Shoring up Weaknesses, Taking Advantage of Opportunities
Andrei Cherny in The New York Times:
Democrats have a collection of policy positions that are sensible and right. John Kerry made this very clear. What we don't have, and what we sorely need, is [...] "the vision thing" - a worldview that makes a thematic argument about where America is headed and where we want to take it.
For most of the 20th century, Democrats had a bold vision: we would use government programs to make Americans' lives more stable and secure.
What is our economic vision in a globalized world? How do we respond to the desire of many Americans to have choices and decision-making power of their own? How can we speak to Americans' moral and spiritual yearnings? How can our national security vision be broader than just a critique of the Republican's foreign policy?
Why We Lost
I look at these two components below:
- Shore up our weaknesses
- Take advantage of opportunities
Shore up our weaknesses.
Democratic Party as fund-raiser and tent for candidates. The immediate post-election commentary shows one of the fundamental weaknesses of the Democratic Party: in some ways it more of a fundraising mechanism and tent for candidates, not a party with a vision to promote and uphold. If you disagree, quickly say what it is and what the 5 key re-inforcing points are. We may never have the same discipline to all parrot the same talking points instantly, but we have to find a way to get our message out never-the-less.
For example, immediately after the election, in the first press conferences, the Republicans broadly asserted a "mandate" because they claimed (a) Bush was clear about his priorities and (b) was elected. But where were our opposition talking points that Bush (a) barely got a majority and specifically (b) half the electorate was clearly rejecting him and his approach! That's no mandate. But even better, if we'd had a proactive stance and message that he'd barely squeaked through and divided the country we'd be in a better position than defending and opposing their offensive stand. For example, as quoted in Defining Bush's "Mandate", a Common Dreams press release addressing this issue:
As Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher put it (11/5/04), "It's true that President Bush got more votes than any winning candidate for president in history. He also had more people voting against him than any winning candidate for president in history."
Without Kerry at the front, the party suddenly the Democratic Party wasn't in a war-room positioning the results and had no one to call the Republicans on it and instead they ring their hands about getting more votes than any other candidate before this election! The most forceful opposition was the columnists and bloggers and gets little media attention:
Get more sophisticated about the use and development of language that makes our case. Take for example the tired "flip-flopper" issue. Even after they quit using it, Bush used language that re-inforced the point all over again, by declaring himself "resolute" and thus reminding the base of the claim that Kerry was a flip-flopper, but not in such an overt way as to provoke us.
Kerry was unable to transform many voters from anti-Bush into pro-Kerry, partly by never having a good answer to the key terrorism question - what he would do differently in the fight. We have to make these crisper. We have to change the language from "war on terror" to something that makes the point, without using their words.
This is true even in graphics. One of the startling things to me was noticing that the TV coverage of the electoral college used an imaginary vantage point from the south looking north to the USA, with effect of proportions making the red south look much larger than "farther away" east and west coasts and northern states with plenty of blue. America looked red all over, though only 51% of voters voted for Bush.
Voter disenfranchisement in our base. This one is a weakness in our election system that Republicans are exploiting, but which has the possibility to be a great opportunity for us. For this reason, I put it below in the opportunities group.
Take advantage of opportunities.
Relentless use of the truth. "Trust begins with the truth." as David Corn's wife commented to him.
For example, a key positive for Kerry was that the debates put Kerry and Bush side by side where people who don't go to rallies could see that Kerry wasn't the absurd caricature the Republicans had built up over the previous 6 months. Bush lost about 13 points almost overnight. Kerry picked up points after every debate. But once the debates ended, Bush went right back to his distortions with no way to rebut it and rebuilt his positoin
So the question is, how do we get candidates in front of voters where they can see the high moral chacter and the truth of our candidates in spite of the lies, distortions and smears?
Fundamentalist Republicanism abandons the center. To me, Bush's abandonment of the traditional Republicans for fundamentalism of evangelicals gives an opportunity to redefine the "fault lines" between the parties because it leaves the center-right and the center and the left -- this is an opportunity to unite around common values without "moving to the right". Many Republicans for Kerry gave endorsements of conservative principles that sounded like our positions: fiscal responsibility, civil rights, etc. As Robert L. Borosage put it,
Kerry's campaign may mark the beginning of a reaction not by the right—but by the center and left against the forces of intolerance."
Post-Concession Reflections and at Campaign for America's Future
Aikido Republican divisiveness. Bush, Rove and the Republicans have used (almost relished the use of) divisiveness as their strategy has been to divide and rule. We need to aikiodo that into our message of concern about a Divided America and what we're going to do to unite it.
This may be our biggest opportunity because America is divided and almost no one argues the point. It is an on-the-ground, accepted reality. But in calling attention to it, making it clear the fault lies with Republicans and why, it becomes their problem and our opportunity. Furthemore, it is a strategic re-framing device because it allows us to take most of what they do and recast it as "there they go again, dividing America from her allies by ..." or "... dividing America over child welfare by ..." or "... dividing Americans with tax give-aways to the rich while middle-classers lose $1500/year in disposable income", etc.
But this is most effective when followed up with "and here's how I'm going to unite America with jobs, ..." or "... healthcare for all our kids, ...", etc. When it is used this way, it is a strategic re-framing from their message, into their problem and our solution with our message. We need to find more of these and hammer them home for the next 4 years.
The country is as divided as it was 4 years ago, but more partisan precisely because of the Republican tactics of smear and insult and adoptions of "wedge issues". As David Corn wrote,
That is how he [Bush] won: by mocking Kerry and hurling false charges against him. And now he says he wants to win over Kerry's supporters?
Maureen Dowd at The New York Times:
"W. doesn't see division as a danger. He sees it as a wingman.
The president got re-elected by dividing the country along fault lines of fear, intolerance, ignorance and religious rule. He doesn't want to heal rifts; he wants to bring any riffraff who disagree to heel."
The Red Zone
Let's find a way to show that mocking people is a bad trait, indicative of moral failure, a lack of generosity of spirit, not in keeping with spiritual teachings like "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Building a clean election system. Republicans disenfranchizing voters by suppression techniques and possible vote-counting fraud. This could he a great issue for us, as strong in a positive way as fear of gay marriage was in negative way for Republicans. Voting is the first right and the one that protects all other rights. If we are fighting for the rights of voters, it gives us credibility in all other things and makes the Republicans look bad for opposing it. We should "own" this issue. It gets people focused on the good we are doing them and all of America -- who can argue against it? So the Republicans make themselves look bad by foot-dragging, etc.
As Anita Hill put it recently in Questionable Tactics by GOP, "The very idea of voter suppression ought to be repugnant to any of us who value democracy." Well, it doesn't appear to be so repugnant to many Republican operatives, so that makes it an opportunity for us.
To overcome voter disenfranchisement, seize he "honest vote" movement to get corporations out of voting, reduce fraud, increase turnout, reduce complexity, stop suppression. Persue this relentlessly at all levels, not only to ensure it happens at all the right levels to be effective, but also to actively engage the electorate across the country in this critical issue:
- county clerks
- secretary of state
- state legislatures
- as well as US legislature
For more info see organizations like Count Every Vote, Election Protection. And perhaps track the open source voting approach, see The Open Voting Consortium working on a "secure voting system that produces a printed ballot that is verifiable -- even by reading impaired voters."
The Voting Rights Act comes up for review in 2007. We should be aggressively documenting failures in the system and taking the high road to good elections in the meantime, litigating as necessary to fix problems and remove offenders from office. See Thom Hartmann's story Evidence Mounts That The Vote Was Hacked and Demos-USA for issues with provisional ballots.
Thom Hartmann in Common Dreams:
Congressman Rush Holt introduced a bill into Congress requiring a voter-verified paper ballot be produced by all electronic voting machines, and it's been co-sponsored by a majority of the members of the House of Representatives. The two-year battle fought by Dennis Hastert and Tom DeLay to keep it from coming to a vote, thus insuring that there will be no possible audit of the votes of about a third of the 2004 electorate, has fueled the flames of conspiracy theorists convinced Republican ideologues - now known to be willing to lie in television advertising - would extend their "ends justifies the means" morality to stealing the vote "for the better good of the country" they think single-party Republican rule will bring.
The Ultimate Felony Against Democracy
Civil liberties under assault. We have a great chance to be defenders of fundamental rights we all desire. The challenge here will be to find a way to do so while not giving Bush an opportunity to position it as an anti-terrorism, pre 9/11 attitude.