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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ruy Teixeira’s Donkey Rising

For God’s Sake, Will You Kids Quit Fighting?

Reading the paper Thursday morning, DR was struck by a couple of articles. In the Washington Post, there was an article about the “Take Back America” conference that highlighted Wes Boyd and MovingOn.org (see yesterday’s post) and characterized the rest of the conference as a call to liberals to loudly assert their values against those in the party (read the DLC) who would sell them out.
That is probably the way the conference comes across–a few neat ideas and whole lot of internecine Democratic warfare. That’s a shame.
The other article was in the the New York Times and covered the emergence of a new think tank led by John Podesta and dedicated to battling Bush and the conservatives. Podesta characterizes the new organization as specifically not being involved in internecine Democratic squabbles and focused instead on combatting the Republican agenda.
I don’t know about you, but DR knows which article he found more encouraging.
DR did return to the “Take Back America” conference today and–alas–cannot report that it got all that better. As DR and an old progressive friend discussed at one point, if you wanted to know how the Dems can take Arizona in ’04–or other similarly practical questions–this was not the place. Less rallies and more concrete strategy was the verdict of many in the halls.
DR did see candidate John Kerry speak….and he was fine. That was the problem. There was nothing wrong with what he said….but nothing particularly right either. Kerry just hasn’t found a way to deliver his message in a distinctive way. It’s all too carefully parsed.
Then again, DR isn’t crazy about the rest of the field either. Kerry could potentially break away from the rest of the pack if he’d put his chips on something distinctive to sell besides his resume and military experience. For now, though, he seems to be languishing. See the rundown in the Daily Kos for a pretty good sense of how he’s faring.


A Day in Liberal-Land

DR spent the day at the Campaign for America’s Future “Take Back America” conference. It was both heartening and disheartening. Heartening, because there was excellent attendance and a high level of energy; disheartening because there was a dearth of new ideas and serious engagement with the strategic difficulties currently faced by Democrats and all progressives. If all that was necessary was to insist loudly on the viability of progressive ideas, we would be in pretty good shape. Unfortunately, the Bushies are a much tougher opponent and it will take a great deal more than pumping up the troops to beat them.
Wes Boyd of MovingOn was a breath of fresh air, since their internet-based organizing strategy is something new that has been genuinely effective. It’s not the answer by itself but it’s the kind of thinking and aggressive experimentation the progressive side of the spectrum needs more of. But most of the speeches were pretty much the same old same old, denouncing the usual bad guys and praising the usual good guys and causes. That’s fine, but I’m looking for more. DR wants to know how to win.
Well, perhaps that’s what we’ll learn on the second day of the conference….and we’ll also have the Presidential candidates’ speeches. DR will be back with a report tomorrow.


Introducing Donkey Rising

Welcome to Donkey Rising, a political blog devoted to advancing the cause of the emerging Democratic majority. That doesn’t mean a lot of rah-rah cheerleading. On the contrary, DR will strive to be fact-based, continuously reporting on public opinion, voting and demographic trends and trying to make sense of them. And DR will be hard-hitting in its criticism of those–even within our own ranks–who aren’t really helping the cause or are just generally clueless.
DR, of course, will monitor political events and dissect the commentary about them, in time-honored blog fashion. But we’ll also try to do a bit more, by putting these events, and the commentary on them, in a longer-term context. We’ll always be coming back to fundamental strategic questions about how to overcome current obstacles and build the new Democratic majority.
Take, for example, the evolving debate among Democratic Presidential candidates about the best way to address the health care issue. Gephardt has an ambitious plan to move toward universal health care. But is it the right plan? Are any of the other candidates’ plans any better? Is health care even the right issue for candidates to be focusing on? DR is amazed, for example, that none of the major candidates seem to have much to say about education, where the Republicans have now disgraced themselves by presiding over federal and state budget cutbacks. Indeed, education is an area where the terrain has shifted dramatically in the Democrats’ favor.
After all, when Bush came into office, Democrats had no advantage at all on the education issue, a situation that continued through the passage of the No Child Left Behind act in early 2002. But ever since then, the public has been moving the Democrats’ way. They want education well-funded and improved in this country and, increasingly, they don’t trust the Republicans to do it. Beyond mandating tough standards, the GOP just doesn’t seem to have much of a program for the public schools. How are schools to meet these mandated tough standards, especially schools with disadvantaged students? And how are schools going to provide smaller class size and better teachers? Maintain and modernize school buildings? Provide pre-school and after-school? The Bushies just don’t seem to care, as they merrily cut taxes, slash education funding and watch states’ budgets–primarily responsible for public school support–crash and burn. The contours of this situation are fairly clear to the public, which is why they’re moving toward the Democrats on the issue.
But are the Democrats moving toward them? That’s less clear. So far, the focus seems to be on health care–a hugely complicated, hugely expensive issue, that sucks up political oxygen, not to mention budgetary room, and makes it hard for Presidential candidates to advocate investment in anything else without seeming completely profligate. Yet, in open-ended poll questions asking people what their most important issues are, education typically out-polls health care. DR says that’s a result worth pondering, as Democrats look toward ’04 and the issues with which they want to be identified.