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Maintaining Optimism in the Face of Reality. Occasional observations on the state of the world, society, business and politics. Usually anchored by facts, always augmented by opinion.


Democrats on the Defensive, Per Usual  | e-mail post

To the tune of "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?"

Where has the agenda gone, long time passing?
Where has the agenda gone, long, long time ago?
Where has the agenda gone? Gone to Republicans, completely.
When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?

I don't mean to tweak the noses of liberals by using one of the most well-known and beautiful antiwar folk songs of all times to point out the glaring problems with their agenda, but they need a wake-up call. The impending train wreck of the Kerry campaign should be a loud call to action, but I'm not sure.

It's clear that even John Kerry knows the race is over. His increasingly vitriolic campagain style is evidence of that. He knows he has been unable to articulate a clear positive reason to vote for him, other than the obvious observation that he is not George Bush. However, "Je ne suis pas George Bush," is not going to fundamentally motivate people who want to vote for something, to know what they're getting. Honestly, it's working better than negative-alternative campaigns usually do only because things are a little tough right now, and Americans are by and large more impatient and selfish than previous tough times for our country.

But the lack of a positive message by Kerry is why Bush's numbers continue to increase as the election looms nearer and more and more undecideds arrive at a decision. The undecideds may have gone to the Kerry/Edwards website to look for his so-called "plans." What they would have found, as I did when I went there, is little more than bullet points parroting the current administration's approach to most things, or simple declarations, as if by magic, that things will be better than the status quo.

The Kerry campaign knows the jig is up, they know Kerry doesn't have an agenda to speak of. So Kerry is left with nothing other than the hope of going hard on the attack, and I'm not talking attacking as in painting comparisons, I'm talking attacking as in insulting and denigrating. Like his speech today where he drills Bush on a tactical issue, the theft of explosives from an Iraqi facility shortly after the fall of the old regime: "This is one of the great blunders of Iraq, one of the greatest blunders of this administration and the incredible incompetence of this president and this administration has put our troops at risk and this country at greater risk....The unbelievable blindness, stubbornness, arrogance of this administration to do the basics has now allowed this president to once again fail the test of being commander in chief."

This is not the talk of a front-runner, not the talk of someone confident in his position in the race, and most assuredly not the talk of someone who has a constructive alternative to offer voters. This is the talk of a man who has nothing left to lose, other than the election. Calling the current president of the United States incompetent shows a lack of dignity borne of desperation.

It is more and more clear to me that the Democrats' best hope was probably the nomination of Howard Dean at the top of the ticket. He could at least excite people, could get them engaged. I even watched Dean's "scream speech" again today. Democrats felt that made him a less palatable candidate? Any political party would benefit from someone who can fire people up like that. It's called a pep rally: people scream, people get excited. If John Kerry excites any passion in anyone at all, I can only presume it is limited to his wife.

But instead of moving forward with Howard Dean, someone who offered a clear positive alternative to George Bush, someone who had been a governor and had a record of executive leadership to stand on, the Dems thought they would try to predict the electoral preferences of the broad mass of American people and put Kerry on top. The move clearly demonstrated two things:
  1. Democrats are so desperate to win that they are willing to abandon any sincere political conviction. Making "electability" a critieria was simply a "grander pander" than the constant but more low-key pandering in which Democrats always engage.

  2. The Democrats are so completely confused about, or out of touch with, what the majority of independent voters think that they can't even pander to the mainstream effectively.
The simple truth is that Democrats are unable to set an agenda. I believe (in large measure, if not entirely) this is due to the patchwork quilt of different consitutencies that make up the party. There are no positive unifying themes that unite all the different constituencies. In many respect, the Democrats are a sort of "Island of Misfit Causes." Of course, the party organ itself may consider opposition to the Republican agenda (or certain portions of it) a unifying theme. However, calling that an "agenda" is as illusory as it is masturbatory. That is, it's no fun for anyone outside the party; it does not excite the broad mass of independent voters. That's why independent voters tend to turn out and vote for Republicans come election day.

Voters need something to believe in, they want something to vote for, not something to vote against. That's why Republicans have done so well for the past 24 years. Democrats haven't offered a clear agenda for a long, long time. If GHW Bush hadn't raised taxes after explicitly promising not to (and it was the broken promise that hurt, not the tax increase itself), it is unclear that Clinton would have won in 1992. Before that, there was Kennedy, he did have a theme of hope about the future and an agenda the U.S. making the world a better place. Even FDR had an agenda: legalize liquor and give people jobs; this is not hard to argue with.

Today, the Democrats have no agenda. Democrats frequently try to resurrect the the Kennedy theme of hope about the future (and certainly, Bill Clinton being from Hope, Arkansas made him the perfect Democratic candidate), but, as the saying goes, "Hope is not a strategy." And hope isn't an agenda, either.

It amazes me how consciously unaware many Democrats are to this issue, although every one I've ever spoken to has acknowledged that there is no coherent platform, and yes, it is a problem. However, it is not lost on everyone. The New York Times ran two pieces this Sunday on the potential internal impact on either party of losing the Presidential election this year, the piece on the Democrats had a more immediate tone to it. I think Jay Cost even referred to it as an "obit" for the Democrats. [The companion NYT Republican piece] Obit or not, even some within the party recognize the fundamental problem. This snippet says it pretty well (all emphasis mine):
The real problem, several Democrats worried, is not that Mr. Kerry took the Democratic Party to the left, but that he failed to offer defining, distinguishing themes that would have provided a clearer alternative to Mr. Bush.

"We will need to develop a better argument about where to take the world when we take power,'' said Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democratic Network, a fundraising and advocacy group. "You can call it ideas, you can call it an agenda. We all know that Democrats do not have as coherent a world view as we want."

Mr. Rosenberg added: "For a long time, we've been in denial about what's happened with the modern conservative movement. And we've woken up to the fact that Republicans have more power today than any other time since the 1920's. Things are not moving in the right direction for the Democratic Party."

Mr. From said: "The way a political party succeeds in America is by offering solutions. If we lose, we can't be sitting there shooting at each other, blaming people for what happened. "
Unfortunately, Mr. From will probably be disappointed; as I learned very early in life, "Democratic Unity" is an oxymoron. I am certain Democrats will spend quite a bit of time shooting at each other, all the while giving the upper hand to Republicans working toward the 2008 White House bid.

If by some truly bizarre turn of events, John Kerry were to win the election, it would probably even be worse for Democrats, as they would not be forced to confront the fundamental lack of a coherent, forward-looking, proactive agenda. If Democrats want to be anything more than an opposition party that will become progressively more prone to splintering, they need to confront that issue head-on, no matter how painful it might be in the short term.

I'll probably write more about this subject in coming weeks, especially as I crack open a pair of definitive histories of the two political parties, released last November by Random House: Party of the People: A History of the Democrats by Jules Witcover and Grand Old Party: A History of the Republicans by Lewis Gould. Reviews I've read indicate they should both be very compelling, and also seem to confirm the idea that throughout most of our political history, Republicans have been setting the agenda, and Democrats have been reacting. Amazon has them at over 30 percent off, and they should make for great post-election reading.

P.S. A total aside: Am I the only one who is getting an ungodly number of imitation Rolex spam e-mails? I have spam filtering on my office e-mail, but incredibly large numbers of these Rolex spams seem to be getting through.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  |  | Monday, October 25, 2004
Comments:
May I just say....You are awesome! Its great to see people spout out the facts against Kerry to all the decieved folks out there. Lawyers are smooth talkers but nothing ever come from what they say. Check out this websit and publish it if you will. I beleive everyone needs to see it.

http://www.buttondepress.com/BostonManifesto/stolenhonor.wmv
 
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