Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 11, 2006

ADVICE, AD NAUSEAM, FOR DEMOCRATS....The Washington Post published six item today -- count 'em, six -- with analysis and recommendations for what ails the Democratic Party. The series, combined, is nearly 6,000 words of competing, at frequently contradictory, advice.

The DLC's Al From and Bruce Reed want the party to re-embrace Clintonism; David Sirota says the party needs to "move to the center," but makes a compelling case that the middle isn't what the conventional wisdom says it is; Peter Beinart outlines his pitch about how the party should approach foreign policy and interest in key international institutions; and one item collects sound-bite sized advice from 15 well-regarded Democratic thinkers. Taken together, the pieces are, well, a bit much.

I was particularly struck by Michael Grunwald's analysis, which suggested that the party's current position isn't all that bad, and that most of the advice it gets is rather self-serving.

The problem with Democrats is that they're too liberal. Or not liberal enough. They talk too much (or not enough) about abortion or torture or gun control. They're too condescending, too cosmopolitan, too secular, too wonkish, too weak. They've been captured by their interest groups, their contributors, their pollsters, their consultants. They're on the wrong side of a demographic revolution. Joe Sixpack doesn't want to have a beer with them. They should think strategically instead of tactically, or they should forget about strategy and speak from the heart. They aren't catering to values voters, heartland voters, exurban voters. They aren't motivating their base. They don't have a unified national message, or they're too worried about a unified national message. They need to do more than criticize Bush, or stop rolling over for Bush. They're too disconnected to understand what voters want to hear, or too cowardly to say things voters don't want to hear. They should imitate the Republican intellectual infrastructure that produces the conservative movement's big ideas, or imitate the Republican anti-intellectual attitude that doesn't worry about big ideas. Or they should stop imitating Republicans.

It can seem confusing, all this contradictory advice. But most of it reveals more about the biases of the advice-givers than it reveals about the party's prospects of regaining power.

I have a tradition going at my site called the "Sunday Discussion Group" where I throw out a topic and open the floor. Here's one for Washington Monthly readers: what do you think about all this advice? Are Dems in a better position than the conventional wisdom suggests, or is the party poised to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? If the Washington Post asked you to contribute some suggestions to today's series, what might you recommend?

Steve Benen 11:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (80)

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Run great candidates! The rest will follow.

Posted by: JC on June 11, 2006 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

I think if most of the netroots fell off a cliff, it wouldn't make an ounce of difference to Democratic chances. From all the campaigns I've worked on, no one is more time wasting and annoying and self-contradictory and bossy than the self-appointed activists.

At least consultants have some sense that they need to get along with and work with the candidates.

Posted by: plunge on June 11, 2006 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, the Democrats are poised to seize defeat from the jaws of victory - at least according to the current media meme. It's kind of like the Chicago White Soxs, or the way Boston was portrayed until last year. It isn't about reality.

The reality is that the Republican party has three big advantages: money, Diebold, and control of the media. Any Democrat making a misstep is immediately given national coverage, any Republican mis-step is buried on page 27 or ignored completely.

Fortunately, the blogosphere is levelling out the money aspect - which may be why net neutrality is being destroyed by the Republicans. Diebold can be deadened by paper back-up ballots. This leaves media control as the major defining difference.

Yes, the MSM whines about being pilloried about their stenography disguised as analysis. The problem is the difficulty of finding folks willing to pay for accurate news rather than confirmation of their prejudices. Correcting this will be difficult...

Posted by: RepubAnon on June 11, 2006 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

I do not think that Democrats are in a particularly good position. Poll after poll shows that as bad as the opinion people have of the GOP is, the opinion of the Dems isn't much higher. I would say at this point the Dem's chance of taking control in the House is about 50-50, and less than that in the Senate.
It's funny that they get so much advice from their so-called "expert consultants", who haven't won much over the last decade or so. But the fact that the advice is so diverse is one reason why I remain a Dem. I prefer the confusion to the "lock-step" mentality of the other side.
If the Dems want to be successful, my advice to each candidate would be .......be sincere and be yourself.
As a perfect example look at Al Gore. He is a very bright man with a great sense of humor. (OK, so I like dry humor). But did we see Al Gore in 2000? No. We saw a consultant-produced mannequin that appealed to nobody. Same with John Kerry in 2004. Whoever came up with that goose-hunting stunt should be relegated to the phone banks.
The Dems simply need to convince the American public that they are competent and real, in my opinion. Exactly how they do that is for people who make the big bucks to figure out.

Posted by: Marcia on June 11, 2006 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

Has no one ever read The Emperor's New Clothes? Each one of these commentators is a courtier who take the temperature of the country by consulting the D.C. thermometer. I fully expect the status quo to continue, if theirs are the only voices the democrats heed in the coming election cycle.

Posted by: moe99 on June 11, 2006 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

The Dems simply need to convince the American public that they are competent and real, in my opinion. Exactly how they do that is for people who make the big bucks to figure out.

Posted by: Marcia

That means nominate a candidate who is outside the previous boxes, who can't be painted as another out-fo-touch loser from Massachusetts (Dukakis, Kerry) or someone representing the past (Gore, H. Clinton). In short, find a talented, qualified candidate who can't be painted with the wonkish or Ivy League brush, someone who average moderate voters perceive as "one of us -- for a change." (Like that slogan for '08?)

Posted by: Vincent on June 11, 2006 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

I think some of these memes come out of the right wing and are echoed and amplified in the MSM. May favorite example of the moment is that "Democrats don't have new Ideas".

I think this is really ironic since what this country really needs is a very, very old idea: Good Governance.

Posted by: Joseph Palmer on June 11, 2006 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

i suggest they take a page from the repubs and appeal to their base. i mean, the repubs have been doing this for years, and winning... but no, the dems ignore their base and spend all their time trying to appeal to the REPUBLICAN base. what a bunch of dummies. do they think their own base is somehow magically self-motivated? most of us are just so disgusted with the party, we're hardly motivated to vote at all.

Posted by: Sue on June 11, 2006 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

Why does any liberal / progressive person give a tinker's damn what "advice" the WaPo offers?

(Ditto the NYT, and the rest of the corporate media.)

Seriously, why??? Can you possibly think they care?

Posted by: The Doctor on June 11, 2006 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

May favorite example of the moment is that "Democrats don't have new Ideas".

I've been asking people how they know that 'Democrats don't have any new ideas'.

They never can give you a straight answer, and ultimately they offer up some variation on 'I heard it on TV'.

We've go stereo politics, and a mono media.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on June 11, 2006 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

Political machines tend to concentrate power and become corrupt. Their survival depends on winning every election by any means necessary in order to maintain power.
Democrats (who have historic experience with local political machines) seem unable to grasp the fact that they are dealing with a vast national machine that was designed by Newt Gingrich, fashioned by Tom DeLay and exploited by George W. Bush, et al.
Democrats don't seem to realize that every election is a matter of life and death for the modern Republican national machine. The corruption and malfeasance is so wide spread that the Republicans cannot afford to lose power and risk inquiries and investigations.
The Democrats can't seem to shake the mindset of the past. They don't seem to realize that it's a real bloodsport now and the other side doesn't take prisoners--and the other side can't afford to lose. I don't think that can be emphasized enough---THE BASTARDS CAN'T AFFORD TO LOSE AND THEY'LL FIGHT TO WIN BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY.

Posted by: kjjg on June 11, 2006 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

I don't care about all that talk, talk, talk.

I just want Health Care for Everyone and to GET OUT OF IRAQ. Now.

And none of this phase-in health care, phase-out of Iraq.

Any analysis that doesn't focus on those two subjects as paramount are just babble to me.

Posted by: katiebird on June 11, 2006 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

If I had some advice I really wanted the party to take seriously, it would be to keep your business out of the Washington Post. Seriously, someone invite these guys to a closed-door session, because our best and brightest are apparently getting played by a bunch of concern trolls who just so happen to buy ink by the barrell.

Posted by: matt w on June 11, 2006 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

It's official: Most newspapers, like the Washington Post and the NY Times, see it as their mission to help the Democrat party win elections. When's the last time they ran a six part series offering advice and suggestions to the republican party?

Posted by: American Hawk on June 11, 2006 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

Democrats talk about things. Republicans give you an opinion, greased up with testosterone.

Posted by: cld on June 11, 2006 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

I loved the latest Time Magazine -- nothing really about how the Republicans are running the country, but a Klein hit-piece on the Dems, and then a feature story on the Dem infighting! Beautiful!

Posted by: Freedom Phukher on June 11, 2006 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

The Democrats are getting too used to losing. They need to react from their "gut." For me, that fight is always about protecting the Constitution, which is under assult from the Republicans. If the Republicans win in November, we will lose an independent judiciary. The Democrats come across as conflicted and confused.

Posted by: Joanne Marie on June 11, 2006 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

The NYT is on the narrative-enforcing bandwagon with its "Can Dems Win?" series, including this letter our of number of same today, in which the writer gives a laundry list of areas the D's have supposedly not provided any "answers" for and follows with:

Propose practical solutions to these problems, and voters will pull the levers for the Democrats in November.

Yeah, right. I seem to recall a major speech by Hillary last week doing just that, in some detail. And the coverage all focused on her yellow pantsuit or whatever the f it was she was wearing and then went nattering off about how many times she slept with Bill last year. Haircuts and clothes, that's what we're going to get from now until armeggedon, no matter WHAT these candidates do or say.

This whole "problem" is nothing more than a game of 3-Card Monte. I don't know what the answer is but I've got little patience anymore for pretending it's a game you can win by playing along.

Posted by: DrBB on June 11, 2006 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

I think the picture the Dems will have to paint of the GOP has to be analogous with using a credit card with an unlimited spending limit. There are some other images that would go well there as well - like the balance transfer to defer debt payment - bottom line is that the debt always become due at some time in the future. I believe this picture will work especially well in the California governors race this fall.

Posted by: Peter on June 11, 2006 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

Sometimes I wonder whether a variation of the sort of vague, innocent frankness seen in the movies would work. Think Chance in "Being There" or Forrest Gump. Speak directly to the issues in a disarming manner, completely bypassing any political mechanizations or calculated abstruseness. Doesn't everyone secretly yearn for a leader that just dispenses with the bullshit and isn't suspected of always jerking our chain? Can a politician get away with the honesty gambit today? Maybe we all like the sugar coated speeches, skipping the passages informing us exactly where and how we're all fucked in the ass and there's no KY to ease the pain.

Posted by: steve duncan on June 11, 2006 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

Next six months are going to be crucial for Democrats.

Posted by: nut on June 11, 2006 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

I just returned from a week doing volunteer work on the gulf coast, Bay St Louis, Mississippi, to be exact. People down there are still hurting from Katina. Their headlines last week have to do with the ability of the Democrats in the Lousianna delegation to obtain everything they ask from the conference committee while Mississippi, lead by Trent Lott and Haley Barbour, had to settle for less than they requested and much less than they need. People are hot about the Republican unwillingness to fight for them.

By the way for those of you who don't realize it, Mississippi was where Katrina really hit. They were hurt and hurt badly for about 100 miles. While a lot has been done, it still looks like Somalia on a bad day. Most of what has been done has been done by the combined efforts of locals digging out and churches sending in volunteers. The governments (State and Federal) seem to be no shows. The big problem is with the insurance companies. Some who claim to be good neighbors in expensive television campaigns are down right slow to pay. Some would say stingy. Signs all over the gulf coast claim that the insurance companies s**k.

Posted by: Ron Byers on June 11, 2006 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

How about matching the Republican dishonest and deceitful machinations lie by lie and theft by theft?

Politics is not a game of morality where the best man wins.

You have to do your best to fool the public into believing that you are going to do better for it than the other guy. And you have to do this without letting them on that you are manipulating the people's perception.

In summary, hire the best liars and thieves.

Posted by: lib on June 11, 2006 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

The Democrats need to give up on being wishy-washy and start supporting full rights for all and start becoming the party of the "little guy" again. The recent immigration marches and the nascent immigrant rights movement point the way forward. The Democrats need to support full rights for all residents regardless of documentation status.

One hitch is that it will be difficult to outfox Bush on this, since he supports regularization. So, the Democrats need to pledge to completely open up the border and give full rights - including voting rights - to anyone who's lived here more than six months. It's just a line on the map, and no person is illegal. This bold move will finally show which is the party of big ideas! The Democrats should also form a coalition with one of the Mexican political parties, such as the PRI.

-- Lonewacko

Posted by: TLB on June 11, 2006 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

There has to be a sea change - a kick in the teeth such as the Great Depression - to focus the electorate. The experimentation and great changes made under the New Deal were not because of FDR's "leadership" (though he was indeed a fine leader that learned to follow what the country wanted and needed)--but because Americans got turned around 180 degrees and realized that a strong government was necessary to stand behind the little guy and to be a bulwark against the great power of business.

The 21st Century kick in the teeth, Peak Oil and the attendant collapsing US economy, is now right around the corner. Not quite here yet. Those of us who have anything are a fat, complacent, entertainment-distracted people who are hanging on to the illusion that normalcy will continue even as the evidence of an unraveling society stands starkly before us. We live by delusion and illusion.

As the McCookie really starts to crumble, we'll see a resurgence of progressive thinking thats center will either be the Democrats or a 3rd party. The new progressives will a) mount a community-based mass movement (or movements) that will put the people back in the driver's seat--national health care, nationalization of energy, building electified mass transportation, abandoning the private car, creating localized organic community agriculture, etc.; or b) get thrown into concentration camps while Herr General Cheney's Armies of the Night use up the last of the world's oil battling China for the last of the world's oil.

Posted by: geo on June 11, 2006 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

So, the Democrats need to pledge to completely open up the border and give full rights - including voting rights - to anyone who's lived here more than six months. It's just a line on the map, and no person is illegal. This bold move will finally show which is the party of big ideas! The Democrats should also form a coalition with one of the Mexican political parties, such as the PRI.

-- Lonewacko

Posted by: TLB on June 11, 2006 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK


Is this a parody?

Posted by: wilder on June 11, 2006 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

I think Grunwald is on to something. Specifically, that "advice to the Democrats" is usually more about what the advice-giver wants than about what would help the Democrats. I think the reason for this is that half the country is projecting frustrated desires from the last six years onto one political party.

If Democrat movers and shakers try to follow all this advice, they'll just end up pulling the party in contradictory directions. I don't have any prescriptions for what to do instead -- in fact, I'm going to purposefully refrain from offering any advice. Because when it comes down to it, I really don't know what the Democrats should do.

Posted by: Matt on June 11, 2006 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

I think geo is basically right. When certain aspects of people's lives get upset enough (e.g., health care problems) the Democrats will be there for them. That doesn't mean in the meantime that Democrats shouldn't do everything they can to mitigate those things that the Republicans are doing that Democrats think are detrimental. What specific tactics to use probably depends on a large number of variables, so each situation may call for a different kind of tactic. Hopefully, the members of the Democratic leadership have enough sense to find the right tactic at the right time much of the time, but they are just human so they are going to screw up sometimes. But strategically, I'm afraid we just have to wait for the electorate to finally get so fed up with what the Republicans are doing that more of them will vote for Democrats.

Posted by: TK on June 11, 2006 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

It's really very simple. To paraphrase the Sean Connery character in "The Untouchables":

If your opponent pulls a knife, you pull a gun. If he sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.

It's why Gore only won by a million and a half votes in 2000, he didn’t fight back and let the RightWing define him. Gore unlearned the lesson of the 1992 campaign, with the 'War Room' responding to EVERYTHING and ANYTHING the Republicans lied about, and then shoved it back down their throat to boot.

Posted by: VJ on June 11, 2006 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

With the Media, it's the Story versus the Storyline.

The Storyline is that the Democratic Party is not unified, has no clear vision, and is at war with itself as to the direction it should be going in.

All stories are then manipulated to fit within that Storyline. That is why, when presented with six opinion pieces about the Democratic Party, that there is so much contradictory information. It's because if the Storyline doesn't match the Story, than it's like ramming a square peg into a round hole. You are bound to end up with a mess.

Posted by: GOPhuckYourself on June 11, 2006 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

The 21st Century kick in the teeth, Peak Oil and the attendant collapsing US economy, is now right around the corner.
With the Media, it's the Story versus the Storyline.

Posted by: rroo on June 11, 2006 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

$110.00 gas rebate and a pony!

Posted by: R.L. on June 11, 2006 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen: Are Dems in a better position than the conventional wisdom suggests, or is the party poised to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?

Yes, Dems are in a better position than conventional wisdom suggests, but this self-flaggelation risks becoming a self-fullfilling prophecy. That doesn't mean an end to debate; Dems have historically been a diverse hodge-podge, at various times a blessing and a curse.

Unfortunately, the recent debate has tended to subsume and eclipse the core and unifying progressive principles and values that I believe the vast majority of American voters have in common. That needs to change.

Posted by: has407 on June 11, 2006 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

Really, for me it's two things:
1) Believe every position you hold is the right one, and expect people to agree with you. Less calculation, less nuance, less apologizing. People will either follow or they won't. Assume that they will.

2) Follow simple, common-sense campaign advice, and ignore everything else. Look, you can't totally change a candidate's demeanor, and mostly you're going to look silly trying. If you wanted the candidate who looked best while bass fishing, you should have selected the candidate who bass fishes the most. That said, candidates should be able to spit out clear, focused soundbytes on every policy and campaign issue, and should be able to do this without sounding overly scripted. Seriously, the modern campaign has been around for 40+ years. It's not rocket science.

Posted by: Royko on June 11, 2006 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

I think the picture the Dems will have to paint of the GOP has to be analogous with using a credit card with an unlimited spending limit.

Ah, but won't voters say, "hey! me too!" or "gee, these guys are doing what I wish I could do!" ?

We're dealing with something akin to Stockholm Syndrome here. For many voters, the prosecution of DeLay isn't about fighting corruption, it's about a jealous proseutor trying to stop a down-to-earth guy from enjoying a few rounds of golf.

Posted by: Anonymous on June 11, 2006 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

Dems have squandered the last 5-plus years in an orgy of Bush-bashing.

They have had enough time - not to mention the election results from 2002 and 2004 - for self-evaluation and laying out an alternative vision for America. But instead of telling the voters what Democrats stand for, they chose to scream about how awful Bush is.

The result? Most voters have no idea what the Democratic party stands for, beyond hating Bush.

Posted by: hold the mayo on June 11, 2006 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

American Hawk: All other content aside, as long as you keep referring to it as the "Democrat Party", no one is going to give a damn about your officially sanctioned talking points. Grow up and join the discussion with your own damn ideas instead of all this polly-want-a-cracker bullshit.

JC: "Run great candidates! The rest will follow." Do the Republicans run great candidates, or do they let the fear-and-money machine do all the heavy lifting? The problem is that Democrats are still thinking the thing should be run on merit, and that's all over now.

Posted by: Kenji on June 11, 2006 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

What do I think about all this advice? It makes my eyes roll back in my head.

What do I reccommend? Stand up; tell people what you believe in; tell the truth; if they vote for you, great; if not, they get what they deserve.

Posted by: Robert Earle on June 11, 2006 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Here's what bugs me about my party--they are STILL afraid of their own shadows on defense. A couple of weeks back we had the 10-point or whatever plan, health and fairness and all that is way up there which was as it should be. But "supporting the troops" by fighting for better VA funding, benefits, etc., is all well and good, but not enough.

We are so damned afraid of saying "And we will get the United States out of this war", and it's exactly what needs to be said. By not mentioning it, we look like pansies.

Posted by: Psuedonoise on June 11, 2006 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

My suggestion: stop reading the WaPo, open connections with leading academics across the globe and get ready to spend the next decade cleaning up after Bush.

Posted by: kidneystones on June 11, 2006 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Don't move to the center. Move the center to you.

Posted by: Tano on June 11, 2006 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

In the short term the Dems are reasonably well positioned simply because the mood of the country is negative and the out party usually does better in midterms.

In the long run, it is crystal clear that unless the Democrats get some balls and learn to challenge Republican lies, they will continue to lose whatever their osetnsive advantages.

Posted by: The Fool on June 11, 2006 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

The Republican party might have alot of current troubles, with the Abrahmoff ties, Duke Cunninghams's conviction, unease with immigration.

But the GOP has one huge advantage: Republicans get to run against Democrats!

(Remember Francine "You Don't Need Papers For Voting" Busby??

Posted by: Frequency Kenneth on June 11, 2006 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

From all the campaigns I've worked on, no one is more time wasting and annoying and self-contradictory and bossy than the self-appointed activists.

I love the people on the net who have never been active in local Party politics and claim to be the Party's "base". But that's another story.

I've never believed there is some magic formula to win. To win you have to do the hard stuff. I helped out in a campaign where a billionaire Republican put in $6-8 million of his own money for a state Assembly race (in CA). He was very photogenic, had the endorsement of Schwarzenegger, McCain and Richard Clarke. The business community loved him. He was sending out mailers SIX MONTHS before the election. But we beat him anyway. We had true party activists knocking on doors and making phone calls--as opposed to blogging about what he needed to do. The opponent was able to pay people to do this for him.

I've long felt that the net activists don't really reach out to anyone but the converted. You're not going to win elections by just fundraising and posting on blogs. You really need the "boots on the ground". Candidates who don't do that won't win nine times out of ten. Even having enthusiastic volunteers is important. If you can't get people excited about a candidacy or at least have a sense of urgency about it, it's bound for failure.

Posted by: gq on June 11, 2006 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

Is this a parody?


Many California Democratic politicians already have rather cozy ties with Mexico. They continue to receive support from the national party, so the national party supports their positions.

All I'm suggesting is be honest about it and stop beating around the bush. Voters appreciate honesty!

For instance, L.A.'s mayor - a Democrat - congratulated Mexico's president Zedillo on helping block Prop. 187. Then, he and Zedillo lead the California Assembly in the Chicano Power handclap.

One California Democratic politician even went to Mexico and promoted U.S. social services for illegal aliens.

Another Democrat didn't see a problem with Mexico reclaiming its "Lost Territories".

And, some of the organizers of the illegal immigration marches have ties to the Mexican government. Several major Democratic politicians were also involved in those marches (Kennedy, Durbin, Blago, Gutierrez, etc.)

And, there are several left-wing "human rights" groups that have ties to both the Democratic Party and the Mexican government.

All I'm saying is make it explicit policy, that's all.

-- Immigration Reform

Posted by: TLB on June 11, 2006 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

I've long felt that the net activists don't really reach out to anyone but the converted.

You know, a lot of the "converted" have an attitude of "I want to help, but I don't know what to do." The local party machines are extremely reluctant to get new people involved and don't publicize themselves. So the "netroots" are the ones organizing places for the "converted" to find out where to volunteer, what to do, and how to get involved.

Really, now, where do you think these door-knockers come from? For every every politics blogger, you've got dozens of "boots on the ground" who are going to get involved in a campaign or cause they're interested in that they wouldn't have otherwise been involved in if they hadn't heard about it.

Posted by: Constantine on June 11, 2006 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

Frequency nailed it!

Posted by: craigie on June 11, 2006 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

I am beginning to think that the Democratic party is positioned to be the Whig party of this century. All the Washington crowed has to do to utterly destroy the party is keep on reacting to everything the Republicans say or do.

I strongly recommend that the Democrats on this and every other board turn off their computers for a few days, get off their asses and talk to real people. Just talk and listen. Don't claim to have any magic bullets. Don't pay any attention to the morons in Washington. Most of the consultants haven't been outside the beltway in decades. The same for the media pundits and for most working Washington journalists. They don't know anything worth knowing.

After you have listened for awhile, figure out what the people need and develop plans and programs do deliver. The people are really left of the Republican talking points. In many cases far left of them. They just don't think the Democrats are any better than the Republicans. Mostly they don't see Democrats standing up for anything.

Posted by: Ron Byers on June 11, 2006 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Take a page from Karl Rove's playbook and hit them in their perceived strength: national defense. A vivid case can be made that Bush has made us more vulnerable, not less: off-target allocations of homeland security funds, too little protection of ports and borders, allowing the chemical plants to "voluntarily" secure themselves, which they haven't done. And the Iraq war, which has created more terrorists. If Dems paint it like this, it's not even necessary to pull out abruptly; we can do it on our own terms, though.

All this has left us in an awkward position re Iran, forcing even Bush to make major concessions just to get them to talk to us.

The ballooning national debt is part of the growing insecurity; China practically owns us, along with South Korea and others. We're living on borrowed money, borrowed oil, and maybe borrowed time.

Solution: get out of Iraq with deliberation, push oil conservation, mandate higher CAFE standards, present Iran with soft words and an implied stick. Inspect more containers, defend the ports, and secure the chemical plants. And be less generous to Wyoming and Omaha.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Posted by: BWR on June 11, 2006 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

It's June 11 and the Democrats are poised to break out from Normandy, race across France and into Germany. The only thing that can save the Republicans is developing a nuclear weapon and using it on London before we cross the Rhein.

Posted by: Mark Garrity on June 11, 2006 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

A small suggestion. Democrats should keep harping on about the Republican Plan to Divide America and position themselves as its uniters. It worked for Bush, but the truth would largely be on the Democratic side.

Posted by: Jim on June 11, 2006 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

Having just finished reading "Lapdogs" it's obvious that MSM advice to Democrats is just part of a scheme to undermine the party by sowing discord and confusion.

None of theses articles ever mention that polling shows that the majority of Americans favor the things Democrats favor - like Healthcare, getting out of Iraq, not spying on Americans, balanced budgets and real security against terrorists, not just talking about it. If the MSM ever listened to Americans instead of telling them what they're supposed to think, people would realize that this is a Democratic nation, not a Republican on.

Posted by: beb on June 11, 2006 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

David Van Os, who is a Democrat running for Texas attorney-general said it best:

It is time to discard the "avoid polarization at all costs" strategy, the "take no risks" strategy, the "appeal to everybody" strategy, and the "chase the middle" strategy. It is time to remember what Jim Hightower told us 20 years ago, "there's nothin' in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos." It is time to cease the followership strategies of scripting campaigns on the basis of what people thought yesterday in polls, and assert the leadership strategies of campaigning for what we know to be right based on our deepest convictions of what we want for tomorrow. It is time to stop worrying about whom we might offend if we speak truth to power, and start worrying about what value are our lives if we don't speak truth to power. It is time to cherish partisan Democrats and reject nonpartisan Nothingcrats. It is time to forget "right-left" analysis and install "right-wrong" analysis. It is time to replace the "liberal-conservative" spectrum with the "liberty-tyranny" spectrum. It is time to stop worrying about how to get money from big donors and start worrying about how to get more money into working people's paychecks. It is time to fight for better lives for voters instead of peddle promises to voters. It is time to treat public office as a duty, not a promotion. We must fight for the people, not in order to win their votes, but in order to win them justice.

Posted by: expatjourno on June 11, 2006 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

Huzzah for that "ad nauseum". The Post truly scraped the bottom of the barrel for that article, Or maybe they just threw together a bunch of around-the-punchbowl chatter from last week's Georgetown party circuit.

Posted by: sglover on June 11, 2006 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, I forgot the advice bit. Haven't read all the comments yet, but I'm sure lots of other people chimed in with this idea: Fire the DLC. All of them.

Posted by: sglover on June 11, 2006 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

If every Democratic candidate could just learn to communicate simply, directly, and forcefully . . . define themselves early and often before the Republicans do it . . . learn to put the other guy on the defensive instead of waiting for him (or her) to attack . . . avoid equivocating . . . and focus on creating a long term party identity instead of focusing on the next election.

In other words, read Digby each and every day, take it to heart, and tell everyone else involved in the Democratic Party to do the same.

Posted by: Greg VA on June 11, 2006 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

Conventional Wisdom isn't.

Ignore them all and vote Democratic!



Posted by: c. on June 11, 2006 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

What kjjg said.

The problem with the Democrats is they are out of power. Win enough elections to get back some real power, and we can start to enjoy all the contradictory, confused and self-serving advice on what the Republicans need to do.

Posted by: TomB on June 11, 2006 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

Since I've never done it here before let me say just what a rip roaring success the DLC's plan of steering the Democratic Party to the right in order to win back "the South" has been. Running Southerners so the South can reject them as "the North" votes for these Southerners.

We've tried the conventional wisdom and it's been a disaster. These people had their test of time and they flunked.

One bad election cycle per Wonk group. Limit not to be exceeded.

Posted by: olvlzl on June 11, 2006 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

The DLC's so-called southern strategy is responsible for the Dems losing control of both houses of Congress, the White House and the Court.

Hasn't everyone else had enough? I have.

Posted by: Jack Nasty on June 11, 2006 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK

Any campaign must focus on the energy crisis. Politicians need to level with the people. We are in serious trouble. We use 300 billion gallons of gasoline a year. All the liquid petroleum reserves will be exhausted in fifty years. Cellulosic ethanol is a fantasy. It takes one dry ton of biomass to produce 100 gallons of ethanol. Ethanol has 66% the fuel value of gasoline. The net energy balance, optimisticly, of cellulosic ethanol, might be 2 to 1. Therefore, 1 billion dry tons of biomass, will result in a net ethanol production of 35 billion gallons. The total agricultural output, that goes to feeding and clothing ourselves, is 1 bllion tons. In other words, if we reproduced our entire present agricultural output for ethanol production, it would only represent only one tenth of our current oil consumption. That means we need to develop direct solar and wind generation capacities. Unfortunately, this is much more capital intensive, and therefore will be much more painful and demand much more sacrifice. We have at most a century to build out this capacity.

Posted by: bblog on June 11, 2006 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

This is less advice for "the Democrats" than it is for "the liberal movement", but here it is anyway: grow the base. Make more people liberals. Strengthen and expand institutions which tend to make people liberals - liberal religious communities, labor unions, and liberal media outlets - and find ways to infuse centrist institutions - moderate religious communities, forward-thinking workplaces, and non-partisan media outlets - with liberal people and liberal ideas. This prescription won't help much in 2006 or 2008, but it will make a huge difference in 2020.

Posted by: Shai on June 11, 2006 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK


The new progressives will a) mount a community-based mass movement (or movements) that will put the people back in the driver's seat--national health care, nationalization of energy, building electified mass transportation, abandoning the private car, creating localized organic community agriculture, etc.

The real Democratic ideas finally come out. Run on these, okay?

Posted by: rnc on June 11, 2006 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

It can be true that any number of pundits are wrong about what's wrong with the Democratic Party and also the case that there are quite a few things wrong with the Democratic Party.

There's not a snowball's chance in hell Democrats are going to take back the House or the Senate this November.

Posted by: Linus on June 11, 2006 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

What ever happened to demanding a quid-pro-quo from voters ("ask not...")? How did we get to the point where candidates and parties are suppose to offer pain-free solutions?

I would really like to see the Dems (or the GOP, for that matter) stop trying to sugar-coat the cost and commitment required to solve substantive issues. You want "victory" in Iraq or Afghanistan? You want relief from high gas prices? You want a solution for healthcare?

Fine--we hear you, we have solutions--but its going to cost. Tell us you're willing that pay the price and give us the mandate at the polls, and we'll fix it. If you as the electorate are not willing to pay that price, fine, then go with the GOP's snakeoil (we'll be here after they fail).

No one expects to get something for nothing--which has been the MO, especially in the last decade--and the electorate is rightly cynical and skeptical of such promises.

Posted by: has407 on June 11, 2006 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with traditional liberalism is it is outdated. It made sense during the Great Depression and the post-war boom. It just doesn't work well, economically speaking, in a world of global competition, and most of the civil rights ideas it pushed have gone about as far as the public wants.

That is why the DLC has the right idea. It has worked out a new progressive agenda that fits todays world. Beyond that, it appeals to the widest portion of the population. The electorate is basically divided into to three parts. Old style liberals are the smallest group, next up is conservatives, and the largest portion is moderates. If the Democrats don't appeal to the people in the middle, they will lose forever.

Posted by: Les Brunswick on June 11, 2006 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

If I were running for office, I would run on a platform of nuking Mexico. I think that pretty much hits the G spot for most 'mercans, yes?

What I wouldn't do is propose specific, sensible solutions to real problems. It's clear nobody gives a shit about that stuff.

Posted by: craigie on June 11, 2006 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

#1 Address the problems of globalization.
#2 Take the economic impact of low-wage immigration seriously.

Posted by: denise on June 11, 2006 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

What difference does any of this make as long as it's the 'Pigs that are counting the votes? Unca Joe Stalin nailed that one...

If I were a RePig 'lawmaker', I wouldn't be at all worried about losing my seat this election- not with Diebold/ES&S on the job.

Posted by: john manyjars on June 11, 2006 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

You can find my two cents here.


This isn't complicated. It's simple human nature.

Posted by: greyhair on June 11, 2006 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know if the Dems are poised to snatch defeat from victory, but I'm worried.

My advice for 2006 would be:
1) Remember that off-year elections are base elections. So you'd better have a message that fires up the base.
2) So you'd better have a message. You need to show you're ready to fight for Democratic values, by some reasonable definition of Dem values.
3) You can be centrist on cultural issues - guns, abortion, gay marriage, the flag amendment - but you'll lose the base if your 'centrism' consists of capitulating to big money when it's trying to get even richer at the expense of average Americans.
4) You've got to say *something* about Bush and the GOP. Don't feel like you have to hold back - they won't feel that way about you.
5) You'll have to figure out *something* to say about Iraq. Stay away from 'our goal is victory' because that's bullshit at this point. I'd personally recommend finding a slightly politer way to say, "Bush has f'ed up Iraq so badly that Jesus Christ Himself couldn't un-fuck it," then say that our goal should be to figure out how to extricate our troops from Iraq over the next 18-24 months with the least possible harm to the situation there, whether the Iraqis 'stand up' or not. Because if they haven't done so by then, who knows how long it'll take?
But that's my personal take on it.

Posted by: RT on June 11, 2006 at 6:08 PM | PERMALINK


We will have universal single-payer health coverage in the next four years, and God help any Republicans who try to stop it.

No, wait... "Together, America Can Do Better."

Posted by: Alan in SF on June 11, 2006 at 7:06 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with the Post pundit (I forget who) that said "tell the people what you really believe and let the chips fall where they may."

What I want is straight talk. No parsed bull that has been through three edits by various handlers. The problem with straight talk is that it takes a gutsy and intellegent person to pull it off. Intelligence gets them to the heart of the matter and speaks clearly about their position in a manner that everyone can understand. Gutsy means that they know not everyone will agree, but they say what they mean anyway.

There aren't many intellegent, gutsy candidates out there. The intellegent ones are told to act more "Joe Regularguy"--ala Gore, and the gutsy ones are marginalized--ala Dean.

But I do believe that the Democrats have the more intelligent candidates--Kerry, Gore, Clinton (both of them), Obama, Edwards. And Gore and Edwards have moved into the private sector and put their money where their mouths were--into poverty relief (Edwards) or energy issues (Gore). The Republicans just become lobbiests for their partners in crime.

And that is what bothers me the most. That the intelligent ones have to leave politics to make a difference, when what they wanted to do was make a big difference through politics.

the system is broken.

Posted by: cyrki on June 11, 2006 at 7:54 PM | PERMALINK

Democratic ideas with Republican PR.

Democrats are competent policy wonks. That's their strength. But they really suck at the whole public relations thing. My mom, a Bush-voter, upon seeing Kerry's concession speech, said she would have voted for that man. Too bad that wasn't the Kerry who had been running for president.

Democrats need to keep their policy-wonk strength, but learn to speak authentically.

Posted by: moderleft on June 11, 2006 at 9:13 PM | PERMALINK

The Democrats are going to have a lot nmore trouble snatching defeat from the jaws of victory this time than they have in the past. In every Congressional race from 1996 until now, they've started out with a slim lead in the polls on generic House races, and managed to blow it -- narrowly -- at the end. THIS time -- with 5 months to go before the election -- they have a lead which seems to be around 12 points (the three June polls show far show it averaging 14). They're going to have trouble blowing all of that -- especially since Rasmussen shows that Bush gained precisely nothing in its daily polls from Zarqawi's killing ( http://www.rasmussenreports.com/Bush_Job_Approval.htm ), and a downright astonishing Zogby poll ( http://www.zogby.com/news/ReadNews.dbm?ID=1123 ) shows that even if Bin Laden was caught or killed it would boost Bush only a point or two in the polls, because a huge landslide majority now blame Bush for screwing around too long in Iraq instead of Afghanistan! If that's true, Bush and the GOP are completely out of rabbits.

The odds of the Dems regaining the House are excellent; the main question is whether they'll gain enough seates to retake the Senate, although I think the odds are still somewhat against that. (We may very well end up with another 50-50 tie, with the accursed Cheney holding the balance.)

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw on June 11, 2006 at 10:01 PM | PERMALINK

Underpants gnomes.

I recommend reading the book the Game, by Niel Strauss. I think it is analogous to the democratic party. Basically, people become pick-up artists to improve their relationship with women. A society of pickup artists develops to understand women. They begin to focus soley on picking up women and not why. Picking Up women becomes way to show status in the group. They are no longer concerned with relationships with women, but their place in the group. Life becomes one big reality TV show.

Posted by: aaron on June 12, 2006 at 5:48 AM | PERMALINK

How about instead of all the rhetoric and cliches--"We'll win by winning..."--try making some fucking sense once and a while? Logic and reason would be skills you'd all be well advised in learning.

Another option is the Kwame Kilpatrick model (very much like the Republican model). Make sense in general, be insightful and show a grasp for the important fundamental probelms and dynmaics, appeal to people's sense of reason, but occasionally throw all reason out the door and excite your base (but never do anything effective toward those ends, nothing that goes beyond symbolism). Then throw a big party and get your friends and family really outrageous jobs.

Posted by: aaron on June 12, 2006 at 6:07 AM | PERMALINK

Here is my unsolicited advice.
1) Learn common rock-ape social grooming techniques and how to fake sincerity.
2) Get your targeted voter a little tipsy.
3) Use proven Clintonian analingus technique liberally. Sear Rimming, Rose-petalling, arselicking, and etc
4) Apply plenty of water-based lube and slowly insert two fingers in comfortably.
5) Insert penis SLOWLY at first - then warm up SLOWLY to regular strokes.
6) Encourage self masturbation by your voter.
7) When your finished gently apply a little buttock rubbing. This assists with issues of closure.
8) It sounds a little corny but thanking your voter is just good manners.
9 ) Remove all DNA traces.

Posted by: professor rat on June 12, 2006 at 8:38 AM | PERMALINK

Despite much evidence to the contrary, the progressives and their so-called netroots ply their trade in a fantasy world where a majority of Americans want (among other things):

*Universal national health care provided and paid for by the federal government

*Universal, unrestricted abortion on demand

*Higher taxes

*Gay marriage

*The US out of Iraq NOW

In fact, the majority of Americans do not want these things. Pity the poor Democratic pol who understands this (and perhaps even agrees) but who still must stroke and flatter the recalcitrant base.

Perhaps, for instance, Democrats could offer a health care plan that addresses the needs of the uninsured without asking the vast numbers of us who are well satisfied with our current plans to chuck them all overboard. Perhaps Democrats could acquiesce to a few, common-sense restrictions on abortion instead of behaving like unrestricted abortion on demand is our nation's highest societal value. Perhaps Democrats could deign to actually learn something about our troops and their mission (and not just the Iraq campaign, but the greater GTOW) and learn to value and support both. Perhaps.

It's pretty simple really. To win elections, you must either persuade enough voters to your point of view or espouse theirs. But, in either case, first you have to know what it is the people want (hint: it's not what your base keeps insisting we want).

Posted by: Kyda Sylvester on June 12, 2006 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

I'm gonna make a crazy suggestion. It seems to me that our candidates do most of the things advised here, and the media ignores it. As somebody upthread said, Hillary gives a great policy speech, and the press talks about her clothes. Not that I'm a fan of Hillary, but this is accurate. Al Gore got the same treatment --earthtones, anyone? And John Kerry, a relentlessly upbeat, optimistic campaigner, got treated as a dour old stick. The only people who had the press cover what they actually said were Howard Dean, and Al Sharpton.

So, it strikes me that the only way to get the press to actually cover what you say, is to say the unexpected. Be spontaneous, be weird, stick your feet in your mouth, yell, laugh. As long as you do it in your own voice, you'll come across as real -- and you'll get your voice heard. It seems to me that voters are ready to vote for almost anyone who even seems authentic, it's just that all they see and hear is media packaging. So, punch your way out of that paper bag. Take a page or two from Abbie Hoffman's book, and be so unusual that the press can't stop itself from covering you.

I know, you'll offend everyone and look unprofessional. But y'know, so what? Clinging to respectability has done nothing but lose a few more House seats each year. Time to shake things up.

Posted by: trilobite on June 13, 2006 at 1:44 AM | PERMALINK



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