell the story of how our soldiers overseas are under-equipped, underpaid, and treated unequally (the National Guard troops get shafted in relation to regular service personnel), while private contractors in Iraq and elsewhere are raking in Pentagon dollars.  The Republicans have shown no desire to address such abuses; they turn a blind eye to them because they are fully implicated in them.

But the theme of fairness only gets the Democrats so far in this arena.  On Iraq, I think the Democrats have no option except to take the Colin Powell approach.  The war should never have been started and it has been mismanaged from start to present, but we can’t just abandon ship now.  We broke it, so we have a responsibility to get it back into working order.  Can the Democrats claim to have a Nixonian “secret plan” to achieve that desired end?  Not plausibly.  The argument just has to be that the Democrats could hardly do worse.  A Democratic candidate should say, quietly but firmly: “The war was a mistake.  But there’s no point in trying to rewrite the past.  We are there now and have to do our best by the Iraqi people and by our soldiers in the field.  The current group has never shown the least ability to get the job done, so they should not be elected in the name of continuity because that only means continued failure.”

On homeland security, the Democrats should walk very softly.  That there have not been any domestic deaths since 9/11 should be praised as a great achievement and the Democrats should make it clear that they will support and enhance all the government work that has contributed to that achievement.  I am deeply troubled by the fact that the public appears, at best, indifferent to the civil liberties issues of the Patriot Act as well as slightly hostile to any serious prosecution of those responsible for abusing the prisoners we hold in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Cuba.  The Democrats have nothing to gain (unfortunately) from saying much about these matters. 

Posted by on 05/25 at 10:03 AM
  1. Full lunch bucket politics have always worked for the Democratic party, and what you have outlined here would return it to its winning ways. But what about the party’s left, the wing that nominates? Its priorities remain gay rights, identity politics, anti-religion rhetoric and the like, the liberal package that served to drive the heartland and blue collar workers into the welcoming arms of the GOP. I wouldn’t expect much help from the readers of this blog. The academy is part of the problem, the next one to be addressed now that the courts are being shaped up.

    Posted by  on  05/25  at  11:47 AM
  2. John,
    Except for the fact that John Edwards eschewed any sort of negativism from his campaign (and I agree with you, sadly, it is necessary) your plot or plan sounds exactly like his campaign during the primaries.  Everything he has came from work and opportunity.  He talked about “two” Americas. His deemphasized foreign affairs (perhaps to his own peril), and I think the “idea” of fairness was implied in his message.  Perhaps he was the wrong messenger?  Something went wrong.
    Lots of great food for thought in this post!


    Posted by DK  on  05/25  at  11:51 AM
  3. On choosing “work” as a central theme. . .

    This is interesting in light of what Ruy Teixeira has been saying about the Democrat’s need to win back a percentage of the white working-class voters (not sure if that is gender specific or not).  I just saw Ruy at the Working-Class Studies Conference last week and in his plenary address he said that if all other demographics held from 2004 (even though he expressed some doubt that the Hispanic vote wouldn’t lean further right) that merely losing the white working-class voters by single digits would mean a win for a Democratic presidency.  Check him out to get exactly what he thinks, I’m going off my scribbled notes which are unreliable at best. Ruy’s blog is in Michael’s Blogroll.

    I think that focusing on work and fairness is exactly what is in order.  Mike Zweig (prof of Economics at SUNY Stony Brook, director of Center for the Study of Working Class Life) talked at the conference about framing the values debate in terms of economic fairness, which seems to be what you’re talking about.  I do think Senator Edwards was trying to run this campaign, and I don’t think Kerry was the right candidate to communicate that message.  Although, I think Howard Dean is prepared to take this message public, he even began talking about these things on Meet the Press last Sunday.  The one memorable line I took from it was something like “part of my moral values is making sure kids don’t go to bed hungry.” I think with Dean at the helm of the DNC and with Edwards as a possible candidate in 08 (oh dear that seems so far off!) there is hope.

    The other important thing that you bring up is the need to get out of rapid response patterns with Republican spin machines.  It is time for Democrats to begin to frame discussions and to direct conversations around their “talking points.” They need to start now so they have an apparatus to stand on when 07 rolls around.  If they were timid during Bush’s first term, now they definately should not be because he’s a lame duck and their party needs a new front man, and more importantly, the election was a quantifiable reminder that 48% of the nation’s active voters are behind them.

    Posted by Jon S  on  05/25  at  01:08 PM
  4. Plus we need more obnoxious radio/tv personalities who can yell our message to America.

    Posted by  on  05/25  at  02:25 PM
  5. This seems depressingly like writing a spec script for The West Wing, in the sense of putting words into the mouths of people who will speak them only in our dreams, in a fantasy world where Democrats stand for something other than business as usual.

    That said… Environment. Clean air, clean water. Healthy food. Clear streams with fish in them to (yes) catch, intact forests with deer in them to (yes) hunt.

    The GOP hammers on the “Jobs versus Owls” issue, but there is a ready answer that the Dems have essentially ignored. How many jobs are generated per BTU energy delivered in heating oil? Far fewer than those generated per BTU of energy saved in weatherizing/building passive solar add-ons/installing decentralized wind and solar generating facilities.

    People will vote to increase the size of government if that government will use the increase to test every cow for BSE before slaughter, or to hire attorneys to track down and indict corporate polluters.

    Think health insurance is expensive? Try property insurance in a few years as climate-driven disasters tweak the actuarial tables. A few more hurricane seasons like 2004, and insurance rates will be going up in Nebraska as well. The reinsurance industry is one of the biggest proponents of Kyoto-style accords, and it’s not too long before insurance clients will be following suit. Look at California’s earthquake insurance industry in the wake of Northridge for the future of homeowner’s insurance everywhere.

    People get this kind of stuff, and what’s more they feel strongly about it. We do them no service by ignoring the environment.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  05/25  at  02:42 PM
  6. Chris - well said. I constantly make the point in discussions that innovation is good for the economy - look at IT as an example - so why are we so afraid of environmentalism-driven innovation? It’s sheer lunacy. The US, in building H2s instead of Prius-type vehicles, is missing the boat on this entire industry.

    But more intrinsically what never ceases to amaze me is the basic fact that anyone can turn their nose up at reducing pollution, increasing efficiency, or learning more about the way in which the world works. Though I understand the short-sighted motivation that powers this willful ignorance, the sheer numbers are nothing short of astonishing.

    And that’s where the Dems need to look to commonsensical talking points. Massive military might overseas hasn’t worked; so why not propose good, solid diplomacy instead? In under 3 years we’ve burned all the goodwill that 11/Sept garnered for us (ignoring the history that lead us to that point in 2001, that is).

    As you say, you have to identify things that make ‘sense’ to the layperson, and then establish cause & effect. Terrorism doesn’t come from nowhere - and neither do hurricanes, or high fuel prices, or second-world health coverage.

    Posted by  on  05/25  at  03:33 PM
  7. The Dems need a unifying theme and just one or
    two important points emphasized over and over.
    The contrast between Jesus and the Right might
    be a start.

    However ...

    As President Diebold, er Bush knows, the only thing that matters is who counts the votes.

    If the game is rigged, the Dems could promise unlimited orgies and snickers bars and it won’t make a bit of difference.

    Frankly, I think it’s already too late.  I sure hope I’m wrong.

    Posted by  on  05/25  at  03:34 PM
  8. I never understood why Kerry didn’t make a bigger issue of corporate corruption and, specifically, out Bush’s link to Enron.

    Posted by  on  05/25  at  04:22 PM
  9. Work and fairness are themes only the Democrats can credibly include in a political platform.  The creative minds naturally drawn to Democratic issues and ideals need to take dramatic steps to exemplarize these ideals, the better to communicate the virtue of our policies to the body public.

    We must take the lead in establishing work camps, our blue state governors can begin building the network.  Fairness demands that all able-bodied young people share the work camp experience, applying their labors to the benefit of all the citizens.  Surely two years of toil following completion of their secondary education, provided at great public expense by dedicated and overworked education professionals, is fair recompense to society.

    Indeed, the New Deal succcess with Civilian Conservation Corps speaks to both the prospects for success, and the service of the ideals so ably expressed by Chris Clarke.

    Contact your governors, blue state progressives, and urge them to begin opening the camps, preparing the way for success in 2008.

    Posted by  on  05/25  at  04:24 PM
  10. I’ll be brief about themes.  One of the main memes should be the Party of Personal Privacy with another being Saving Social Security from Privatizing Pirates.  Clean Air and Water should be a priority so Keeping Babies Safe from Asthma causing smog and defect causing mercury.  That would dovetail nicely with a system of widespread and VERY AFFORDABLE HEALTHCARE.  Judges who stand for justice would be included in any platform and a FAIR tax code that eliminates corporate welfare and offshore tax exemptions-all in service of reducing the deflicit.  Negotiating FAIR TRADE INSTEAD OF TRADEAWAYS would probably work as well.

    Posted by  on  05/25  at  04:53 PM
  11. (The party’s Left nominates?  Ah, right, that explains why the Kucinich/Sharpton ticket lost the 2004 election in a squeaker to Bush/Cheney.)

    Posted by Doctor Memory  on  05/25  at  05:30 PM
  12. I almost dread saying this, but John did bring up the idea of those weekly commercials with a face.  We need for the Democrats to go more negative than they have ever gone before, especially in their use of the media.  Here is one example, that fits the fairness and work theme.  Opens with an airport, where all the planes have the logos of the fortune 500 corporations.  The only working people at the airport are either those loading cash into freight containers or those unloading “walmart” junk.  The airport itself is run by intense fields of technosecurity robots--think the current battlefield Talon model reconfigured for this role--where the parking lots are filled with limos and private luxury cars.  The only passengers are corporate executives waiting in lounges that look like the finest of MTV Cribs. 

    We follow in time lapse screen flow some of the junk making its way to trucks to a smoggy brown-tainted air town/city.. where the truck passes long lines of bleak looking people standing in front of buildings marked: today’s available work is; commodities available today are; only screening for TB and mercury today; filtered water allotment for ration tickets A-F only; etc.  The truck also passes a school that looks like a fortress; and three huge prisons filled to overflow capacity, each with their own signs--debtors, non fundamentalist-evangelical, death sentence inmates only.  Then the truck stops at WalMart, drops off the freight, picks up the cash and heads back to the airport.  We see no gas stations, no cars, only fortified delivery trucks and militarized security vehicles that are marked not as belonging to local or regional governments but by private corporations like Blackwater Deibold, Cyscorp, etc., passing over streams and water ways filled with trash, sewage, and industrial toxins from the coal fired energy plants.

    Posted by  on  05/25  at  05:39 PM
  13. I agree that these are all strong points for our guys-- the weakness is that finding a messenger to deliver these points will be tough.  I maintain to this day that if Dean had managed to wrestle the nomination away from the party professionals that threw in with Kerry because he was “electable” we’d have seen a race that would have been just a close, and might have gone the other way.  In the end, Gore lost because his differences with Bush were blurred; Kerry lost because he actually voted for the things that Bush did.  There is nobody in the Senate who is able to say “I stood up on my hindlegs and opposed” whatever, so that cuts the field down pretty substantially.  I liked Edwards, but I’m not sure he has the necessary substance.

    Posted by Bill Altreuter  on  05/25  at  06:29 PM
  14. Just a suggestion for a slogan. How about “Work Fair” or some variant thereof.

    Posted by  on  05/25  at  07:58 PM
  15. “The war was a mistake.  But there’s no point in trying to rewrite the past.  We are there now and have to do our best by the Iraqi people and by our soldiers in the field.  The current group has never shown the least ability to get the job done, so they should not be elected in the name of continuity because that only means continued failure.”

    Gosh, that worked so well in 2004.  And it sends such a comforting message to everyone who has a dead or wounded service member in their family or community. By this argument Dems should be pushing a draft, too, eh?

    Posted by  on  05/25  at  10:45 PM
  16. I am deeply troubled by the fact that the public appears, at best, indifferent to the civil liberties issues of the Patriot Act as well as slightly hostile to any serious prosecution of those responsible for abusing the prisoners we hold in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Cuba.  The Democrats have nothing to gain (unfortunately) from saying much about these matters.

    Couldn’t disagree more with you here, John. Here and elsewhere, a successful party has to lead. Instead, you’re glancing nervously at the polls and trying to decide between giving the people what they want, or being silent and hoping that these issues will go away. Neither will work. So long as the people think that the kinds of foreign policy that Bush is giving them is the only plausible one in this post-9/11 world, they will keep voting for Bush and his ideological successors. They won’t change their mind unless someone presents them with another alternative.

    Of course, part of the problem is that the Democratic Party hasn’t made up its own mind about these issues.  To a great extent it’s still divided between a hawkish wing (that includes those with the most power among its foreign policy thinkers, as well as the most powerful Congresspeople and Senators) and a dovish wing (that includes the plurality of Democratic primary voters, but largely fringe figures among elected Democrats). The problem here is internal, as well as external.

    Indeed, I think one of the things haunting your analysis is the assumption that the biggest challenge facing the Democrats is how to market themselves. In fact, the biggest challenge facing the Democrats is deciding what they stand for.  Are they a party whose economic policies are designed to help working Americans first, or are they the party of fiscally responsible corporate-oriented economics (trade looms large here, of course)?  Are they a party dedicated to fundamentally reforming a justice system which incarcerates an enormous percentage of Americans, often for minor, non-violent drug offenses, or are they a party that sees “law and order” issues from drugs to the death penalty as convenient symbolic opportunities to look tough, regardless of the social cost? Are they a party of international peace, or of “smarter” and superficially more multilateral empire? Are they willing to fight for vital improvements in our social safety net like universal single-payer healthcare and a national living wage law, or are they a party of incremental schemes that merely nibble at the edges of such problems?  I could go on.

    In each of these cases, your party is split among those who honestly believe in each set of positions. But your internal debates are usually couched in the language of prudence. Much of your base prefers the first set of policies; much of your leadership prefers the second. So your leadership argues that they just can’t adopt more progressive policies...look at the polls.

    One problem with these (pseudo-)prudential arguments is that they’ve deprived your party of the will to lead.  Conservatives are happy to demand policies that the vast majority of the public don’t currently support.  Occasionally they fail to win the public over (as seems to be the case, thank goodness, with social security “reform"). But in many, many other cases they’ve eventually shifted public opinion at least enough to get away with enacting their policies and not suffer electoral defeat as a consequence.

    Progressives committed to the Democratic Party need to dedicate themselves to making their party stand for the right things first, and only then worry about how to sell them to the public. That progressive Democrats are largely uninterested or unwilling to try to do this is one of the many reasons that I am no longer a Democrat.

    Posted by  on  05/26  at  12:44 AM
  17. My definition of negative campaign ads has shifted since the advent of Swift Boat politics. Pointing out what your opponent has done wrong in the above example isn’t negative, it’s telling the truth. Lying about your opponent’s record, on the other hand, is negative.

    Frankly, I wonder how I’d react if someone on our side gave them a taste of their own medicine. (Although, come to think of it, there’s no lie we could make up that’s worse than the truth. Even my imagination doesn’t stretch that far.)

    Posted by KathyF  on  05/26  at  06:17 AM
  18. John wrote:>>>>. I am deeply troubled by the fact that the public appears, at best, indifferent to the civil liberties issues of the Patriot Act as well as slightly hostile to any serious prosecution of those responsible for abusing the prisoners we hold in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Cuba.  The Democrats have nothing to gain (unfortunately) from saying much about these matters.<<<<

    And there the fuck we have. There is the Dem message for the last 5 years. To paraphrase Goldwater, “None Dare Call it Fascism”.  Or, perhaps, to paraphrase Churchill:  “you had a choice between war or dishonor.  You chose dishonor and now you shall have war”. 

    Just how long do you think you can duck this fight with the fascists?  But I truly moved that you are “deeply troubled”. But we should just keep that little secret to ourselves.

    Posted by  on  05/26  at  06:37 AM
  19. DK is right: this is John Edwards’ message. Why is he necessarily the wrong messenger next time? He’s worked for fairness and individual rights as a trial lawyer (oops; loses points for that) and he seems shrewd enough not to flaunt it on the risky points. He’s about to be working for the work thing with his anti-poverty center at UNC Law (oops; maybe that’s working too hard at it). He’s keeping himself very busy. For your sensible platform why is he not a better messenger than Dean? Let’s you and I plan to have coffee with him in the fall . . .

    Posted by Sally  on  05/26  at  07:09 AM
  20. The fatal compromise of September 2002 on the war is going to haunt Democrats for the rest of the decade. Papering over the deep divisions in the party, pandering to Americans’ desire to avoid unpleasant truths… who could stomach another Kerry-style campaign, much less imagine we could win with it? 

    Think this country will just quietly grind through another four years of an unwinnable, illegal, based-on-lies war that’s burning through a billion dollars a week?

    Thanks for articulating the “principles” of such a campaign, though, John.  If electoral politics is not the place to tell Americans anything they don’t want to hear about themselves, then the only real politics of the next five years will be outside the parties.

    Posted by  on  05/26  at  08:21 AM
  21. I agree with what Ben, Jon and Nell have said.  If the Democrats don’t take the strong, correct stands on issues like the Patriot Act and the War in Iraq they will surely lose.  If they *do* take strong stands, they still might lose, but at least we’re rebuilding the party on the right foundation.

    Colin Powell/Pottery Barn rule—cut me a break!
    Those of us old enough to have been around during the Vietnam war have heard this “staying the course” crap before.  If the war was wrong in the first place, you pull your troops out, apologize, and pay reparations.

    Posted by  on  05/26  at  11:05 AM
  22. Got to disagree with you there, Larry. I thought the war was a bad idea, but if we leave now we would be irresponsible. The civil war going on there is a result of our intervention, but it’s not going to suddenly stop the moment we decide to intervene no longer. This would be like a doctor who misdiagnosed an ailment, treated it with chemotherapy, thereby causing other problems, and then refuses to continue seeing the patient on the grounds that he now realizes he’s a terrible doctor. “Here’s some malpractice cash,” he says, as the patient struggles to get up from his hospital bed.

    It would really be unethical to leave until we (or the Iraqi govt) can get someone else to provide a reasonable peacekeeping force.

    Posted by Lee  on  05/26  at  01:23 PM
  23. It’s a really big error of judgment to refer to the Iraq war as a “mistake”. Bush didn’t quite spill milk at a coffee table here. One only need to read the newly released Downing Street memo to discover what a sinister and deliberate deception on the American people this all was.

    As for the US helping rebuild Iraq, yes, of course that’s in order—but that isn’t a reason to prolong the occupation of Iraq. The White Man’s Burden argument is simply dated—the Iraqis want us out, most Americans want us out (within a year), and it is time to do so. Let’s not be misled into thinking that American forces are providing security to anything other than American investments.

    Posted by Chris Caesar  on  05/26  at  01:50 PM
  24. Theme: Restoring responsible government.

    1) Timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, turning policing responsibilities to UN and the government to the already elected representatives; to restore America’s global reputation.

    2) National single-payer health care system to restore affordable health care.

    3) Repeal of entire Patriot act to restore civil rights.

    4) Repeal of tax cuts to restore a balanced budget.

    Of course, they won’t do it, and they’ll lose again, but I might as well state the obvious: what the people want.

    Posted by  on  05/26  at  02:23 PM
  25. Sigh. More tactical plans without a vision and a strategy. If you work on those things first, the tactics and the message that goes along with them becomes much easier to sell to the party first and the country second.

    As for giving the people what they tell us they want via opinion polls, wrong wrong wrong. As my old boss--one of the most well known marketers in the US--used to say, you can go broke listening to your customers and he’s right. And the Democratic Party is object lesson #1. Otherwise every campaign and every business would be easy--ask people what they want and give it to them. But that’s not how it works.

    The trick is to offer people what they didn’t know they wanted before you offered it, but that they think they can’t live without once they see it. Who knew they wanted an iPod until they saw one? Or a $3 latte from Starbucks? Etc.

    So the Work and Fairness stuff is a tactical message that still needs a cohesive vision behind it that the party can rally around and that the country will smack its collective forehead and say of course. Nice try, no dice.

    Posted by ccobb  on  05/26  at  04:59 PM
  26. Kathy wrote: “Frankly, I wonder how I’d react if someone on our side gave them a taste of their own medicine.”

    Jon Stanley wrote: “Just how long do you think you can duck this fight with the fascists?”

    Well this is an example of how far some people have taken the DaHo message with the Christian Taliban vision----


    How do we embrace the ones who are being enticed to kill us??

    Posted by  on  05/26  at  05:26 PM
  27. Well, it looks hopeless. Maybe we should all work on inner improvement.

    Posted by  on  05/26  at  10:34 PM
  28. I’m heartened by the several disapproving comments. This does seem to be more of the same liberal triangulation that’s made the Dems so ineffectual & that keeps everything moving steadily rightward: ruthlessly exclude from debate--but with a big Ricoeurian hug!--any point of view or tonality that doesn’t cut a good figure on CNN for the Republican soccer moms (Greens! gays! the “sneering left!” people who know there were no WMD in Iraq!), then follow the polls, be morning-in-America optimistic, don’t offend, follow the polls, hush about the Patriot Act, and so on. The timidity is patent; it’s a refusal to lead. There’s a larger, more disastrous problem: many liberals still haven’t had their Goldwater moment & started looking beyond the next election to longterm infrastructures. But that’s now irremediable. (Any trauma sufficient to wake them up at this point would send us into a political nightmare where the point would be moot.)

    I especially dislike McGowan’s mandatory “optimism” & censorious posture toward moral anger, which are apparently required not only for election messaging but for participatory discussion of any kind. Lengthy response to that here.

    Posted by T.V.  on  05/27  at  01:27 AM
  29. Shortly after the election, Katha Pollitt described John Edwards as having all the authenticity of a game show host, which seemed about right… Can anyone imagine a flesh-and-blood human being truly embodying all the qualities McGowan wants his ideal candidate to exude?  As a leader of the party, Edwards would obviously be an embarassment, but can you imagine anyone better than him at reading from McGowan’s script?

    Please forgive my RUDENESS, but why the hell are we supposed to be so desparate to hide the anger and disdain for the opposition that everyone knows we feel?  McGowan’s ideal candidate would never mention that Bush’s tax cuts threaten to turn the country into Argentina, and would “walk very softly” around the devastating impact of the war on our standing in the world and our military.  Aren’t these issues central to why people should vote Democratic?  What do we gain by being afraid to say that?  Possibly the public doesn’t care that much about detainee abuse, but what makes anyone think that the public wants to vote for candidates who do care, but are too cowardly to speak up?  Courting the pro-torture vote is the key to victory? Jesus…

    Year after year people vote for Republicans who seem to be proud of their moral commitments, in spite of demonstrably unpopular policies.  How naive to suggest that such a “risky” strategy might work for Democrats…

    Posted by  on  05/27  at  04:11 AM
  30. would it be unseemly of me to suggest that your presidential template is too nuanced to ever be communicable in the time alloted?

    Posted by  on  05/27  at  05:18 AM
  31. I have to say that the lack of charity in some of these comments is really quite stunning.  I see nothing in this post that implies a censorious posture toward moral anger, or an elevation of tactics over substance.  But in the comments I see much snark about John’s claim to be “deeply troubled” by the public’s indifference to torture abroad and the erosion of civil liberties at home.  I too wish we lived in a country where a Democratic candidate could have won the presidency in 2004 simply by uttering the words “Abu Ghraib.” But I do not see the point in vilifying progressives who sorrowfully acknowledge that they do not live in such a country.

    Posted by  on  05/27  at  09:24 AM
  32. I think maybe several photoshopped pics of Tom DeLay doing silly things might be in order. Unless there are just pics of him red-faced from his chemical peel available.

    Posted by  on  05/27  at  09:46 AM
  33. I certainly wasn’t trying to be snarky or uncharitable (as Francis suggests), though I have some sympathy to those who reacted that way to John’s post.

    I take John’s last paragraph very seriously. I think John is honestly deeply troubled by these things, but has concluded that there’s nothing that can be done about them, so Democrats should just shut up and turn away.

    To me that is deeply uncharitable...to our fellow citizens.  It assumes that there is no point to politicians’ appealing to the better angels of our nature. It is also politically cowardly, and morally questionable.  But I think—charitably—that it was written out of frustration, not cynicism.

    Our options are not, as Francis has suggested, limited to either remaining silent about the horrors that are being done in our name around the world, or hoping that the mere mention of those horrors will win an election.

    Indeed, to a great extent, the Democrats tried both simultaneously in 2004, limiting their explicit criticism of Bush administration policies in the “Global War on Terror” to an argument about competence and focus ("Where’s bin Laden?") while simultaneously putting forth what the British would call a dog-whistle argument about the kinds of things we’re discussing in this thread.  Indeed, the notion that the mere mention (even implicitly) of Abu Ghraib would make citizens vote for the Democrats was the foundation of the ABB strategy that dominated Democratic thinking in 2004. And Francis is right. That doesn’t work.

    But what I and others are arguing here is not that Democrats should merely mention Abu Ghraib in the hopes that people will draw the right conclusions, but rather that they engage in a serious debate about America’s place in the world and propose a viable alternative vision.  This is the essence of leadership, bringing a nation to a place that it is not currently.  To paraphrase a famous German, John and Francis are content with describing our country; the point, however, is to change it.

    The good news here is that the American people are actually now much farther down this path than the Democrats are. A majority of this country thinks the Iraq War is—and was—a mistake.  No, they do not think about these issues as most in this discussion do. But they can most certainly be led there, if someone is willing to lead them.

    While there are certainly center-right Democrats who cynically use the language of prudence to sell their policies to folks to their left, I don’t think that John and those supporting him in this debate fall into this category. As Francis says, they arrive at their conclusions sorrowfully.  But a sorrowful GOP-lite Democratic Party is still a GOP-lite Democratic Party.  Even honest moral handwringing only gets you so far.

    Posted by  on  05/27  at  10:32 AM
  34. Maybe, we can begin by refusing to call Bush’s little adventure in decapitation, the “War in Iraq.” No one, not even Bush, would have begun the adventure if he thought it would require us to fight a war.  And we haven’t.

    We Democrats have now initiated or supported our military’s efforts at peace-keeping in Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq.

    If we believe in these sorts of peace-keeping activities, then, we better start telling the country that that’s what we’re doing in Iraq and elsewhere, that we believe in doing it, and that we’re the ones who can do it right.

    Posted by  on  05/27  at  11:57 PM
  35. I hope that when Sigfried articulated his concerns about how the left-wing of the party can alienate heartland and blue collar workers that he does not include women’s issues as an example of the dreaded left-wing! 

    The Dems need to rally women, and remind blue collar women voters (especially if they are single moms) how screwed they are under Republican rule.  I haven’t seen any explicit discussion here of how the Democratic party will make women’s issues central to its campaign.  After all, women constitute a large percentage of workers without healthcare.  Women have a lot to lose if Social Security is privatized, especially since women are already “penalized” in their social security benefits if they take off time to raise their children (need to have 35 years of full employment to get benefits, which many women fall short of).  And, just when women might start enjoying retirement, and have sent their children off into the world, they become the primary caretakers for either an aging spouse or parent. 

    The Dems need to reach single women, women workers and, of course, activate their pro-choice base. 

    I could spend hours talking about why a pro-choice message should be essential to the Dems. But let’s just talk about how insane anti-choice politicians are.  For example, my state legislator, Maitland, has voted against:  preventative health care for low-income uninsured women, Cervical, breast & uterine cancer screening, family planning, and eliminating the global gag rule.  On the Cervical, breast & uterine cancer screening bill--the bill was voted down because one of the Republicans (hooked up with anti-choice groups [aka “pro-life"]) told the caucus that all the money would go to Planned Parenthood (a lie), and that they would use it for abortions (another lie).  So, no State funding for Breast cancer screening, etc.

    And, how about the fact that women who are raped and go to the hospital for a “rape kit” are not always informed about Emergency Contraception (because the hospitals are not required to tell the victim)?  Or, that Military women cannot have “privately funded” abortions on bases.  We can send women off to get shot at or killed, but we don’t extend them the right to make decisions about their body.

    The gender gap still existed in this last election:  48% of women voted for Bush as opposed to 55 % of the men.  Let’s when some of that 48% back by getting out to working women and educating them on what this administration is doing to them!

    Posted by aspazia  on  05/28  at  09:38 AM
  36. If we believe in these sorts of peace-keeping activities, then, we better start telling the country that that’s what we’re doing in Iraq and elsewhere, that we believe in doing it, and that we’re the ones who can do it right.

    Ellen1910 nicely illustrates the kind of internal Democratic divisions I’ve been talking about. There are many Democrats who do not believe that the U.S. should engage in actions like the ones we are undertaking in Iraq (whether we call them wars or not...though I think it’s the only honest word for them), and who would feel that the argument that Democrats can do these things better profoundly misses the point. I do think Ellen1910’s view represents that of the party’s leadership, however.

    Posted by  on  05/28  at  12:47 PM
  37. Having thought further about a central issue for the next presidential campaign, I would create a platform plank incorporating the right to privacy into a constitutional amendment, with an interim slate of laws designed to foster the aims of the amendment.  Such an amendment would protect Roe v. Wade from future assault, ameliorate the threats from the patriot act, protect libraries and the internet and protect the rights of medical patients, insurees and minorities.

    Posted by  on  05/28  at  02:44 PM
  38. This is all very thoughtful and high-minded and important.

    But we need a bumper-sticker mentality to sway voters.
    Short. Simple. Unspinnable.

    “Fire the Liars.”

    They took us to war with lies. They sell us tax cuts with lies. They lie about Social Security.  You don’t reward people for lies.

    “Fire the Liars.”

    Posted by  on  05/30  at  02:46 PM





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