Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Thursday, November 04, 2004

The Problem and What is to Be Done

Hi Everyone,

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.

Comments? Discussion?


17 comments:

Bell Curve said...

Okay, let's get this going.

RbR and I talked about this yesterday and I have come up with a few thoughts. I completely agree that Democrats need something like the "Contract with America". They can't just be the alternative to Bush -- they actually have to stand for something. But what?

Certainly, they should run on a platform of fiscal discipline/deficit reduction. I think they need to get rid of the myth that big government is a bad thing. Point out all the things that government can do to help you. Point out how rising deficits now only hurt your children eventually. See if you can connect with people that way.

I think they should make gun control an issue, but roll it into a "values"-type thing. Point out how the Republicans let the assault weapons ban lapse. Make a point of not being against the second amendment, just against AK-47s and the like.

I also think they should throw in something that everyone agrees on -- ditching the electoral college. Why? Just because it's safe. They can (falsely) claim the Republicans are for the electoral college, since it got W elected in 2000.

Something needs to be done on the terrorism issue too, but I don't know what and this is what I want to hear from everyone else. I believe that terrorism is the biggest red herring EVER in an election. But for some reason, Americans don't want to hear that terrorism is a minor threat -- any Democrat who says that is told that they "don't understand the issue" even though, in my mind, they understand it completely. Democrats can't prove they're tough on terror unless they are in power, which they're not. Is there any way out of this?

Finally, they need to divide and conquer. Many Republicans don't know it, but the Republican party is split in two. There are old-school Republicans of the Bob Dole mold, and the evangelical theocrats of the W mold. The two are very dissimilar. For some reason, though, evangelicals and intelligent Republicans can tell them apart, but your typical lifelong Republican cannot. The Democrats need to identify them and stick labels on them -- my suggestions would be "moralist" and "stalwart". Pointing out that your Republican opponent is a moralist and doesn't care about traditional Republican values like fiscal responsibility might cause some Republicans to vote Democrat. Pointing out that your Republican opponent is a stalwart would get the evangelicals to stay home. The division is there; the democrats just have to use it.

Longest. Comment. Ever. But I've been doing a lot of thinking recently.

Raised By Republicans said...

I don't like the term "moralist" it sounds too complimentary. What we need is a lable that sticks, that sounds pajorative and is catchy and memorable. The equivolent of "Massachussets Liberal" or "Tax and Spend Liberal."

I suggest working on the anti-liberty aspects of the religious right. Something like "Intrusive Fundamentalists" or "Church Lady Conservatives." Ooo! I like that second one. Every time a Republican started going on about Guns, Gays and God the Democrat could say, "Oh, there he goes into his 'superiority dance' again! I think individual Americans should be free to form their own relationships with each other and with God. Who appointed your party the ulimtate judge of how Americans can and cannot live their lives?!"

Bell Curve said...

I wonder if the labels don't have to be slightly complimentary. You don't want them denying that they're part of the group, you want them embracing the label. But their embracing of the label will alienate the other Republicans. Calling someone a "moralist", coupled with the implication that moralists don't care about fiscal discipline, civil liberties, etc., is only a good thing to a sliver of the population.

Remember, "liberal" isn't a bad word. But the Republicans did such a good job of associating it with "high taxes" and "bloated government" that it became bad.

Raised By Republicans said...

I disagree. You absolutely want them denying that they are it. But you want no body to believe their denial. For example, consider Dukakis confronted with the question, "Are you a liberal?" Response, "er, uh...well..."

At the same time, you want someone who does have to guts to try to "own" the lable be so identified with the fringe that they are doomed. Like Kucinich or Nader.

US West said...

I agree that we have to make values part of the discussion. I agree that we have to attach some of the issues to the deeper values that we as Democrats hold dear.

What are those values?. The use of government to protect everyone, not just the wealthy and powerful (poverty is not a crime that needs to be punished) 2. Leveling the playing field so that everyone can participate. 3. allowing room for everyone to express and practice their beliefs 4. Accepting that as a world leader, we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard of morality in Foreign policy and take greater responsibility when we fail to live up to that higher standard.

The social security debate has to be framed as a means of caring for our elders and protecting our youth from heavy debt burdens. Someone has to ask how we are going to care for all the unwanted children that Republicans want us to have when they repeal abortion when they have finished destroying social safety nets. And the beat goes on. environment has to be linked to economic sustainabilty and the need to preserve it for the future (and maybe make the arguement that the Earth is a gift from God that we are responsible for? ). Turn the religious hypocracy around on them, but do it with integrity. The things we all say in private must be said loudly and publically. But we have to find someone, or a group, that can sell that message.

I acutally don't feel too bad about the outcome. I am disappointed. But I also realize that this will benefit us in 2008. Iraqi is going to bloody and ugly and I am sort of relieved that Kerry won't be blamed for that. They were preparing the battle of Fallujah before the elections so that they could hammer it ofter. I am not sure Kerry could have stopped that if he had wanted to. Many civilians will be hurt. And since the American people aren't ready yet to wake up, maybe after 4 years, they will be. I think, in the end, this could prove good for the democrats, provided they play it right. But then again,it could be my current mood- grasping at straws for something good.

Raised By Republicans said...

I don't think suddenly talking about "moral vlues" will do any good. The Evangelicals are beyond convincing. Their "religion" is mostly about identity. I've been watching the religious theme channels on cable lately and these people are not going to change their minds. Last night I was watching a show about how to get rich by reading the Bible. "The Word of God mentions financial management 2000 times! I'm here to tell you how God wants you to manage the money he has given you." That's not religion or morality, its superstition. Adopting the jargon of these people will not have meaning for anyone outside their subculture and won't convince anyone in it. I say let the South rot! Let the rural vote rot! They are on the wrong side of history! Their numbers are dwindling and, eventually, the urban population will far outweigh the rural - even in the South.

But in the meantime, we need to get the Suburban voters, or at least more of them than we have already. Empty rhetoric about "moral values" won't convince them. They are concerned about things like efficiency, taxes, and national security. They are just as threatened by the Evangelicals as they are by the "Looney left" of San Francisco et al. That stuff about "managing the money God has given you" doesn't sound good to traditional surburban conservatives. They believe they EARNED their money. They belive they don't owe Uncle Sam, they don't owe the poor and they don't owe God. But they voted with the Evangelicals this time because of the tax and security issues. These voters are open to voting for Democrats if Democrats find a way to convince them that the Evangelicals are just buying them off without respecting them.

SpinyNorman said...

I feel like I have watched the religious right grow up over the past 25 years. My home town has grown increasingly conservative to the point that my family seems isolated from some old friends because we are not Christian nor "churchy." My first election was in 1980 which coincided with the birth of the Moral Majority and its marriage to politics.

Well, religious conservatives earlier this week completed their takeover of the country. Criticizing our current (and future) president is like shooting fish in a barrel. It's easy to explain why he has been a poor president and why his policies are not good for the everyday American. But they voted for him anyway. Why? Because they identify with his values. Thomas Friedman said in his NY Times commentary, "This was not an election. This was station identification. I'd bet anything that if the election ballots hadn't had the names Bush and Kerry on them but simply asked instead, 'Do you watch Fox TV or read The New York Times?" the Electoral College would have broken the exact same way.'"

This is what the Democrats are up against. In all honesty, I don't know if they can stop this wave. The Dems need leadership desperately but not from the prominent party members I see now who have presided over their demise. The best thing for the Dems would be a defection from a prominent, dispirited moderate Republican (McCain?).

For now, I agree with Garry Wills in his NY Times piece on Nov 4. The USA looks a lot more like the Muslim states than Western Europe. "Where else do we find fundamentalist zeal, a rage at secularity, religious intolerance, fear of and hatred for modernity?"

Bell Curve said...

Here's where my thing comes in. Believe it or not, there are a lot of people who aren't loony evangelicals that voted for Bush anyway. Most of these others (in my view) are either (1) people who think Bush is better on terror or (2) old-school Republicans who don't realize that their party has been hijacked. The Democrats need to somehow deal with the "(1)" people (I have no idea how) and get the "(2)" people to realize what has happened to their party. I think the labels could do a lot toward that end.

Raised By Republicans said...

Here I agree with Bell Curve. The Religious Right is more activist than it ever has been. (and I think a lot of that is because they see their world of small towns with big churches eroding gradually away - although lately they have had a surge but that is against the historical trend). However, even with that they still only made up about half the Republican vote. They were 25% of the voters in Ohio but Bush got 50% of the vote there.

That's why I think the Democrats should ignore the Religious Right. Let 'em vote Republican if they want. The people the Democrats should work on are the fiscal conservative, social moderate suburbanites.

And the Democrats do have people capable of speaking to them: Evan Bayh (D-Indiana) and Tom Vilsack (D-Iowa). From what I hear Barak Obama is pretty moderate ideologically as well. We'll see what he does in the Senate.

SpinyNorman said...

I am skeptical that a Democratic member of Congress can be elected President. Has not happened in over 40 years (Kennedy was the last from either party). I would look more to the governors for a viable candidate. I don't know who that would be. The Dems have about three years to work on it.

US West said...

In response to RBR's comment about the use of talking about values. You point out, quite correctly, that Democrats aren't going to convince anyone to change. And yes, you are right. But once again, you see it as a zero sum game. What I think I was trying to say is that Democrats, and liberals in general, have to get their message together. They have to worry less about "winning" and think more about standing for something other than being the anti Bush or anti-Republican. If they can stand for something, the winning may just come a lot easier. And I think we have to do something to get people thinking, to offer an alternative. I am not sure if a "Contract" is the way to go, but we have to get some coherency, some mission statement together here.

I think that a significant number of voters were not pleased with their choices. But they had to choose. So they picked their priorities and found the candidate that they felt was most like them. (Their choice tells you a lot about where we stand as a society. Sad.) And their priorities were "values", whatever that means.

It also helped that the Republicans had the blue light special on offer in 11 states (the gay marriage referendums) that brought out the more conservative voters. Democrats underestimated the power of the gay marriage issuse (I know I don't care about it and I see it as a red herring). However, conservatives see it as some attack on traditional marriage and so they come out in droves. It is a prime example of how Democrats fail to notice what middle America cares about, and infact, we come across as elitist. This totally pits the rural against the urban, as others here have said.

Also, RBR, a long time ago you were talking about population shifts. And I believe you were right in your assertion that this would change the electoral map. And it seems to have had an effect as the South West went totally red this time around and even picked up a few electoral votes (I think) as a result of growing populations coming from more Reoublican states. Democrats have to figure out how to play these types of shifts to their advantage.

Raised By Republicans said...

Ah, population shifts. Yes, I've been looking at county by county results lately and I've come to the conclusion that its not red STATES versus blue STATES. Its all about levels of urbanization. States with overwhelmingly urban populations go Democrat. States with mostly rural populations go Republican and States that have a balance between the two are up for grabs.

The trend is towards growing cities so the politics of the rural voter are the politics of the short term to medium term success. It won't work in the long run. Go for the suburbs (regardless of state) that's where the stable voting base is.

US West said...

I happened to catch Gerrison Keeler's show today. He made me laugh. They were joking that the new Neo-con agenda was to speed up global warming in order to melt the polar ice caps, thus drowning the blue states. In every joke, there is a touch of truth.

So let's think about the new cabinet. Wolfowitz repalces Condi, Bremer replaces Powell, Ashcroft joins the Supreme Court, who replaces Rummy and Ashcroft?

Anonymous said...

you people just don't get it. Try thinking about this for a moment. you INCORRECTLY analyzed what would happen in this election yet now you seem so sure as to the reasons for your defeat. You cant handle the real reasons why you lost and that will doom you to continue failure. Virtually ALL the republicans I know either do not believe in God or feel apathetic about the issue.you lost chiefly because of two things.
1. people see that the social programs of the democrats have been a disaster for this country, including the poor.(witness Clinton and welfare reform)
2. The farleft have hijacked your party. The hate speech from the left toward the president and minority members of the republican party are perceived as obscene by the vast majority of the public.
The result is going to be a very long slide for you folks. Keep insulting the president and the voters you disdain. call us fundamentalists and anything else that makes you feel better about losing. Continue to justify the left wing bias in the media and excuse the criminal actions by CBS and dan rather. this is what will destroy you and I welcome it.

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