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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Editor’s Corner

Democracy Must be Won Here at Home

By Donna Brazile
President George W. Bush’s main foreign policy goal is to spread the fire of democracy in every corner of the globe. In almost every foreign policy address, senior members of the Administration speak of the power of freedom and democracy in giving oppressed people everywhere a seat at the table.
“Americans, of all people, should not be surprised by freedom’s power,” the President has said. He’s right, of course. And on the basis of his words, I would expect the President to lead the cause of democracy here at home, especially the cause of electoral reform and cleaning up our dysfunctional election system. Unfortunately, he has not shown much interest.
In order to strengthen democracy here at home while continuing to export it abroad, Democratic campaign officials must make election reform a priority. Voter confusion, delays, equipment malfunction and misinformation continue to prevent many citizens from participating in the electoral process.
Democrats should support election reform on principle, and it can’t be presumed that it will always and everywhere help us politically. But given that historically Democratic constituencies are disproportionately affected by voting irregularities, the right thing to do will also improve Democratic prospects in a nation so closely divided along partisan lines.
No, it is not enough to have a good candidate, a brilliant campaign plan, money in the bank and a talented and energetic group of seasoned campaign workers and volunteers. It is also necessary to understand the fundamentals of what constitutes a vote, who is behind the local election regulations and what rules apply to counting ballots in the event of a close election.
As a Democratic strategist, I witnessed first-hand the electoral irregularities surrounding the 2000 Presidential election when my former boss, Al Gore, won the popular vote but lost the election following a Supreme Court decision which halted a Florida recount. Experts agree that the 2004 national election was again rife with election anomalies including, but not limited to: excessively long lines at the polls (particularly in predominantly poor and minority precincts); insufficient and defective voting equipment; voter suppression and intimidation tactics targeting young voters, minorities and first time voters; unlawful purging of eligible voters from voting lists; and massive confusion over the issuance and tabulation of provisional ballots, absentee ballots and ballots cast by U.S. citizens living overseas.
An investigation by Democratic staff of the House Judiciary Committee disclosed massive and unprecedented voter irregularities in Ohio surrounding the 2004 Presidential election as the result of misconduct by Ohio’s Secretary of State, Ken Blackwell, and negligence and incompetence among some local election officials.
After two close presidential elections, as well as state and local races that were too close to call, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) launched its own in-depth investigation of Ohio’s 2004 election. “Democracy at Risk: The 2004 Election in Ohio,” revealed that many Ohio voters were dissatisfied with their electoral experience. From antiquated voting machines in urban minority precincts, to untrained poll workers who turned away thousands of citizens who showed up at the wrong polling sites, to the unusually high number of provisional ballots, our study indicated that electoral inefficiencies left Ohio voters feeling cheated or disenfranchised in a very close presidential race.
As Chair of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute, I was astounded to learn just how dysfunctional our electoral system has become and why this is a serious impediment to successful elections for Democratic candidates at all levels. It’s time for Democrats to get smart about election administration and take an active role in cleaning up laws and adopting new ones to protect every citizen’s right to vote.
The strength of our democracy depends on the faith of every voter in the integrity of our elections. But it is obvious from the voices of those who stood in long lines in Ohio and elsewhere that confidence in the integrity of our electoral system is waning, even as democracy blooms abroad.
The right of all citizens to vote, and to have that vote accurately counted, is the bedrock on which our democracy is founded. Nothing is more fundamental to our freedom than public confidence in the integrity of basic democratic institutions. We used to be the envy of the world because our elections were hard fought, but the results were rarely questioned. This is no longer the case.
It is America’s calling to defend and expand liberty, and to take an honest look at who, and how many, were denied the right to vote in 2004. Given past endeavors by some Republicans to marginalize voting rights concerns, it is up to Democrats to push for the adoption of tough new standards to ensure that no American is ever denied the right to vote.
For starters, the Democratic Party has worked tirelessly in urging the U.S. Congress and the Bush Administration to fully fund the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and to assist states in improving election administration. While most states are attempting to comply with HAVA’s mandates, there is confusion and a lack of consistency regarding the implementation of some of HAVA’s requirements and many states are out of compliance.
Last year, a bipartisan Commission on Federal Election Reform co-chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker released a report recommending, among other things, that “Congress should pass a law requiring that all voting machines be equipped with a voter-verifiable paper audit trail….(a) to increase citizens’ confidence that their vote will be counted accurately, (b) to allow for a recount, (c) to provide a backup in cases of loss of votes due to computer malfunction, and (d) to test — through a random selection of machines — whether the paper result is the same as the electronic result”.
Twenty-six states have now implemented requirements for voter-verified paper records and 13 more and the District of Columbia have such a requirement pending. In order to assure equal protection under the law, the independent auditability of the vote count must be consistently and legitimately protected in all states. We must reject the privatization of the vote count through the use of privately controlled electronic devices running on trade-secret-protected and undisclosed software. This practice is fundamentally at odds with government of the people, by the people and for the people. We must demand regulations that mandate transparent election administration, requiring voting equipment vendors to disclose their source code so that the equipment can be examined by third parties.
In addition to requiring a voter-verified paper record for every vote cast, we must urge lawmakers to require a significant percentage of random, unannounced, hand-counted audits of voter-verified paper records as a check on the results reported by electronic equipment.
We must work with local election officials to prohibit voting machines from having wireless or Internet connections and require that all voting equipment be used exclusively for voting purposes. Election officials must make certain that all eligible voters are able to cast their votes without impediment, regardless of physical or language limitation and that ballots are easy to comprehend and voting equipment is uncomplicated to use. Regulations must be adopted mandating that all voting machines used in local, state and federal elections – including, but not limited to direct recording electronic touch-screen machines – be certified as accurate and tamper-proof.
Local party officials must effectively train election monitors and poll watchers to enforce local election laws and procedures. We must continue to advocate for the adoption of election policies which require every ballot to be in a form that voters can read, verify and manually place in the ballot box.
In the post-2000 campaign environment, we must work with local officials to ensure that manual countywide recount procedures are in place before the vote is certified when manual vote tabulation detects a strong possibility of election equipment tampering.
Party leaders must work with state and local lawmakers to adopt regulations which preclude election officials from substituting efficiency for accuracy, so that voters can trust that every vote will be counted as cast.
It is vitally important that campaign personnel review the implementation of all HAVA guidelines, which protect voters from unlawful purges; reinforce the entitlement of voters to cast provisional ballots in federal elections; clarify the proper places and procedures for casting provisional ballots and establish a presumption in favor of validity; and clearly mandate that provisional ballots shall be counted in the most generous possible manner in every state, thereby maximizing and equalizing the value of the right to cast one.
Every Democratic campaign must work with state and local government officials prior to Election Day to ensure the equitable distribution of voting equipment and supplies to all polling places. This is crucial in order to avoid a repeat of those circumstances in 2004 when voters left polling stations out of sheer frustration due to excessively long lines and malfunctioning voting machinery.
It is also imperative that Democrats actively call upon the Republican Party to help stop voter fraud, voter suppression and intimidation, including the use of deceptive practices such as changing polling sites and placing off duty security guards at polling stations explicitly to harass certain voters on Election Day. Although it is an uphill battle, we must be relentless in pressuring federal and state lawmakers to outlaw these bogus practices.
While President Bush champions freedom and democracy elsewhere, I hope that Democrats will continue their call for clean, transparent and honest elections here at home. Before freedom marched in Baghdad, it took a stand here in America. Let’s continue to fight for the right of all Americans to vote, to participate in elections to select those who will govern a free people and yes, to hold those elected accountable to our democratic principles and ideals.


Had Enough?

Robert L. Borosage
“Had enough?” Abramoff and DeLay, Katrina and Iraq, Schiavo and Halliburton, Big Pharma and Big Oil. Leave it to Newt Gingrich to provide Democrats with their best election year sound bite. [Surely an improvement on “Together, we can do better.”] No doubt Democrats are tempted by Newt’s advice to make 2006 “a referendum, not a choice.” In an off-year election, with Republicans in control of everything, nationalizing the 2006 election inevitably requires making it a referendum on Republican failings and flailing – the equivalent of the 1994 election that brought Republicans to power. But if Democrats are to move toward building a governing majority, then they must use 2006 to begin posing a clear choice to voters – even while beginning the far more serious debate about the party’s posture on the emerging challenges facing this country. Here is a summary of the themes for 2006 – and of the harder questions that Democrats have yet to face.
1994 in 2006
The Gingrich strategy from 1994 should inform the Democratic playbook in 2006. Gingrich began not with the reform ideas of the Contract with America, but with relentless attack on the corruption, arrogance and failures of the Democrats in control. The campaign was nationalized by linking Democratic candidates directly to what was at the time a very unpopular president, with ads morphing the Democratic candidate into Clinton’s face and then back.
The Contract, unveiled late and not well known, provided Republicans with a prop that showed that they stood for change. An entire section was devoted to congressional reform, from term limits to promises of open governance. Others restated popular conservative shibboleths – a balanced budget amendment, missile defense, tax cuts. Divisive social issues, like prayer in the schools or abortion, were excluded. The document was accompanied by a promise of action – a vote on every measure in 100 days – that spoke directly to voters’ frustration that Democrats had failed to deliver.
In 2006, given the breathtaking scope of conservative misrule and the growing dismay of voters, Democrats can follow the same model: relentless attack on the failures of Bush and the Republican Congress, ignoring pundits who complain Democrats have no agenda; morphing Republican candidates scrambling to establish their independence into pictures of Bush and back.
The catastrophic failures and corrosive corruptions of Bush and the Republican Congress also make it relatively easy for Democrats to frame a clear, compelling agenda that make them the party of change. The themes are simple. Had enough? Do you want more of the same – the Bush direction – or a new course? They have failed. They govern for the few – they auctioned off Congress to corporate lobbies and CEOs – and you pay the costs of this corruption. We’ll put government on your side, a policy that works for all. Core elements of the agenda are logical and, not surprisingly, poll well in early snapshots by Democracy Corps, Lake Research and others.
1.  Clean out the stables. Voters are not particularly interested in process reforms, but they are looking for change. Democrats should be the party of reform, championing bold, clear reforms to curb the corruptions of the corporate lobbies: block the revolving door, expose all contacts, end the junkets, ban the ear-marks, curb the privileges. Enact a freeze on congressional pay raises until wages are going up for Americans, a position Stanley Greenberg’s polling has revealed to have wide support. Pledge to root out the outrages – particularly the scandalous rip-offs in Iraq by Halliburton and other corporate cronies that not only wasted billions of dollars but contributed directly to the failure of reconstruction. With Democratic incumbents incomprehensibly unable to forge unity on a bold agenda of reform, Democratic challengers should take up the charge and make themselves the outsiders who will clean out the stables.
2.  Stand up for people, not special interests. Democrats best demonstrate their values, their character and their courage by fighting against entrenched special interests on basic kitchen table concerns. This isn’t rocket science. It starts by reversing the costs of Republican corruption that Americans pay in higher drug prices, higher college costs, soaring gas prices, and jobs getting shipped abroad. Make health care affordable, starting by taking the Medicare prescription drug plan out of the hands of private insurers and requiring the government to negotiate lower prices. Make college affordable, starting by cutting interest rates on student loans in half, raising grant levels, and providing tax credits towards college tuition. Revoke the tax breaks and loopholes that reward corporations for sending jobs abroad. Raise the minimum wage, require corporations to treat the shop floor like the top floor in benefits, and empower workers to organize to gain a fair share of the profits they help generate. Roll back the subsidies and tax breaks for oil companies, and use that money to champion…
3.  A bold concerted drive for energy independence. Champion a plan like that laid out by the Apollo Alliance, generating jobs, capturing new markets, and unleashing American science and technology, all while reducing our reliance on Persian Gulf oil. Democrats should overcome their temerity about big investments – and embrace new energy for America.
The Republican response to this assault – as laid out by Karl Rove – will be to localize elections as much as possible, while framing two national choices. We’re for tax cuts and growth; they’ll raise your taxes. We understand there’s a war on; they don’t get it and want to cut and run. Democrats should relish challenging Republicans on both of these core questions:
4.  An Economics that Works for America. To most Americans, Bush sounds out of touch as he touts the great economy. And Democrats should dramatize how these guys don’t get it. Profits are up, CEO salaries are up, but wages are not keeping up with prices. We have record budget deficits, unsustainable trade deficits. Good jobs are moving abroad. The tax cuts have created more jobs in China than here. In fact, the great bulk of jobs created here have come from the growth in state and local government jobs and the military buildup. We would be better off using some of the money Bush handed over to the wealthy to invest in areas like energy independence that are vital to our future, in good schools, in rebuilding New Orleans and in protecting our homeland. That would generate more jobs here and less debt in the future. Democrats should be calling for an economic strategy that empowers workers, and holds CEOs accountable. One that benefits companies that create jobs here, and revokes subsides for those who take jobs abroad. The party should put forth a trade strategy that will support good jobs here – not one that sits idly by while countries like China play by different set of rules.
5.  A Real Security Plan for America. Democratic strategists all intone the mantra that the party has to be “strong on security”. But the overwhelming base of Democratic voters opposes the war in Iraq, and has no desire to police the world. This often leaves Democrats tongue-tied or divided. And that is why, despite growing public disenchantment with the Iraq debacle, the White House will make it a centerpiece of the fall elections: “They want to cut and run; that will hand al Qaeda a victory and provide them with a base for terror.”
Many Democrats would prefer to duck: It’s the president’s problem; he should present us with a plan to win. No one really expects a legislator to provide the solution. But ducking is only likely to make Democrats look weak and irresponsible, playing politics with a basic security issue. Nor are the mock-tough postures once in vogue on the right of the party – urging more troops for Iraq or smarter tactics – likely to ring true given the growing civil stifle in Iraq.
Democratic candidates would be well-advised to level with Americans about the reality. There are no good choices. Withdrawing could leave a divided Iraq enmeshed in bloody civil strife. But staying only involves our soldiers in that strife. And it weakens America. It isolates us from our allies, provides al Qaeda with a training ground and a recruiting boon, rouses suspicion and hatred across the Moslem world, and distracts us from the real war on terror. We freed Iraqis of a brutal dictator, now we need to put Iraqis on notice that it is time for them to take responsibility and for our troops to come home over the course of the next year. By committing to keep them there until 2009, the president gives the Iraqis no incentive to step up. Accompany this with a real security agenda reviving collective alliances to hunt down the fanatics dedicated to global terrorism; common-sense measures to protect America, including inspecting all containers coming into our ports and demanding security plans for dangerous chemical and biological factories; and a pledge to appoint competent leaders to critical posts, not callow cronies who are not up to the task. A position stated with conviction will do much better than one that looks like it is poll driven.
Towards A Governing Majority
Democratic gains this fall in the wake of the conservative collapse should not mask how far the party is from consolidating a governing reform majority. As Karl Rove has discovered, this requires not simply skilled messaging and expert politics. Consolidating a governing majority requires a strategy that successfully addresses the fundamental challenges we face. Democrats have sensibly been unified in the face of the extreme project posed by Bush and the Republican Congress. But unity in opposition has come at the expense of defining clarity around proposition. We now witness the collapse of the conservative consensus that has dominated American politics over the last twenty-five years. Large challenges must be addressed, for example:
American strategy in the global economy. The conservative strategy of the last twenty-five years has left America the world’s largest debtor, borrowing from foreign creditors while shipping jobs, not goods, abroad. The Chinese are lending us the money to buy the goods they make with the jobs and technology our companies ship over to them. This year we will run a $1 trillion current account deficit. Everyone agrees this is not sustainable. Free trade nostrums provide no answer. Are Democrats the party of Main Street and providing American jobs, or the party of Wall Street and wage insurance for those who lose their jobs?
Globocop or neo-realist? Both parties have exulted America as the “indispensable nation”, vital to policing the globe. But this role is both unpopular and increasingly unaffordable. Are Democrats for sustaining the costs of America as the global policeman or, mugged by reality, are they prepared to argue for collective security and reduced military commitments while championing human rights and democracy with soft power, not bombs?
Growing inequality and the insecurity of the American middle class. Conservative economic policies have produced unprecedented inequality. Globalization, deregulation, privatization, corporate assaults on unions, and a decline in the social wage have put workers in a box, working longer and still falling behind. Are Democrats the party of the board room or the shop floor? The party of worker empowerment and corporate accountability or the party of deregulation?
Stark public investment and budget deficits. The turn under Bush from budget surpluses to record deficits has received extensive coverage. Less visible but more telling is the growing public investment deficit in areas vital to our future – modern communications, mass transit, basic infrastructure, affordable college, adequately paid teachers, affordable housing, and basic nutrition and health care to lift children from poverty. Core investments were slashed under Reagan, deferred under Bush and Clinton and now are coming under the knife again. Do Democrats prioritize investment or fiscal probity?
Higher walls or rising tides? Immigration will be a core issue by 2008. Democrats are the party of opportunity and inclusion. Will they be for building walls on the border to keep people out or opportunity across the border, so they will not want to come – or both? The former is more popular but less effective, and more likely to feed xenophobia and racism. The latter requires courage and creativity, but could be very costly politically. Do Democrats dare pose good sense against the furies?
These are only indicative of large choices that Democrats have to face if they are to build a ruling majority. Of course, Democrats have to win an election before we start worrying about governing. We have to stop the right from digging us deeper into the hole, while arguing about how we get out. But these and other fundamental questions will be answered – one way or another – before Democrats can hope to build a governing majority.


Swing Ideas, not Swing Voters

By Kenneth S. Baer and Andrei Cherny
At this spring’s exclusive Gridiron Dinner, Senator Barack Obama — according to reports, as the dinner is closed press – offered up a complaint common in Democratic circles. “You hear this constant refrain from our critics that Democrats don’t stand for anything. That’s really unfair,” he said, “We do stand for anything.” As they say in the Catskills, the line killed. But the problem it refers to has been killing Democrats for years.
Since the end of the Clinton years, the Democratic Party has been adrift – without a coherent agenda or public philosophy. According to a poll conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research earlier this year, only 29 percent of Americans believe that Democrats have a better sense than Republicans of what they stand for as a party (while 51 percent say that Republicans have a better sense than Democrats). As Stan Greenberg has put it, the American public believes Democrats have “no core set of convictions or point of view.”
Part of that is expected: when you lose the White House, a party loses a de facto leader who can impose message and ideological discipline. But there is more to it. The world has profoundly changed since President Clinton sat in the Oval Office: globalization has accelerated at a torrid pace as have the technological innovations fueling it, the country has become more diverse and more dispersed, changing family arrangements and workplace structures have deeply affected how people see the world, and the attacks of September 11th have brought to the surface a simmering war with radical Islamist terror.
Yet Democrats have not put forward a vision of where the country should go, where it should lead the world, and why. And absent that vision, no get-out-the-vote effort, re-messaging exercise, or charismatic candidate will help Democrats win the White House and, just as importantly, become a vibrant progressive force for years to come. That is why if Democrats want to win in 2008 and beyond, they must invest in the intellectual infrastructure that underpins a modern political movement. They need to develop coherent responses — rooted in the party’s deepest beliefs about democracy, liberty, equality, and justice — that respond to the new realities that America faces.
What Democrats cannot rely on are the explanations that have cropped up in the wake of the loss of the Senate in 2002 and the failure to win back the Presidency in 2004. These include the technological — witness the huge amount of money poured into the Democratic National Committee’s “Demzilla” database project, and now into the independent Democratic DataMart – but more often than not focus on the Democratic message. Here is a sampling:
1) All we need to do is retool our message – a quadrennial complaint that probably extends back to Thomas Jefferson’s loss to John Adams. This time this strategy has resurfaced under the rubric of “framing”, otherwise known as putting old wine in new bottles.
2) All we need to do is boil down our message to four phrases that have the same catchiness as the GOP’s “Smaller Government. Less taxes. Stronger Military. Family Values.”
3) All we need to do is figure out what goes on the bumper sticker. This produced a Democratic response to the 2006 State of the Union in which Virginia Governor Tim Kaine repeated the phrase “A Better Way” nine times in his short address – using the very same slogan which the Robert Redford movie “The Candidate” mocked as the essence of vapid, meaningless political rhetoric.
4) All we need to do is figure out “how to talk to” evangelical, gun-owning, Hispanic, exurban married couples in red states as if voters simply had merely not understood what we were saying.
Tactics and targeting, media and messaging – these are the ways we try to put lipstick on a party that does not know what it stands for. Democrats today are rich in strategies and poor in beliefs. Ask most Democrats what they believe in, and they will respond with a list of policies and programs, criticisms of Republican wrongs, or a series of painful stammers.
Right now, Democrats are like the fourth-generation that takes over the family firm: we have forgotten why we went into business in the first place. As a result, we spend most of the time fighting to protect the proud heritage of our past achievements from being destroyed, a necessary assignment in the current climate, but not sufficient to provide the roadmap to the future that America needs and that a great political party should provide.
Of course, Democrats have policies – by the truckload. But policies are not ideas – and anyone who tries to conflate the two is putting the cart before the horse. A policy is the “How?” An idea is the “What?” and the “Why?”. Social Security is a policy, one that has served the nation well. The notion that the federal government should mandate that Americans put money aside into a pool to ensure that seniors, widows, and orphans are not left to rot in poverty is a powerful idea, rooted in distinct beliefs about equality, justice, and the role of government in our economy.
Understanding what you believe and developing a view on how the world works and how it should are critical to the nuts-and-bolts of politics. That is to say that you cannot work on the bumper stickers or on talking to swing voters if you do not know what it is exactly you believe. Think of policy platforms, political slogans, and bumper stickers as the tips of icebergs. The ones that work are deceivingly simple but strong because underneath the surface is all the substance and weight that holds them up and that most people never see.
And therein lies the strength of the conservatives’ slogans. Their bumper sticker phrases were not cooked up in a focus group or decided by a central committee of Republican Party elders meeting in the wood-paneled boardroom of Dick Cheney’s secure undisclosed location. They were arrived at through years of vigorous debate and discussion by people who passionately held some core beliefs – and debated them with each other and the politicians seeking their support. They were unafraid to think big and unafraid to anger those who disagreed with them – including many voters.
And, most of all, conservatives had the institutions in which to float the fanciful idea and debate it — not just think tanks and academic institutes, but also idea journals such as The Public Interest and Policy Review. In fact, almost every signature idea that we associate with the modern Republican Party – from supply-side economics to pre-emption and Social Security privatization – was incubated in one of these journals years ago. It doesn’t change the fact that these policies are wrong-headed, but we cannot deny that underneath them is a well developed public philosophy.
Election Day is when the Republicans reap the rewards of this intellectual spadework. When George W. Bush, Bob Dole, or any other mainstream Republican is chosen as their party’s nominee, they get placed on top of a pyramid of thinking that has been developed far in advance of their first visits to New Hampshire. It was not George W. Bush’s campaign, for instance, that developed the theory of compassionate conservatism; that was done by Marvin Olasky and others before. Bush, characteristically, inherited the work that others had sowed in the intellectual vineyards. Democrats, on the other hand, tell their candidates to go into the fields and plant their own ideas six months before the first primary. As we have seen in campaign after campaign, what ends up happening is that candidates lapse into the default position: what does everyone else say or what does the most powerful interest group want.
To help Democratic candidates win and to revive the progressive movement, Democrats need to invest in ideas – and in the think tanks and journals that incubate them. They need to recognize the importance of investing in the development of a coherent public philosophy not just for its electoral implications (of which there are many), but because when a party lacks a viewpoint on the type of nation and world it seeks, then it loses its raison d’etre.
While winning elections is the ultimate goal for any political party and the way to affect real change, Democrats need to shed their compulsion for the transactional. Currently, candidates are selected by Party committees on the basis of their bankroll rather than their experience. Primary voters sometimes seem more concerned with that elusive quality of “electability” than with the old-fashioned notion of ability. Policies and ideas seem to be discussed by Party insiders almost exclusively in the context of which voters they would appeal to instead of what impact they would have on the nation and the world. What does it profit a political party to win an election and lose its soul?
Instead of another round of discussion over who are our swing voters, Democrats need a real debate over what are our “swing ideas”: the big notions that will remake the political landscape as surely as Republican ideas have over the past generation. To do that, we need to get back to first principles, thinking deeply about the world we want to build and how we will do it. Once we do this, we will be able to build a Democratic Party that strides boldly into this new century confident about who we are and where we are headed. That is a Democratic Party that will win again – and one that will be ready to change America for the better.
Kenneth S. Baer and Andrei Cherny are the founding editors of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, www.DemocracyJournal.org.


Replacing the Battleground Mentality with the Mapchanger Attitude in the Democratic Party

By Jerome Armstrong
Ten years from now, the Democratic Party will have fully broadened its election strategy beyond the battleground mentality that dominates strategic thinking today. Democrats will be a national party, leaving no uncontested race anywhere in the nation, and will have rebuilt a party infrastructure down to the precinct everywhere in the nation. The Democrats will have regained their majority status as the governing party, and the mapchanger approach to elections will have been the reason.
The notion of “running Democrats everywhere” seems fanciful (to put it nicely) to DC beltway insiders and veteran political strategists. At the Presidential level, those strategists that subscribe to the beltway mentality believe that Democrats should forget about half the states, and focus all of our resources on trying to win a bare majority of electoral votes.
As the Democratic Party shrinks from a national party into a regional stronghold, the battleground also shrinks further and further. In the 1992 and the 1996 Presidential elections, with three candidates in the race, as many as 30 states were viewed as competitive battleground contests up through Election Day. In 2000, that number dropped to just 17 by Election Day. In 2004, the number of contested states early in the presidential contest stood at 18, and was whittled down to about eight by Election Day.
The battleground strategy – or more accurately obsession – that the Democratic establishment in DC pursues of narrowing electoral campaigns to ever shrinking “swing states” is self-defeating. It does not build any new converts to the party, it makes it easier for the Republicans to walk away with huge chunks of the country unchallenged and it starves the Democratic Parties in those “red” states.
At the congressional level the focus is on trying to win just enough seats to win back the majority. This incremental notion is exactly why the Democratic Party has not been able to reclaim a majority on the House side of Congress since losing control over a decade earlier. Every two years, since 1994, the congressional strategists mark out the 10 or 20 seats representing the best opportunity to win back bare control of the House, make a minimal show in 10 or 20 more, and cede the remaining GOP seats to Republican control-without even a party-supported oppositional candidate.
Those strategists have argued that they simply do not have the money and resources to fight on a broader front, and it is true – the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was outspent by its Republican counterpart $186 million to $93 million in the 2004 cycle.i Yet, the party must have a better approach than narrowing its efforts only to the districts it sees as “winnable”. That may serve the short-term interest of trying for a slim majority in the House, but it completely ignores the long-term interest of acting, behaving and campaigning as a truly national political party.
As blogger Chris Bowers of MyDD noted November 5, 2004:

Abandoning a district also has repercussions for future elections. Failing to challenge your opponent’s message in an area is damaging to your message in that area in the future. Failing to provide a choice to those willing to support you – and there are always tens of thousands willing to support you in any congressional district – sends a message that you do not represent or care about those people. Even worse, failing to challenge an incumbent sends a message that you are afraid of your own beliefs and that you are not working to make this country a better Democracy.
Running a candidate in each of these districts would also have helped to identify Democratic activists in each of these districts. Identifying, encouraging, and assisting potential Dem[ocratic] activists throughout the entire country would help to strengthen the Party, both now and in future elections cycles. These are the people who can help to bring the Democratic message to every corner of the country.ii

The battleground mentality is cautious and narrow, and it plays to the Republican strong hand. The Republicans realize exactly which races are the battlegrounds, and focus all of their resources in kind, on the same races. This allows the party with the stronger array of resources to have the upper hand, and that is the Republican Party, which has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into new media, machine politics and database inventories that give them superior voter targeting capabilities.
In contrast, the mapchanger attitude urges an aggressive and broad challenge to Republicans. It provides the national party with the best opportunity to utilize the tens of thousands of grassroots activists in every state and congressional district. The power of people becomes the strongest resource and gives the national Party the ability to pour resources into those states or districts that become surprisingly contested.
Further, the battleground mentality leaves half the country without a contest of ideas. We abandon progressives in rural areas of the country and let Republicans rule there, without even a contest-and those Republican incumbents then go out and raise money for Republican challengers in contested races.
Challenging Republicans in “deep red” districts would force Republican incumbents to spend a great deal of time and money defending their seats instead of campaigning for other Republicans and donating to their campaigns. Walter Ludwig’s Project 90, which encourages Democratic candidates to run in “red” Congressional districts, found that

between 2000-2004, Democrats failed to compete or barely challenge in over a quarter of U.S. House races, and the Republican incumbents in those districts contributed over $60 [million] to their colleagues in closer races.iii

Activist bloggers do not advocate that the people wait for the Democratic Party strategists in DC to adopt the mapchanger strategy. The Republican Party has become an election machine. The Democratic establishment, while they believed they were the party of governance, wasted hundreds of millions of dollars while ignoring what the Republicans have been building.
Instead, Democratic Party officials and politicians have been under the powerful sway of a cabal of media and polling consultants in DC, whose principle contribution seems to be an extension of this battleground mentality into decisions over campaign expenditures, advocating that the majority of funds be spent on polling and media in a strategic manner that rewards their services with increased profits.
Even for this upcoming cycle, all of the Democratic candidates in big races are going with inside-the-beltway media consultants whose best practices remain entrenched within a conflict-of-interest approach. It is a fact that consumer businesses no longer receive commissions based on the amount of advertising that is done-that racket only remains in DC (particularly on the Democratic side). And if you look closely at what media consultants are doing, they are really only project-managing the task of creating television commercials. That is, they will usually outsource the creation and the placement of the ad, and thus are merely the middleman for the politicians. As project managers, they should be paid a set monthly fee, not commissions without end that sometimes reach into the millions. The Democratic Party and its candidates who are participating in this scam are ripping off people that are contributing through donations.
For beltway outsiders to take more of the duties of the Democratic Party apparatus is really the only option that seems to be available. Waiting for those tired and defeated Democratic consultants to “get it” means remaining in the political wilderness beyond the next decade.
The netroots and grassroots progressive community should begin to take matters into its own hands. It is time to go beyond merely collectively grouping hundreds of thousands of dollars and pushing it toward candidates and consultants that perform business as usual. Building a progressive movement is going to take more than that sort of hit-and-run attitude of activism. We should be creating institutions that effectively spend the dollars raised for campaigns, rather than relying on the establishment channels.
In order to begin the mapchanger process, and really reform the Democratic Party, progressives must organize online in a manner that takes control of the Democratic Party at the precinct level. This ‘trickle up’ strategy will yield results by creating a state-based power that dictates the party strategy from within the Democratic Party establishment.
Yes, the Democratic Party has a problem with branding. Yet if we can rebuild the party across the country, at this very local level, the message and branding problems will be much easier to address. They are certainly not going to be solved within DC. In fact, in many ways, the debate over strategy and tactics versus ideas and principles is a false one. The election strategies that a party puts into practice reflect its values. A national party cannot, through a slogan, say they are putting people first, and then in the next election blow off half the people of the nation.
No matter how you look at it, challenging Republicans in all races and all geographic areas is a good idea – it builds the Democratic Party’s brand, it exhausts the Republicans’ resources and it sows the seeds for future Democratic wins.

iCenter for Responsive Politics, Open Secrets web site, www.opensecrets.org. Accessed 4/13/2006.
iiChris Bowers, “Uncontested,” http://www.mydd.com/story/2004/11/5/115834/784, as quoted in Crashing The Gate (White River Jct., VT: Chelsea Green, 2006) 157.
iiiWalter Ludwig, as quoted in Crashing The Gate (White River Jct., VT: Chelsea Green, 2006) 158. (Ludwig’s Project 90 document is available from him personally.)


The Party of Prosperity?
In the age of globalization, what’s a Democrat to do?

By Harold Meyerson
We live in a time when there’s no such thing as purely good economic news. When the GDP surges – as it did by 4.8 percent in the first quarter of this year – something always lags behind, and that something is almost always the income of ordinary Americans. In that same first quarter, for instance, worker compensation rose by just 2.4 percent – half the rate (4.8 percent) by which inflation grew.
Save for the wealthiest of our countrymen, we are all of us laggards. The American economy booms; the American people are left behind. Once upon a time, in the period of great post-World War Two prosperity, median income rose at precisely the same rate as productivity (both increased by 104 percent between 1947 and 1973). Since then, however, productivity gains have outstripped the average American’s income by a rate of three-to-one, and in recent years, by eight-to-one. As Northwestern University economists Ian Dew-Becker and Robert Gordon have demonstrated, over the past couple of decades, all the income from productivity gains has gone to the wealthiest ten percent of Americans.
One economy vanisheth, another – a meaner one – taketh its place. GM and Ford announce they will close roughly 30 factories, while the median wage for newer hires among such industrial powerhouses as Caterpillar Tractor is now half that of their veteran workers. Or, to depress ourselves further, consider a survey of the nation’s 361 metropolitan areas, which account for 86 percent of the nation’s GDP. It found that the average wage of jobs lost in the recession of 2001-2003 was $43,629, while the average wage of jobs created in 2004-2005 was $34,378 – a cozy 21 percent decline.
Worse yet, it’s no longer clear that one of the lines that Bill Clinton frequently used in his 1992 campaign – “What you earn will be the result of what you learn” – is even remotely true, now that so much highly-skilled work can be sent electronically. Last year, economists J. Bradford Jensen of the Institute for International Economics and Lori Kletzer of the University of California at Santa Cruz concluded that within the service sector, it’s skilled workers in general and scientists, mathematicians, and engineers in particular who are susceptible to having their jobs off-shored. Indeed, over the past half-decade, the United States has generated just 70,000 new jobs in engineering and architecture. In such an economy, sending more people to college, while a social good in itself, may not prove an economic panacea. In 2002, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has concluded, 26.9 percent of all jobs in the U.S. required college degrees; by 2012, that will rise to 27.9 percent – one measly point.
The middle is falling out of the American economy. Globalization, immigration, de-unionization, the decline of manufacturing, and the rise of a financial sector and culture enamored solely of shareholder value have combined to imperil one of America’s defining achievements – the creation of the world’s first majority middle-class economy. At the same time, they have also combined to negate virtually all our theories about how to create mass prosperity. Oh, there are things the Democrats could do in power that would have very positive effects. Nationalized health insurance would take a major burden off employers with older work forces and enable them to compete on a more level playing field with foreign companies whose health care costs are picked up by their governments. The minimum wage could be raised and indexed. Labor laws could be amended so that workers could feel free again to join unions without fear of firing.
But none of these changes would basically alter the DNA of American financial and corporate institutions, which ceaselessly impels them to disaggregate firms, out-source work, and find the cheapest labor in a world brimming with cheap labor. In such a world, generating broadly shared prosperity amounts to squaring a circle.
This is a crisis for the nation, and it is a particular crisis, and challenge, for Democrats and liberals. At bottom, the Democrats – and parties of the left and center-left across the planet – are parties of broadly shared prosperity. Since the days of Jefferson and Jackson, that has been the one defining attribute the Democrats have largely clung to (though there have been periods – the presidency of Grover Cleveland, for instance – when they have happily dropped it).
Today, there’s not a political tendency on the planet that has much in the way of plausible notions as to how to preserve mass prosperity in the advanced economies in the face of the new global realities. The long-term political consequences of this dilemma, however, may not be equally distributed among all political tendencies. The alternative to a politics of economic advancement is often a politics of social and cultural resentment. The steadily declining income of white working-class males over the past several decades, for instance, correlates to their increasingly rightwing voting habits. We may not be able to prove that correlation is causal, but I doubt it’s entirely coincidental.
In any given election, the inability to lay out a plausible scenario for renewing mass prosperity is not likely to leap out as the Democrats’ most glaring deficiency – particularly since the Democrats’ economics both are and are seen to be more friendly to the ordinary American than the Republicans’. But the objective reality of downward mobility, of the vanishing of an entire stratum of secure, middle-income jobs, creates a volatile political terrain on which nationalist, immigrant-bashing, union-hating demagogues may thrive. If Democrats can not assure broadly shared prosperity, a floodgate of reaction will at some point likely burst.
What, then, should the Democrats be advocating? I have three suggestions, in ascending order of difficulty.
First, when they retake power, the one action that could most strengthen their base, politically and economically, would be to enact the Employees’ Free Choice Act, which would enable workers to join unions without fear of firing. The new Change To Win Federation estimates that there are 44 million non-union private-sector jobs in such non-off-shorable sectors as construction, hospitality, transportation and health care. Over time, the EFCA could lead to the betterment of low-wage service sector jobs, just as the Wagner Act transformed over time the economic life of America’s industrial workers.
Second, they need to revive the idea of industrial policy. In such proposals as the Apollo Project (backed by unions and environmentalists), which would create tax credits for businesses that retrofit and become otherwise more efficient; or the consortium of Midwestern states (proposed by political scientist Joel Rogers and economist Dan Luria) that would improve the infrastructure of and give benefits to firms that in-source their supplies from the Midwestern region; or Barack Obama’s bill in which the government assumes some of the auto companies’ health care costs so long as they invest their savings in hybrid technology, we see a movement to shore up the nation’s industrial sector. The nation and the Democrats would profit by more such movement.
Finally, and here we move from the difficult to what may be the near-impossible, the Democrats need to disenthrall themselves from many of the values and mindsets of the financial community. They need more Eliott Spitzers and Phil Angelideses to ride herd on corporate abuses and to invest public funds with an eye to social responsibility. More sweepingly, they need to make corporate and financial institutions answerable not just to shareholders and top management, but to their employees and communities as well. Doing that will take a reform and redefinition of corporate power at least as sweeping as that of the New Deal. Given the increasingly dominant role of finance in filling the party’s coffers (the Rockefeller Republicans are all Democrats now), and in defining the party’s “responsible” economics, this will be anything but easy. But the grim reality is that in the age of globalization, American capitalism as currently practiced is eroding mass prosperity in the nation as a whole. In that contest, Democrats’ allegiance must be to their nation.