First, never underestimate the ability of the democratic party to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. After all, they did it in 2002 and 2004. And in 2000 Gore should have easily won.
Here is what the democrats need to understand:
- Understand in it’s gut that we are at war with Islamic fundamentalism. This country will not support at a national level (which effects close congressional races too) a party or candidate that does not understand we are at war. Iraq may have been the wrong battle (or not). But the war is not an option and the democrats must be in it to win.
- The party can be divided on Iraq. That’s fine, the country is too. I think this is presently being handled well by the party – you can tell by all the conservative columnists complaining about the party having a range of opinions on the issue. Keep the discussion going and keep it thoughtful.
- Religion is important to most people. To many people it trumps all other concerns. Like truly understanding we are at war, the democratic party needs to be a party that embraces faith. It does not need to use (and abuse) it as the republicans do. But it needs to be comfortable with it’s faith. Clinton & Gore, while not making a big deal about it, clearly were. The party as a whole is clearly not.
- People are very worried about their economic future. At the same time, most people also intend to become successful and rich. And while people want their own job protected if possible, they understand that we can’t protect all jobs in this country.
- This country wants politicians to work together. Yes there will be partisan fights over some issues - there should be. But working together for the good of the country is key too. Reagan and Bush senior both understood this. They both reached out to the democrats to craft bi-partisan approaches to problems. Bush junior puts a lot of effort into selling that he is doing this (he’s not) so he gets away with being intensely partisan. The democrats can choose to be like Bush (I hope not) or to reach out – but either way they need to sell that they are looking for a bi-partisan approach to our big problems.
Here is what the democrats need to do:
- Stress that the decision moving forward on Iraq is doing a competent job. This does a couple of things. First, rather than arguing over what should have been done, the discussion is over what now and that is viewed positively. Second, in the context of that argument, it requires bringing up the tremendous botch Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al have made of it to date. Third, it shows the republican party to be incompetent on national security, one of their two big selling points to date. (It amazes me that with the job the republicans have done in Iraq, they are still viewed as better on national security.)
- Stop being a coalition of the whiners. There is so much of the democratic party where it lists out why it is the better choice for people with this problem and people in that situation and people facing this issue. Yes that is true. But it makes it appear that the democratic party is nothing but a bunch of special interests each promised their special treatment. That does not sell to the majority. The party needs to stand up to the most egregious whiners. And it needs to stop pandering to the rest. (Don’t worry – you’ll still get their votes.)
- Be positive. This country generally responds better to the person selling the bright and shining hill (Reagan). Don’t talk about how bad things are, talk about how much better they will be under the democrats. This seems like a small difference but it is gigantic.
- Stop listening to the political consultants out of Washington. In 2002 and 2004 races tended to be won by candidates who understood their district and figured out what would work there. The campaigns brought in from the national committee with the one size fits all model tended to go down in flames.
- Sell a vision – not details. No one cares if the party platform proposes new CAFÉ numbers of 200 MPG. Convince people that you have a reasonable approach that will drop energy costs – and that you will make it happen. It’s the vision stupid.
Here are the issues the democrats should sell:
- Make the democratic party the party of national security. The party of FDR, Truman, and Kennedy has a long history of standing up and kicking ass. They made mistakes but they did a very good job all around. The Bush administration, has been horribly incompetent on prosecuting the war. This is an easy win.
- Corruption. Washington is awash in dirty money and the country know it. Go after it and publicize individual after individual. Get the names and faces of the dirtiest individuals in front of the public day after day. Seeing a long line of crooks has a tremendous effect. And find 1 or 2 democrats that are dirty, and go after them too. Being evenhanded will have a tremendous impact.
- Instead of job security (doesn’t sell), go with income security. People are not nervous so much about losing their job as they are that they then might not be able to find another. There are a lot of facets to what should be pushed here. One big item is that employees have a significant interest in competent management. Because incompetent management can lead to lost jobs – lots of lost jobs. So finding a way that employees can exert pressure on their company to be well managed could be a significant part of this. (I think this is a great avenue for unions also – but that’s another blog.)
- Health insurance – what a mess. Find a 3rd way. This country has an inordinate faith in the free market, and deservedly so based on it’s track record. So single payer isn’t the answer. Medicare & Medicaid are about to break the bank. And meanwhile with insurance tied to jobs, medical coverage depends on not losing your job and locks you in to where you are. What’s the solution – got me. But I think if the right 20 people are locked in a room and told they won’t be let out until they come up with a better system – they’ll find it. How do you know they found it? Because it can be explained in 2 paragraphs and the average person finds it compelling.
- Energy – another mess. People understand that this is not only an economic issue, but also a foreign policy issue. At present the Western world is funding both sides of the war on terror, the enemy through our purchases of oil. JFK energized the entire country with his race to the moon. A lot of this country wants something to strive for. Working, spending money, and watching TV seems to be all the republicans ask of the citizens of this country (except for the military, where they place all of the sacrifice). Challenging the country to move past an oil economy not only addresses this issue, but also gets people fired up and passionate about a cause. This pays off double.
- A balanced budget. No need to go into details here, just remind everyone that Clintonleft a large surplus and Bush took us right in to a gigantic deficit. And under Clinton(the good old days), the economy boomed. Just keep repeating “with democrats it’s a booming economy and a budget surplus.” Handle the details after getting elected.
And one optional item:
- Education – after you remove all the concerns at the national and international level, when you get people to look past the next couple of years, when they look at their kids and the world they are facing, education is the biggest issue remaining. People understand that a good education is key to their kids future. They understand that a highly educated workforce is key to the future of the country. And they understand that China and India are gunning for us by creating a gigantic highly educated populace.
- Education may or may not be an issue in the next election. But it easily can be made a big issue if either party decides to do so. I think the democratic party could make this an issue that leads to winning races in numerous districts. How? By proposing one simple law – that bad teachers will be fired. This clearly would improve our educational system more than just about everything else put together. And it would galzanize people. If it was sold as being tied to increased pay for competent teachers and improving NCLB, to split off the vast majority of the teachers who are both good and underpaid, it could have minimal downside. And with “all politics are local”, nothing is more local than education. Who is going to vote against someone who will improve the schools.
So there it is, my view of what the democratic party and its candidates need to do (and not do) to win the next couple of elections. I think if the above is done, that the democrats could regain both the House and Senate in 2006 and the White House in 2008.
(Why mostly conservative trackbacks? Because very few liberal blogs have open posts...)
Part II - The Issue of Faith
Part III - Fix Healthcare today