Democrats & Liberals Archives

What We Need To Do To Win

Electoral defeats have a way of making one wonder what things one didn’t say or do in order to win the race. While a little candid self-analysis is in order after such events, the last thing we need to do is repudiate our own beliefs

Shocked by the force and the vehemence with which the Right has taken over American politics, Democrats developed a bad habit- caving into the right and its principles every time we didn’t win an election. It’s high time we stop. It’s high time we stop standing up for their principles, and start doing so for ours.

There's no better time, because the Republicans have abandoned any close relationship between the character of their principles and the character of their actions.

So what should we do?

Stop being ashamed of past decisions of conscience.
Seriously, somebody in the campaign should have taken Kerry aside, and said "Tell them why you really didn't support the Gulf War" Why? Simple. Because it would have gone a long way towards defusing the UN matter. Tell them, Senator Kerry, that you opposed it because it was the American people who were not in consensus; because you thought the war had been set up arbitrarily. Admit that history proved you wrong, and then admit that you were mistaken, ultimately, but mistaken for the right reasons.

During the election, Bush rarely admitted mistakes, and when he did, he handed people ammunition. Why? Because here's a man who didn't make his decision out of principle, but instead out of expedience. Thus, the push for war comes before the case for war. Thus, the politics of the war were better managed that the policy. Thus, the news from the administration is always the wars going fine, never these things are occurring on this front, and we have concerns here. Information is tightly controlled, especially if it could prove damaging to the president.

This almost lost Bush the presidency. Enough irony developed between what he said and did, that Americans came to distrust him, and his numbers on job performance, Right Track/Wrong Track went through the floor. One wonders, if he hadn't had people more concerned about gay marriages than dead Americans, religious government than righteous government, thousands of dead fetuses instead of thousands of dead soldiers and Iraqis, what would have come of this election. Bush appealed to common religion, and their fear of authority coming from those outside their community, rather than proving to the nation that his policies on Iraq and Terrorism were right.

Don't be afraid to smarten up the rhetoric.
Truth is, our opponents are very intellectually sophisticated. They've made their mark on this society by encouraging an excess of anti-intellectualism, by criticizing the open intellectuality of their opponents. Ironically, they have no quibbles with endlessly rationalizing their policies and behavior.

They say we aren't allowed to make such fine distinctions about policy and candidates, and then make their very own. It's a sort of intellectual intimidation, of saying that they're the bearers of the truth, and you're just a bunch of liars who split hairs with your words. They jump on the timid lies of the left, then blast out the bold lies of the Right.

And yes, people believe them. I don't believe that this credulity is evidence of arrested mental development. I think it's a natural consequence of a world in which we are bombarded with information, and seek to know a few things that can clear up a great deal. Bold lies influence people because they give the world a kind of completeness that we as human beings are psychologically vulnerable to. Bush's inability to admit to mistakes becomes not second guessing himself. That's a relief. A person who doesn't second guess himself is strong; a person who is unable to admit mistakes is either incompetent or a moral coward. Most people want to be reassured about their leaders

The only way to fight this is to make intuitively intellectual arguments that make people feel more reassured at the fact of getting rid of or refusing to elect a candidate. I say intuitive because the public is not equally educated in all fields, and it does take time to prepare people to understand certain arguments. By intuitive, though, I don't mean simple minded, but rather working off a few basic, easy to absorb facts, that together yield great insight into the limited scope of the issue that's relevant to the immediate subject.

Get people who know the subject, who can explain it in visual, concrete ways. Our political discourse must become an active, imaginative alternative to the fevered, paranoid, ubernationalistic America ego-stroking that the Republicans so excel at. Ours must be a patriotism born in our faith in the American people to understand the larger world, not one based on willful ignorance of the virtues and successes of other countries.

I think we should have given Americans a anecdotal case history of leaders that would not own up to mistakes, who lead their countries to ruin, and those who faced the music and lead their people well. There are plenty of examples. Pick and choose as you need to. What's important though, is to give people the sense of the Democratic party having depth beyond it's opposition to the Republicans.

Don't be afraid to be bold in one's policies, just be prepared to defend them in the court of public opinions.
This is what leadership is. It isn't taking a poll, because then, you can only ask people about they already know and what they already perceive. People want new ideas to fit the new problems. Instead of having Senator Bob Graham speak up on generalized national security issues, have him explain the Democrat agenda, and have him talk about the sophistication and expertise of al-Qaeda, in how they penetrated this country, in how they snuck past our defenses. Make Americans aware of the nature of our enemies, not just our own commitment to fighting them. Make it understood that while the Republicans are seeking policies to fight the terrorists and rogue regimes of yesteryear, we're doing so for the terrorists and dangerous dictators of today. People are right to say we offered no alternative, because we really didn't. We had it there, we just never sold it all that well, or all that enthusiastically.

Finally, don't reach out to those set in their ways. Make them obsolete.
There are many people out there, who simply don't want to hear it, who don't want to be converted, and who will stick with their favorites regardless of what others see as the consequences. You want the people who listen, who are willing to have that conversation. When we targeted the undecideds, we should have kept in mind that as much as they may have disliked Kerry, they disliked Bush enough to be uncertain about being part of his base.

The Republicans have built many of their success on breaking up the coalitions that support the election of Democrats. They didn't tell themselves one block or another was impossible to gain or deliver, they went out there, and they exploited the frustrations, good and bad, of the voters out there.

We need to return the favor. The Red State/Blue State Dichotomy is largely an illusion, papering over all kinds of political and demographic faultlines. We need to make new battleground states, new Ohios and Pennsylvanias, places where the Republicans have to spend resources to keep the states, have to play to the middle to gain and keep support.

Let's give them a run for their money.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at November 5, 2004 12:23 PM