A short while back, Michael Barone wrote a piece with the title, “How The Democrats Can Win”. The actual thought he was delivering in that article, however, was to observe that there are a lot of articles discussing how the Democrats can win elections, and a few discussing both parties, but no articles focusing just on how Republicans can win. Barone contended that this demonstrated a subtle bias on the part of the media; that they did not mind trying to find ways to help Democrats win, because they were in their hearts sympathetic to the Democrats, but because they personally disliked the Republicans they felt no inclination to help that party. There is something to that, but it occurred to me to consider another possibility – that winning is the default position for Republicans and defeat the default position for Democrats. That is, people expect Republicans to win, and so Democrats begin every campaign with the belief – right or wrong – that they are behind. As a result, Republicans are likely to stick with the campaign strategy they had at first, while Democrats are always looking for a new trick.
To test this notion, and to see what was being cooked up for 2006 and 2008, I went to my old buddy Google. OK, I have heard all the stuff about Google, but they are the leading meta search engine, so for this article I used the “Be Evil” people’s engine. Anyway, I entered two search phrases:
“How Democrats Can Win”
“How Republicans Can Win”.
The first selection, “How Democrats Can Win”, saw “about 31,500,000” hits. The Republicans’ version saw “about 35,800,000” hits. The first page for the Republicans however included single-issue questions which did not address election objectives, articles which focused on Democrats and their chances instead of on Republicans, articles about Democrats’ strategy, and state issues where Republicans can make gains. I did not find a single article which gave a comprehensive review of Republican strategies and suggestions for party-wide adjustments. Perhaps I should do this, if only for the sake of initiative. But for now there was a lot more advice about what the Democrats should do to win national offices.
The first page for the Democrats’ hits included articles from The New York Times (subscription only –suggested debating moving troops from Iraq to Afghanistan would change the focus of the war debate and give moral stature to Democrats), a book advertisement from someone claiming that using the right buzz-words would give Democrats the advantage in debates and political rhetoric, and a number of blogs debating the issue. Some had some interesting comments, even insights, like “Lawyers, Guns and Money”, which attempted to sort out why the Democrats cannot win in the South, and how they might change that. They also had comments which illustrated why intelligent observations might not be considered, let alone accepted. In that blog for instance, one 'Jeff In Texas' opined that the South has “obviously, a strong undercurrent of racism”. Jeff also believes that the South is all about “stories of the Old South and the Confederacy”. Doubtless there are pockets where such beliefs are common, but I have lived in the South since my childhood, and can speak for the fact that such claims do not describe the South with any real accuracy at all. Jeff and people like him simply impose their own beliefs on the region, and ignore the reality. In my experience, there is no more latent racism in the South than in any other region of the country, and I say this from my experience traveling all over the place.
The blog had some good observations, though, even if some were unintentionally funny and/or ironic, like the blog writer’s thought that in the South, voters would come over to Democrats “based on our performance in office”. Given what we know from the Clinton and Carter years, and the legacy from sixty years of Democrat control in Congress, as a Republican I am all for making sure people pay attention to what Democrats do in office. But the comment debate was actually a good back-and-forth. A reader named ‘Armand’ noted that Democrats need to define what they mean by “The South”, and observed that treating all the Southern states as if they were a monolith misses important characteristics of different states. To that, a reader named ‘DocAmazing’ fell victim to the straw-man assumptions of superior morals held by Democrats, which is a pretty stupid thing when you are reviewing your defeats – it seems a lot of Democrats would rather insult half a country for electing Republicans, than accept that those people also hold ideals and virtues. This blind spot showed up in the next comment from ‘LizardBreath’, who identified “a definable class of white southern voters that Democrats do very, very badly with; rural Christian socially conservative, whatever you want to call them”. ‘LizardBreath’ actually touched on the truth there, but failed to understand that the group he disparages is a concern for national Democrats because it is an active and growing community, and is increasingly likely to decide the South, and so should learn to respect those values, rather than insult them.
Another good observation came from ‘Armand’, who noted that Democrats need to work on “more efficient spending on education” and “curtailing health care costs”. Unfortunately for ‘Armand’, he neglected to consider that the Republicans have made the most common-sense proposals in both those areas, with such programs as vouchers, merit-based pay, and administrator accountability for education, and lawsuit reform for the much abused health care system. ‘Armand‘ demonstrates that he is blind to this fact by actually suggesting that John Edwards is a man who could address such problems, when in fact the trial lawyer is notorious for having brought much of the litigious environment to come about in the first place. Falling off the boat completely, reader ‘RBL’ soon after felt comfortable enough to suggest that “more Leninism might do our party a whole lot of good”. From your lips to Stalin’s corpse, comrade. But while unbalanced in places, the blog’s comment thread was an intriguing look into what happens when Democrats are willing to consider what went wrong.
Another blog of interest is Allen L Roland’s “Radio Weblog” in Salon magazine. What Mr. Roland chose to focus on was a speech from Robert Reich, the former Clinton cabinet member who proposed that the key to Democratic victory at the polls was in reclaiming “The Lost Art of Democratic Narrative”. Without belaboring the point, Roland cast every issue as a story to tell from one of two viewpoints, neither of which struck me as especially compelling. Obviously, Roland had no interest in accurately describing how Republicans relay their position on issues, but this failure only makes it harder for Democrats to understand why they fail. And as for Roland’s suggested narrative, here are a few selected phrases he though would be winners:
For Immigration, Roland blames “greedy and corrupt leaders in America and Mexico”, rather than the people actually crossing the border illegally, including drug smugglers and gang members.
For National Security, Roland blames “[m]assive wealth accumulated in the hands of a greedy few” for the hatred in the Middle East, and counsels “global equity”, which works out to moral relativism and socialism. Which, by the way, has been tried and failed already, in the Middle East as well as around the globe.
For Energy concerns, Roland blames “greedy oil companies” (which only proves this guy has never examined the profit margin, thin for oil companies in comparison with so many other economic sectors), and demands people must “confront automotive companies”. The practical benefits of drilling on our own available land, and building badly needed refineries, as well as rewarding energy innovation instead of crassly demanding the companies meeting our present needs be punished.
For Health Care, Roland claims “health has become a privilege of wealth”, which made me laugh out loud – throughout History, the wealthy have always been able to pay for better service and treatment than regular people. Even in countries with the Socialist Health Care Mr. Roland thinks would be so wonderful.
And Mr. Roland is woefully naïve and ignorant, to believe that socialized Health Care would be at all less expensive or superior in quality to what is now available.
Reich/Roland is a telling caution about how far from reality Democrats’ thinking has become. Roland writes “Democrats … must drive the debate into a new story – a big story” in order to win, in sad ignorance that people are focused on Issues, and do not want Spin. Pretending that a big story will ever amount to anything substantive, is self-delusion and irresponsible abandonment of the responsibility of elected office.
Finally, there is this article from “The Progressive” by Ruth Conniff, entitled “How The Left Can Win”. Conniff spent a bit of her piece snarking about Byron York, but eventually conceded that he had valid points the Left should address; “that the Left talks to itself too much”, that the Left believes its own hype, and “depending on billionaire donors and celebrities does not help the Democratic Party connect with the American people”. All very true, and all points that Democrats in the main do not want to face. But even Conniff could not long contemplate the very lessons she wanted Democrats to consider, as she soon fell back to praising the Democrats for basing their future course and strategy on groups like MoveOn and the Howard Dean campaign. She fell face-first into the thuggish practice of trying to consider the Bush Administration by first falsely attacking it as a “lying, corrupt, crony-capitalist government”. She was so unaware of the sheer fallacy of painting one’s opponent in colors not only known to be false but which the clear majority of Americans have rejected, that she immediately followed with the hypocrisy of labeling Washington D.C. as “the capital of sneering rightwing arrogance”. As long as even the most reasonable thinkers on the Left cannot manage to accept the validity of Republican election wins, or the basic fact that most Americans consider Republicans to be as honorable and reasonable as Democrats, this compulsion to denigrate the voters as well as the leaders they choose will only continue to cost Democrats elections.