Most of the people who post on this blog are Democrats or at least sympathetic to Democrats. Frankly, my informal survey of our little circle shows that we are very depressed about the outcome of the 2004 election. Indeed, some of the postings and comments since Tuesday reflect that. However, as the DailyKos (see link to the right) points out, now is not the time for self-pity or despair. The Republican Party was far more heavily defeated in 1964 and four years later managed to get Richard Nixon, of all people, into the White House (hardly a dazzling, charismatic candidate)! But if we Democrats are to bounce back from this we must seriously analyze the problem(s) and solution(s).
The problems: I believe there are two problems facing the Democratic Party in the next 2-4 years. The immediate problem is institutional. The Founding Fathers created our convoluted system (people from other democracies seem to find it bizarre) precisely to ensure that minority opinions would be represented even following electoral defeats. The Senate especially is designed to protect the rights of political minorities. However, somehow, the Republicans have managed to turn a 51% popular vote majority into simultaneous control of the House of Representatives, the Senate, the White House and a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court that is likely expand. This is very unusual. Others (Law Talking Guy?) will have to help me on the history of this but I can’t think of a time when the population was so equally divided at a time when control of the institutions was so lopsided. I believe this feature of our current political environment is the single greatest cause of the bitter polarization in the country today. Democrats are rightly afraid that they will continue to be completely excluded from the policy making process by the Republicans in Washington. We have no confidence in President Bush’s promises to “reach out.” Furthermore, I believe any such confidence would be badly misplaced.
The second problem is political. I’m referring to the problem of how Democrats will be able to defeat a coalition of religious conservatives in rural areas and fiscal conservatives in the suburbs. This is less pressing than the institutional problem but no less important.
What is to be done: Responding to the institutional problem will have to rely on the use of the filibuster in the Senate. The difficulty will be choosing when to fight. If the Senate Democrats filibuster everything that comes down the pike, they may provoke a backlash. But the Democrats in the Senate must step up and defend the interests of the 49% of Americans who voted against the religious conservative agenda. They are the only thing standing in the way of the establishment of a series of intrusive, religiously based, regulations on the personal lives of Americans.
Responding to the political problem is also tricky. I think the Democrats need to take two lessons from the 2004 election. The first is that rural voters, especially Southern rural voters, are not convincible. If they vote they will vote for the most conservative, most religious candidate available to them. However, there is no way the Democrats will get them to switch and in my view the Party should stop trying (sorry Mr. Edwards). John Kerry’s “let the South vote Republican” strategy is correct. Democrats will win in the future with a coalition of New England, the Great Lakes, the West Coast and the Desert South West. Second, the Democratic Party needs to present something like the Republicans’ “Contract With America.” They need to present a simple, consistent list of policies that ALL Democratic candidates will stand by regardless of where they are running. Obviously, they can’t simply parrot the Republican policies. Neither can they start squawking about “faith” like some kind of MBA buzz word. Furthermore, they can’t adopt a list of losing positions near and dear to the Nader/Dean crowd.
I suggest that we start a discussion about what the Democratic Party agenda should be.