Memo to Democrats: You Can't Beat Something With Nothing

Last night, as I’m sure we all know by now, was a very Republican night. I won’t go into the details on that; you can check 'em on CNN. And this thread isn’t about whether it’s good or bad that Republicans now control both houses of Congress along with the White House.

In fact, I’m not even sure if it’s a debate at all; it’s just a statement, maybe a rant. But if a debate can be found, go to it.

In this election, the Democrats have been, on a national level, laying low on the issues, treating each race as its own separate universe, taking Tip O’Neill’s aphorism, “All politics is local,” to its logical extreme.

It failed miserably. Compared to 2002, Al Gore’s run for president in 2000 was a shining success. And there’s a simple reason why. One can argue about whether Gore ran too populist a campaign, or whether he should have emphasized the Clinton administration’s accomplishments more, or whatever.

But it was clear that Gore stood for something. And we had a reasonably good idea of what. That gave half the population something to buy into. Gore’s virtual tie in the election had coattails: the Dems got a 50-50 Senate out of the deal, after having been several seats down in 1999-2000.

This year, though, all the national Democratic party seemed to want to do was duck and cover. And it showed.

The Republicans, over the past quarter-century, have made it abundantly clear what their core principles are. You can love 'em, or you can loathe 'em, but there’s no doubt what they’re about.

To say that what the Democrats stand for is a lot less clear is an understatement. They seem to be content to be “not the Republicans” and leave it vague after that.

At some point, though, you’ve got to stand for something. If the people don’t know what it is you’re selling, after awhile you’ve got to expect them to stop buying it.

I think we’ve reached that point. Last night would have been far worse for the Democrats, but for the ability of the politicians on both sides to collaborate on turning all but a handful of House districts in the country into “safe” seats. IOW, anti-democracy saved the Democrats’ asses :wink: last night.

For about the last three election cycles, I’ve been asking, as a Democrat, “Where’s OUR ‘Contract with America’?” When are the Dems going to state a handful of essential principles and issues, and run on them?

I’m sure Tip’s “All politics is local” aphorism worked for him, back in the days when the New Deal was recent and voters knew what the Democrats stood for, and liked it. Having the big stuff already working his way, the rest of it, for a Democrat in Tip’s day, was simply making sure that the results of the Democrats’ national stands showed up locally.

That won’t cut it anymore, though. I think it was Will Rogers who said, “I’m not a member of an organized political party. I’m a Democrat,” but if the Dems want to ever be the majority party again, it isn’t going to just fall in their lap due to demographic shifts, as some recent books have suggested. They’ve got to have something to sell that most voters want to buy into. And the first step is having something to sell.

With the Democrats, it isn’t at all clear what that is anymore. Until that changes, the right Presidential candidate isn’t going to save them; nothing will save them. They’ll just continue to lose ground.

RT wrote:

You can also check 'em on FNC. They’re partying on there like Animal House this morning.

I don’t know if you could say that’s what happened. I think the Democrats happened to run up against the aftermath of 9/11 and the currect Iraq situation. (OTOH, had they won, they would have been the fortuitous beneficieries of a cyclical economic downturn).

You might be right about the Democrats having less of an ideologically unified message, though. If true, it might be a residue of the Southern Democratic branch.

Huh? Didn’t the Southern Democrats have a fairly focused platform based on institutionalized segregation?

What RTF said. Bloody disgraceful. They let themselves be defined by their opponents, and they paid the price. The question now is who’s going to lead them out of the quagmire. It’s certainly not going to be Daschle or Gephardt.

I’m guessing Terry McAulliffe has updated his resume.

I’m guessing Terry McAulliffe has updated his resume.

Well, RT, I think you have a part of the answer there (you knew this would bring me out, didn’t you?) in that yes, the demodratic party didn’t have a single unifying theme this year. But what would that theme have been?

In 1994 the Republicans were capable of running with the contract with america because they had a president ot run against who looked weak after the failure of health care reform. In 2002 the democrats would have been forced to run against a sitting president who (by proxy) knocked over the government that supported the 9/11 attacks and has an approval rating of 67%. What would they have said, “You people are stupid for liking who you like! Vote dem!”? That’s not a salable stance.

Also, remember that there’s really MUCH less definition of what the democratic core belief system actually means. By being such an inclusive party the democrats make it difficult to pin them down. An advantage the Republican’s have always had is that they are much more the ‘good soldiers’ and adhere to party discipline.

So, I agree with you that the real (and possibly only) unifying force is that they’re opposed to GWB. But that’s trying to sell a negative. And I wouldn’t try that in the marketplace.

Ever since the 2000 election I’ve been wondering if maybe a lot of the people who support the Green party shouldn’t be doing enrichment for the Democratic party. It’s not that the Dems can or should support everything that the Greens stand for; but a lot of the idealism and energy of the Greens is enviable. I think it’s a shame that the Democrats have been bleeding motivated people, and ought to start trying to get them back in the fold.

I’m not sure they have anyone capable of doing so. (I agree that Gephardt and especially Daschle have shown they can’t.)

The guy who could is John McCain, who’s ideologically closer to the Dems than the GOP on domestic stuff, and might get them past Vietnam with respect to foreign policy. Though why he’d want to join such a sorry-ass party, I don’t know - other than he might get the chance to redefine it, rather than be the perpetual odd man out that he is in the GOP.

But the odds are way against McCain doing the Big Switch, and so that prospect has to be treated like a pipe dream unless and until it happens. If the Connie Morellas of the world won’t change party allegiance, it’s hard to envision McCain doing so.

I don’t see Kerry or Edwards being the man, either. Right now, I hate to say it, because it’s a longshot too, but the Dems’ best bet is for either Gore or Clinton (Bill, not Hillary) to decide they’ve got nothing to lose by setting out an agenda, spending a couple years full-time selling it to the American people, and seeing if the Dems will follow.

But the odds are against Gore ever finding his own voice and just going for it, politically speaking. And Clinton has been mostly MIA the past two years, and shows no sign of wanting to be a political force to be reckoned with once more.

I think 9/11 and Iraq was part of the picture, but I don’t think it can explain most of it. JMHO.

They’re always going to be less ideologically unified than the GOP; that’s just the nature of the respective parties. But they’ve gone a long time without much of any core message, and my sense is that the bill has come due for that absence of focus.

It was downright scary in the Florida Democrat Governor Primary debates. Three candidates stood on a podium and said they were not Jeb Bush. They said what Jeb was doing was bad, and it had to stop. They said Bush was bad for Florida.

That is not a platform.

Notably, however, the Deomcratic platform in Florida–the school class size amendment–passed, even though the Democratic candidate didn’t. There’s a lesson in that.

What I’m saying is that the Democrats had a very conservative branch of the party, based on the party’s strong roots in old Dixie. This was in contrast to the northern branch of the party, which tended to be more liberal. As a result of this, the Democrats tended to span a larger part of the ideological spectrum than did the Republicans, making it more difficult to have a unified message than the Republicans could. Over time, the southern conservative branch of the Democrats has faded as historical bonds loosened (Zell Miller would be one throwback) but this may be a factor in the way the party organized itself. All this is pure speculation, of course.

I disagree. The “whole picture” is not that large, actually. The Republicans picked up a few seats in the House and a few in the Senate. The Democrats picked up some key governerships. The impact of this election has to do with mid-term expectations, and - more significantly - the fact that the balance of power going into the elections was so even that a small move in either direction had a disproportionate impact. Obviously, the are any number of factors that have an impact - including local ones. But I think the biggest factor (by far, IMHO) is the terrorism/war issue.

I would agree that the short term outlook looks bleak for the Democrats. Next election will probably be at a time of economic upswing, and - at this point - looks good for Bush and the other Republicans. But - and this cannot be emphasized enough - two years is a long time, and a lot can happen between now and then. I recall a lot of Democrats comforting themselves after tthe 2000 election (possily even you - RTF) with the thought that the Republicans were doomed thereafter, because of residual anger over the Florida mess and because of the coming economic downturn. And here we are, and the world is completely differenct. And as you may remember, Clinton took a far greater hit in 1994, and was considered finished, but rebounded strongly in 1996.

So in all, yesterday was not a good day for the Democrats, but they will live to fight another day.

I think a single unifying theme is too much to expect even for the more-cohesive GOP. Even “lower taxes, less government, family values” - the GOP package in a nutshell - is not one theme, but three.

I don’t think it’s possible for the Dems to ever encapsulate their agenda so pithily. But they have to at least get close. Clinton’s “Social Security, Medicare, education and the environment” was a good try, but even that was more about programs than principles.

Of course, the GOP’s Contract With America in 1994 was an agenda of issues and programs too, but the principles behind it could easily be sensed. And maybe that’s the ticket for the Democrats, too.

They were running against Bush’s GOP regardless - the question was how. I’d contend that your hypothetical was what they in fact did, and it failed.

A Democratic “Contract With America” might have included some of the following:

1) We believe in a balanced budget; they don’t. We’ll put the phase-in of the 2001 tax cuts on hold until we can afford them.
The GOP says, if that’s the approach, the government will just keep on spending, and we’ll never be able to afford a tax cut. But if we could have a surplus with Clinton as president, surely Bush can restrain spending as well as him.
Besides, right now we’ve got a war to pay for.

2) We will fight for real corporate reform; they’ll just give it lip service.
Think sacking Harvey Pitt will really change anything?

3) When the minimum wage needs to be increased, we’ll fight to increase it. They’ll fight against it.

**4) We will fight to strengthen unions, and rights of working people in the workplace. **
Whether it’s making sure your retirement money’s really there, or simply making sure an assembly-line worker has enough bathroom breaks in the day, we’ll be there for you. We will track down domestic sweatshops and close them. When there are rumors of an employer finagling unpaid overtime out of its employees (hi, Wal-Mart), we’ll investigate, and if the charges are proven, we’ll make sure there are penalties that the employer will feel.

5) You can count on us to fight to preserve our natural resources. They’ll fight for the folks who want to cut down the forests, and drill in the wilderness.
Hardly any jobs are created by resource extraction, and when those jobs are gone, so are our wild places. We can put America to work in many other ways, but we only have so much wilderness, and we’ll fight to preserve it for our grandchildren.

6) We’ll fight to preserve the wall between church and state. They’ll fight to tear it down.
Most Americans are Christians, but many Americans belong to other religions, and some Americans don’t believe in a God at all. There is nothing wrong with that. We will fight to make sure that no one religion gets to plaster its messages over the facilities paid for by the tax dollars of believers and nonbelievers alike.

**7) We believe abortion should be safe, legal, and rare. They’re right on one out of three. **
We will fight to expand programs that are shown to succeed in reducing unwanted pregnancies among teens and young women. If insurance can pay for Viagra, it can certainly pay for contraceptives, and we’ll see to it that it does. We will fight to expand access to common contraceptives without a prescription. But when unwanted pregnancies occur, it should be the woman who has the ultimate choice as to whether to raise a child, give it up for adoption, or terminate her pregnancy.

I can think of more, but it’s time to get some work done. But how’s that for a start?

Quote from RTFireflyThey’re always going to be less ideologically unified than the GOP; that’s just the nature of the respective parties.

Not true, of course. In the history of these two parties, extending back to 1856 (roughly, on a national level), there have been times the Democrats were relatively focused and the Republicans were a hodgepodge coalition of differing sub-parties (as an example, see the ideological shift in the Republican party at the beginning of the century).

But the current situation shows that the Democratic party hasn’t managed to redefine itself following the loss of its coalition partners from Dixie. Rooseveltian Democracy isn’t sufficiently attractive to the middle of the spectrum undecideds to overcome the loss of all the voters who used to vote Democrat simply because they were the Anti-Republicans. And while they attempt to redefine themselves, Democrats can’t agree on some message to substitute for “Washington can solve ALL your problems, usually with money!” (Ok, that’s a bit unfairl; let’s modify it to: “Washington can solve all the social issues splattered all over the news, including lack of work, poverty, and racial discrimination, usually with some sort of social program that involves wealth transfer…”)

For the last 22 years, Republicans have crystalized around the message: “Government needs to focus on family issues, and stay the hell out of your wallets.” This message has won over the Dixiecrats that used to hate the inheritors of Lincoln’s party. It is a message that resounds with those who look at the news and feel threatened by the seeming social anarchy constantly pushed as “news” on our television sets and in our newspapers. It energizes people more likely to vote than not, namely middle-class suburbanites and rural inhabitants of small towns and cities. And it doesn’t anger or upset the middle of the spectrum undecideds and independants upon whom all elections depend. Frankly, it’s hard to feel substantially threatened by the message that government shouldn’t tax you so much, or the message that government should be family friendly. It’s gotten to the point that the Republican party can legitimately (in the eyes of the electorate) hold itself out as the champions of our educational system, a position LONG a pillar of Democratic rhetoric.

Contrast this situation with the 1930’s and the 1960’s, when the modern Democratic party was at its acme of influence. In the 1930’s, the Republicans were the champions of laissez-faire economic/governmental theory; the Democrats were the party with the answer to unemployment, falling stock values, recession, etc. In the 1960’s, the Republicans were the Anti-Soviets, the vitriolic Red-baiters, who didn’t seem to have much to stoke their political fires other than the concept that anyone decent should hate the Godless commies. In contrast, the Democrats coalesced around the theme that, in our “modern” world, we could overcome ANY social issue through hard work and a commitment to utilizing the mechanisms of government to stamp out the causes of social unrest. Put together with the votes of the southerners who refused to vote for anyone with the label “Republican” and it worked for a long time, especially when it came to electing Representatives.

If the Democratic party is to recover from the loss of its coalition, it needs to find some sort of unifying message that resounds with a solid base of voters, fails to alienate the middle-of-the-road electorate, and overcomes the current theme of the opposition. Frankly, this may require some sort of mis-step from the Republicans, as was the case in the late '20s, or it may simply require some intervening catalyst, as existed in the late 70’s with rampant inflation. But until it happens, it is likely that every two years we will see continued progress by the Republican party towards entrenchment as the party of the Establishment in Washington, D.C.

Believe it or not, RTF, I fell asleep late last night thinking along exactly the same lines. You even hit several of might highlights for what I’d been thinking of as a Democratic Manifesto. A few suggestions:

1) Fiscal responsibility. This is absolutely key. There’s really very little difference in total spending for each party. We just believe in paying the bill as we go. I believe some credit card analogies are clearly in order.

4) Worker’s rights. It’s not that we support unions. There’s no question that some of them are corrupt, inefficient, bloated bureaucracies–witness the recent port strike on the west coast, which shut down huge amounts of commerce over a ridiculously trivial reassignment of workers to different duties.

No, what we support is the right of workers to organize, to demand safe working conditions and decent wages, and to have a stake and a say in the decisions that affect their lives and the lives of their countrymen.

6) Faith in America. No party has a monopoly on faith. We believe in the right of every American to worship as they choose, free from government coercion. But ours is a party of many faiths and creeds; theirs is the party of the Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Religious bigots will never have a place in our party, and we will never allow our party to be hihjacked by those who seek to impose their religious values on others.

7) Abortion. Even though most Americans are pro-choice, they’re still uncomfortable with it in a lot of ways. Many states have adopted limited restrictions on abortions, such as parental consent (or judicial bypasses of that consent) for minors. I’m willing to endorse those limited regulations for the sake of protecting the core of the right to choose.

8) Terrorism. Bush’s leadership in the war on terror has been, in large part, a failure. He refused to act decisively when necessary in Tora Bora and northern Pakistan. In order to divert attention from his failure to destroy al Qaeda when he had the chance, he has chosen to rattle his saber at Iraq, a threat that we have effectively contained ever since Bush the First refused to destroy Saddam. (Are you seeing a pattern here?) Meanwhile, Bush has ignored the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian authority, doing nothing whatsoever to stop the flow of support from Arab countries to the Palestinian terrorists, and nothing whatsoever to force the two sides to work together for peace.

8) Defense. The salaries and living conditions of our men and women in uniform are an utter disgrace. We believe the United States military must be the best-trained, best-equipped fighting force on the planet, capable of deterring any threat to our security, and mobile and adaptable enough to succeed in any mission they are called upon to perform. But we will not divert and squander billions of dollars to deploy a missile defense system that would leak like a sieve and would be wholly incapable of preventing the use of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons by terrorists. We cannot continue to run the Pentagon as a cash cow for hucksters who still think they’re fighting the Cold War.

minty - I had a feeling I wasn’t the only one who was thinking this way. When I’d mentioned my “Contract With America” thoughts to friends in the past few weeks, I’ve gotten surprisingly positive feedback.

I think your suggestions are improvements, for the most part. A few comments:

**4) Workers’ Rights:**I’d say “We don’t support everything that every union does. But we believe that, by and large, union representation is not only good for the workers, but good for the society as a whole.”

I agree with you on #7 and your second #8. (Hey, you’re a lawyer; you don’t have to be able to count! ;))

I don’t think your first #8 can be sold to the country; there are parts of it that I can’t even sell to myself. But debating that would be a whole 'nother thread.

As long as we are going to characterize our political opponents positions as we like, let’s see how minty green’s manifesto might sound to a biased, partisan conservative. Like, for instance, me.

1) Fiscal responsibility. We Democrats had control of the House for decades, and the Senate for years, and drove the deficit thru the roof. We had control of all three branches under Clinton, and all our forecasts saw $200 billion deficits as far as the eye could see. We promised Bush Sr. that we would cut spending if he broke his “no new taxes” pledge. We broke that pledge.

But this time, we mean it. No shit. Really. This time, we are gonna cut - err - ahh - Well, we will talk about that later. For now, just remember that we are the party of fiscal responsibility.

And stop that giggling.

2) Worker’s rights. It’s not that we support unions. Oh hell, of course it is. We have our tongue so far up the unions’ butthole that we are flossing the back of Sweeney’s teeth. A huge, bloated, expensive, inefficient and uncompetitive monopoly - what is there for a Democrat not to like?

We all know that money and jobs grow on trees, and nothing but the evil management types are stopping every blue-collar worker from farting thru silk. All we need to take a strong hand with them, and pass a lot more legislation to prevent them from relocating overseas, where they might make a buck.

Hey, come back here with that factory!

3) Faith in America. No party has a monopoly on faith. Religious bigots will never have a place in our party. Unless they are black, of course.

Of course, if you take your religion seriously enough to want to do what you think is right based on its teachings, you best shut up. That makes you a dangerous religious fanatical terrorist anti-woman homophobic violent ideologue, who calls people names. No room in our tolerant party for you.

4) Abortion. Abortion is always good. Always. There are no exceptions allowed, and anyone who says or thinks differently must be silenced.
Now go ask Kim Gandy if I can have my balls back.

5) Terrorism. Terrorism is bad, and no one should use it to scare people. So if you don’t vote Democratic, Iraq will explode a nuclear bomb laden with anthrax in your living room.

Bush and Israel are to blame for everything.

**6) Defense. ** The catastrophic failure of our vaunted high-tech weapons in the Gulf War is conclusive proof that no missile shield can ever be developed. Anyone who wants to defend the US against nuclear attack is a war-monger. Our policy of negotiated surrender was an outstanding success in the Cold War, as well as with North Korea.

But by all means try to sell it to the electorate if you think you can bring it off, Dems. Just keep in mind that candidates are entitled to point to their opponents’ record.


Call 'em 8a and 8b. :wink: That’s what I get for cutting and pasting my code tags, huh?