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Monday, April 18, 2005

Dems: Direction and Means

Posted by Bob Brigham

Linda Feldmann has a good article in the Christian Science Monitor on the battle for the soul of the party:

Democrats, in fact, are counting on those dwindling numbers to help them as they look for that right combination of message, candidates, infrastructure, and opposition stumbles - with a dash of opposition hubris - to win back their mojo in 2006, if not 2008. So far, the party in power has obliged on that last score: House GOP leader Tom DeLay is under siege over ethics. President Bush faces an uphill climb with his No. 1 domestic priority, remaking Social Security. A majority of Americans objected to Congress and Bush turning the Terri Schiavo tragedy into a federal case.

But Democrats aren't gaining from the other side's losses. Polls show the GOP congressional leadership is less popular than the president - but the Democratic leadership fares still worse. And even among rank-and-file Democrats, only 56 percent approve of their own congressional leadership, according to the Pew Research Center. Among Republicans, the analogous number is 76 percent.

It is hard to project strength when you're watered down to half of your base.

Here is one model people are looking at:

For now, then, while the Republicans reap the benefits and risks of total control, some Democrats are focusing on infrastructure. In a New York Times commentary last month, former Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey called on his Democratic brethren to build a Republican-style "pyramid" of power - a base of donors and foundations, a second layer of think tanks, a third layer of political strategists, a fourth level of partisan media, and, if all goes according to plan, a Democratic president at the top.

Last weekend, in Scottsdale, Ariz., Democratic strategist Rob Stein was to hold a confab of party fundraisers to begin such an enterprise. Newly minted Democratic chair Howard Dean is also working on structure, building up state Democratic parties.

What message will go through the new structure?

Polls also show the public doesn't get a clear message from the Democrats - beyond "just say no" to Republicans. Around town, pollsters and Democratic policy groups are hunkering down and formulating ideas they hope will propel their party back into power. One new group, called Third Way, is a stepchild of the Democratic Leadership Council, the centrist group that was Bill Clinton's ideological home base. Third Way is working with centrist Democratic senators to draft ideas, and ultimately legislation, on national security, the economy, and cultural issues. Another group, the Center for American Progress, launched in 2003 by former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta, calls itself nonpartisan, but has emerged as a premier purveyor of progressive Democratic analysis - some say spin.

A couple of other Clinton alumni - pollster Stanley Greenberg and campaign guru James Carville - have also been on a quest, via their group Democracy Corps, for what they call a dominant "narrative" that Democrats can take from battlefield to battlefield, from Social Security to the budget to tax reform. Of the six Democratic vision statements they tested in a February survey, one scored highest for its potential to sway likely voters to their party's side: "The Democrats say America is only strong when we are strong at home, as well as in the world. We must invest in our own people to expand opportunity and build our own economy. Promoting American jobs, industry and technology is our starting point and mission in building a strong America."

Third way? I thought there were two ways, the winning way and the losing way. I guess the Third Way is the losing while selling-out way.

It worries me that only 56% of Democrats approve of our congressional leadership. If Democrats don't respect the Party, why would swing voters?

We need to fight, earn the respect of America through bold action, and then talk about the progressive way.

Posted at 06:01 PM in Democrats | Technorati


It's hard to work up a lot of support for a party that goes around polling vision statements to see which one sounds most "visiony."

The winning entry sounds a lot like the "Stronger at home, more respected in the world" motif from KE04. I'm glad the focus group liked it - I guess that means we should do everything the same! Or, more to the point, maybe we should conclude that elections are not won or lost on mission statements. Did Bush/Cheney '04 even have a slogan? Did it matter?

The idea that consultants can build us some sort of "robo-candidate" that will win elections by repeating some uber-message is silly. The proper focus is exactly what Howard Dean is out there doing right now - building infrastructure, supporting state parties, and laying the groundwork for future get-out-the-vote efforts. All this talk about the "perfect message" is a waste of time and money, and it just reinforces the image of Democrats as the party that puts focus groups above principle.

Posted by: Steve M [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 18, 2005 07:28 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment