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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Another Sign of Party Unity

A month ago, I remarked on how Kerry’s candidacy seemed to have the potential to unite all wings of the party, including its traditionally feuding New Democrat and liberal wings. Since then we have indeed seen much closing of the ranks among Democrats, including in the polls, where Kerry is losing very few Democrats to Bush. Here’s another sign of that emerging Democratic unity: two op-eds in The New York Times today, one by Stan Greenberg, associated with the liberal wing of the party and one by Bruce Reed, president of the DLC.
And here’s the shocker: they didn’t attack each other or their respective wings of the party in any way! Instead, Greenberg recommends that Kerry not counter the Republicans’ narrow culture war strategy with an equally narrow class war strategy of his own, but rather with an expansive John F. Kennedy-style vision of an opportunity society that works for all Americans. I agree! And Reed recommends that Kerry swipe Bush’s “reformer with results” label, since Bush has compiled an abysmal record as a reformer (from education to domestic security), while Kerry has shown a solid commitment to reform throughout his Senate career. I agree!
Of course, putting these insights together presents some problems–“reformer with results for the opportunity society” seems a bit long for a bumper sticker. But it’s nice to see Democrats from formerly warring factions of the party concentrating on strategy against the Republicans rather than why the other side of their own party is wrong.

22 comments on “Another Sign of Party Unity

  1. Chad Robinson on

    By “more conservative” i basically mean “less idealistic.” Serious liberalism requires a certain amount ov naive optimism… and that has a tendency to dissipate as you get older.
    The example I take from my personal cicle of friends is not to say “as we get older we turn Republican” but more along the lines of “10 years ago I would rather have strangled myself than vote for so big a jackass as Kerry.” However, reality dictates that you cannot hope and pray for a magical, useful left-wing party in this country: it will not happen in our lifetime, and maybe not ever. That’s a horrible fate to visit on America: the endless blood feud of two equally corrupt and increasingly disinterested political monoliths, lying to America into perpetuity to support nothing more honorable then their own hold on the reigns of power. But that’s the reality of the situation (and it really is. There are good people in the democratic party, and the GOP as well. But they only marginally offset the herds of empty-spirited power brokers concerned almost entirely with their own political welfare. I put Kerry into the power-broker camp, by the by). So the older me realizes that supporting the less dangerous of two bad choices is the best course, if as it seems these two choices are all I have.
    So maybe saying “more conservative” is not quite right. Less antagonistically, unyieldingly, blindly liberal.

  2. Peter on

    Chad, I think you’re right about young voters. Not to mention that many young voters I know who vote only vote Republican.
    When you say you and your friends are getting more moderate as you grow older, what do you mean? Sadly, today when GOP says that people become more “conservative” as they age, they mean more anti-gay and anti-freedom. I remember a few months ago when one of their sites said that once couples have children they become pro-life and anti-gay because they don’t want to kill babies or hang around with people who would support killing babies (I guess they’ve never heard of any pro-life gays).

  3. Chad Robinson on

    Hm. I think you’re actually grasping at the very straws you’re accusing me of reaching for: the undecideds in Iowa broke at the last minute, not the last month! Had we seen some kind of large movement towards Kerry in the weeks leading up to the caucuses, then you would be right and I would be the unfortunate moron of your inelegant insenuations. But they broke towards Kerry exceedingly late in the game. And I seem to recall the same happening in N.H. (though I cannot recall for sure).
    But by way of extending an olive branch: it really doesn’t matter. You’re guy won, mine lost. So I’ll vote against Bush instead of for the Dem. Kerry gets my vote, cash and time in a swing state driving old people around either way. Of course I have to hold my nose, but liberals have done that every four years for as long as I’ve been alive (excepting Carter, God bless him). If we manage to send Bush crying home to Texas come election day, then the party i will throw for No More Bush is every bit as big as the one I woulda thrown for President Edwards. Beating Bush is all I expect from Kerry, so as long as he does that, I won’t be disappointed. My concern is that the rest of the country wants more from him than just sitting around being Not Dubya. And, frankly, I doubt he can manage much more than that. But on that point, I willingly concede that I am a terrible judge of character (and a sinner, and a goof off). Here’s hoping.

  4. BrilliantIdiot on

    Chad, you fail to understand that the months preceding Kerry’s rise in the polls are meaningless, as nearly all voters pay little or no attention to the nominating contest more than a month or two out.
    This is the way elections always are. I assume you believe that poll numbers 2,3,4 months out are very meaningful – they are not, especially in a primary. Undecideds breaking late? Happens very frequently. I’m guessing you’re looking for evidence to support your conclusion, rather than understanding this is a fairly typical set of voter reactions to a campaign. Voters tuning in late is a very old story, as is the formation of opinions early on based almost solely on news coverage (eg June-Dec Dean=hot, Kerry=finished.)
    It’s a fundamental mistake to assume that regular folks have the level of interest and obsession to closely follow a race and parse policy details at all – let alone months ahead of election day.

  5. Chad Robinson on

    I have no doubt that the party is and — barring an incredible screw-up by Kerry or his team — will remain unified going into November. Additionally, liberal independents will march alongside Democrats so long as Kerry can keep from completely alienating them (e.g. so long as he doesnt do anything patently asinine like decide to support Bush’s new God Hates Fags Ammendment or promise to invade Canada or something).
    It’s the moderate and Republican-leaning independents that I worry about. These are the people who may prove pivotal in states like New Hampshire, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. They have shown themselves willing to come out and vote in the Democratic primary, but their allegiance is neither to the Dems as a party, nor to any platform shepherded or protected under Democratic aegis (e.g. about every liberal or New Deal cause currently on the books). Party loyalty, anti-Bush sentiment and left-identified causes are what are currently making for such a united front against the President right now, NOT the strength of Kerry as a candidate… and our lead in some of the must-have states is either soft or within the margin of error; AND we’ve still got 8 months and Karl Rove’s 150 million dollar warchest between us and November.
    Can this weird Ghost of Hoover coalition maintain itself that long? I don’t know… but I have a terrible feeling that if the Democrats decide that the current polls are reflective primarily of their candidate, then they are going to get themselves proven entirely wrong. The Democrats, I think, need to keep the pressure on Bush, and the spotlight focused on his terrible leadership, moreso than on Kerry’s presumed strength. And getting a charismatic and attractive VP couldn’t hurt either to be honest. So this means beat the GOP on their medicare bill, their deficit, their tax breaks on the rich, their gerrymandering, the Valerie Plame investigation, etcetera etcetera. In fact, it might be better to focus on the GOP as a whole than on Bush, who many Americans really like as a person. Rather than trying to villify the man, or assert that John Kerry (who has less gravitas than even Gore) is somehow more cool, concentrate on the failure of the GOP as a whole, and paint Bush as the likeable-but-inept CEO of a failed GOP Inc.

  6. Sara on

    I would suggest two factors governed voter choices in primary-caucus processes. First of all, they wanted someone who could win — electable if you will, and a very significant number of voters stayed uncommitted or lightly committed as they watched the early process play out — looking for that “electable” quality. While I don’t have polling evidence, I’ve talked to a couple of phone bank managers working for the party and for different cancicates, and “lite committment” to particular candidates was extremely common this year. Apparently many voters had sorted the field and had two or three acceptable candidates, and were following all of them carefully.
    Apparently many Democratic primary voters and caucus goes began to focus on the field somewhat earlier than they normally would. It wasn’t that they picked a candidate early on — but they started the process of elimination or differentiation — and then held off firming up a choice till late in the process. Personal and organizational endorsements apparently meant less than they normally do — people who were calling labor lists did not find a huge swing, for instance, following an endorsement in an earlier primary.
    What this adds up to is an understanding of why it will be reasonably easy for Kerry to unite those who early on supported or were interested in another candidate. Voters “punished” both Gephardt and Dean for going negative on each other in Iowa — that was not what they wanted to know. Instead, they wanted the best anti-Bush warrior, and instinctively knew that inside the party wars were counterproductive.
    This actually puts a very interesting responsibility on Kerry, because he didn’t win this by going after the love, the hearts and minds of the party — he won it because of a conclusion he could develop and deliver the best case against Bush & Co. I am not all that sure Democrats wanted a “lovable” candidate this year — they had more of a model of tough leadership in mind.

  7. BrilliantIdiot on

    In politics, the test of a winner is winning. Denying Kerry any credit for winning the nomination is completely absurd and founded solely in bitterness. And when a politician loses badly, there’s just no doubt that it had to be largely his or her own fault. There are no exceptions. Similarly, the Yankees were not the best baseball team last year. There is no argument.
    And Chad’s “objective” evaluation of Kerry’s personal qualities is laughable; he’s far more popular among D’s than he think – just not the kind of Democrats he seems to know. This is a broad *coalition.* Millions of people, millions of viewpoints. What’s next for this type of thinking among the commenters on this website, accusing Ruy of not understanding statistics and polling?

  8. Peter on

    Dole was a far more prominent figure in the GOP than Kerry ever was for the Democrats. Kerry is also running against a less popular and more vulnerable (hopefully) President.
    At any rate, I think that Chad makes some valid points, and if you’re still here Chad, thank you for your gutsiness. Just because we support Kerry does not mean we all disagree with your position. The only thing I disagree with is your criticism of this blog. The RNC have tons and tons of cheerleaders; why shouldn’t we have one? I see this site as a dose of adrenaline and hope. After the past 4 years, many of us need one.

  9. megapotamus on

    Kerry’s trajectory, to me, suggests no parallel more than Bob Dole, another guy who got nominated, basically because he had served his time as a party man. Good luck with that one.

  10. Skip Perry on

    All I have to say is enjoy this unity while it lasts. If Kerry indeed becomes president, some wing of the party will inevitably be ignored; their 100% support of Kerry will make them that much more pissed off when he does something they don’t like.

  11. Chad Robinson on

    I actually saw nothing resembling stamina in the run-up to Iowa. Gephardt beat Dean to death (while beating himself to death in the process), Clark skipped out and Edwards presented too much of an unknown quantity. So the electorate (which was, remember, mostly undecided right up to the end — not exactly a ringing endorsement) went with the known quantity.
    After that, the media wouldn’t stop kicking Dean, and Gephardt’s murder-suicide proved to be exactly that. Clark did nothing but undermine Edwards, and Edwards in turn lacked the financial resources to capitalize on his charisma. That’s a simplification, of course, but the essential points are there.
    Kerry didn’t win, he un-lost. Look at his ridiculous and humiliating pre-Iowa shenanigans: riding a motorcycle to show up late to a rally (message: I’m a loner, Dotty. A rebel), swearing in that stupid Rolling Stone interview (message: I’m a loner, Dotty. A rebel)… while everyone else was trying to stay on message, Kerry (lacking a message) was trying cheap stunts to garner media attention.
    That’s not stamina. There are words to describe it, but none of them are fit for polite company.
    And regarding his Massachusetts showing, he did pretty bad last time, and IIRC, no one was even RUNNING against him. I love Massachusetts for, if nothing else, giving us Ted Kennedy. Say what you will about him as a person, but Kennedy is a hero in the Senate. Kerry has never shown Teddy’s level of courage in politics.
    No, I’ll stick by my Dukakis assertion. And I will remind the DNC not to allow Kerry anywhere NEAR a tank while there are camera’s in view, or the whole world will rapidly come to agree with me on that.
    I hope to God that Kerry wins. I am so sick of the Bush administration that I don’t know what to do with myself. So here I am, and I’ll donate money (to House or Senate candidates) and time (to House and Senate candidates), and come election day I will be in some swing state with a van rented at my own expense shuttling democrats to the polls (AND ALL OF YOU SHOULD BE DOING THE SAME) but it is only to end the Bush administration. Kerry is, as I have said, the model Democrat: he lacks vision, gravitas, a model for a future America, and anything remotely resembling leadership. All of this would be totally unacceptable except for one thing: America has a vast store of innovation, and, minus the morally bankrupt leadership of the current GOP power structure, it will steer itself well enough until we can get someone with heart in office.

  12. Paul C on

    I was going to write a spirited and slightly angry defense of Kerry, but I think I can sum it up by borrowing a phrase from Winston Churchill “Kerry is the worst possible candidate for us to nominate — except for all the others.”
    I would, however, like to take issue with one item that Chad raised. He stated that Kerry was Dukakis 2.0, with “no stamina.” Whether you like anything else about him or not, Kerry has always been a good campaigner who got better and better as the campaign went on. Rather than having “no stamina” he is a strong closer. I have seen him do this repeatedly in Massachusetts, in both primaries and general elections. The Senate race against Bill Weld was a terific example. And look what he did in Iowa. As I said, you can like him, dislike him, hold your nose and vote for him — whatever. But you have to give him his props — he finishes campaigns in a very strong fashion.

  13. laura on

    Actually i think that people on this blog do read each other’s posts carefully.
    I am afraid that Kerry might not have a strong positive vision for us to unite behind. he is a borrower of other people’s agendas, Dean’s for example. But he has been showing signs of fight which give me hope.
    Democrats need to attack, not just react. And we need to present an alternative to, not just a critique of Bush’s neocon agenda.
    i wish kerry would say something like this: Dear fellow Americans, we are facing along with everyone else on this planet a period of growth and change unlike anything mankind has ever faced before. BGlobal warming is going to change our econmy and the politics of every country including ours. There will be an increase, not a decrease in terrorism. We need to unite so we can deal with change effectively. First of all we need to keep our values and not be frightened into a betrayal of our own principles ( get rid of Patriot Act.) We need to recognize the limits of military force. We can’t fight a war against terrorism, we can only defend our own borders. We need to invest our money in the future of our economy and in the future of the economies of other countries since the poverty of the rest of the world impoverishes us.. We need friends and allies. etc,
    We need some one who will tell us the truth about the enormous difficulties we are facing. Kerry won’t do it. Of course he’s a vast improvement over Bush and i will do everything i can to get him elected but he is not the forceful visionary we need now.

  14. Chad Robinson on

    Kerry hasn’t united anyone. No one I know is even remotely fond of the guy… he doesnt seem to have any positions at all except what he could pilfer from the other candidates and his strong support, as all politicians share, for puppydogs and kittens and a valiant stand against Nazi’s and Satanism. Or whatever.
    George W. Bush has united the Democratic party, and I guarantee you that Edwards or Gephardt, or even Clark would have garnered the exact same level of support. And I think all of the other serious candidates had more potential to actually fight Bush rather than say he is capable of fighting Bush.
    Personally, I think the guy is Dukakis 2.0. Another wishy-washy would-be contender with no charisma and less stamina. He didn’t win the primary, he rolled over and died and kept saying “vietnam vet” until the democratic electorate, terrified of another 4 years of this President (and increasingly mindful of the “GOP is strong on Defence” nonsense), rolled over and backed the least-controversial of the available options under the nebulous rubrik of “electability”. Kerry owes his current status to 9/11 much more than Bush does.
    Anyway, this is all by way of saying that I wish the party establishment wouldn’t act like we’d just nominated Jesus; and I especially wish that you would refrain from acting like our other options were somehow worse. I struggled intensely before eventually settling on Edwards (watched all of the debates, read all of the position papers, talked with family and friends) and, while I am used to liberals like myself being alienated by a party who doesn’t really want us (but after all, who else are we going to vote for, right?) I think our opinions are worth more than the dismissive attitude which your blog, and many other establishment outfits, have seen fit to heap upon us. Kerry is a terrible choice, but we will all back him like we would have backed any of them because the alternative is still worse.
    What this country needs is leadership. That’s a tough concept to pin down in writing, but people certainly know it when they see it. Bush has it (albeit in ENTIRELY the wrong direction) and the Democrats currently lack any such thing. And it’s a crying shame… Bush is ripe for defeat, he combines the worst aspects of Hoover and Nixon, with the right-wing appeal of Reagan. This should be a no-brainer, and yet the Democrats *still* cannot manage to dig someone out of the party with the capacity to make this anything other than a long, drawn out fight and a close election.
    And we, as Democrats, should be ashamed of ourselves for not having anyone better to run against this administration. If Bush loses (and that is a BIG “if” regardless of what the party apparatchik might be filling our heads with right now in order to fire up the troops) it will be only because Bush was proven less deserving, not because Kerry — or the Democrats in general — were proved to be greater or more worthy of our support.
    I know that on a blog like this, the odds of getting anyone to even read this far down approach zero, but at some point in the very near future the party really is going to have to sit down and have a long think about where, exactly, the democrats want to go, and how those goals should be achieved. The GOP is winning right now because they have coopted Democratic talking points, wrapped themselves in the flag, made the word “liberal” into an expletive, and gnawed through the mainstream media. This all happened because no one with any political clout stopped them. You can talk about an “emerging democratic majority” all you want, but the simple truth is that America will buy whatever the GOP is selling until such time as someone else stands up to fight for an alternative.
    Anyway, done rambling.

  15. Sara on

    Reform is a process — done properly it might result in an Open Opportunity Society.
    The Criticism of Busy’s “Reformer with Results” slogan should have always been its lack of clarity regarding the goals of reform — Yea, he did get results if the ones you want are the enhancement of the riches of the top 1%. Or if you want the country to move toward Theocracy — or if you want to offer more respect for the estates of the recently dead than you offer toward the prospects of the newly born.
    Kerry has to put it as vision — lay out clear goals. And yes, reform may be one of the modes for getting to that day when goals are achieved.

  16. Joe Ansis on

    Why not just, “John Kerry: Grownup”? Or “The Real Deal”—real soldier, real (if limited) reformer, real patriot.

  17. rt on

    “Reformer with results” opens Kerry up to charges that for a 20 year Senate veteran his list of legislative accomplishments appears to be light.
    I do like the reform theme, though. I’m not sure what the bumper sticker formulation is but something like “stepping up to meet America’s challenges” might help as one of his key themes. “Opportunity for all Americans” is the first “bullitted” item we talk about as we elaborate on what we mean.
    If there is steak to back up the sizzle, in the form of at least a couple of bold, opportunity-enhancing proposals (preferably ones that the Greenberg and Reed wings are both enthusiastic about), Kerry is capable of delivering this in a forceful way. This would help him look like a leader by eviscerating the Republican-fostered view that he’s an indecisive and cautious career pol. In doing so he might be able to compete with Bush more effectively on the “leadership” turf (or at least better neutralize Bush on that issue).
    Proposals along the lines offered in Greenberg’s book might work.
    Far from shrinking from the challenges Americans are most concerned about or simply running “against Bush”, our side is stepping up, giving people a reason to vote for us and not just against Bush. It’s a future-oriented “this is what we’ll do if you support us” stance rather than the more backward-looking “elect us because this is what I’ve done in the past”, which is what “reformer with results” says to me.
    A campaign of this nature might also lend itself better to making this more of a “national” election, if we decide that’s a good move.

  18. Alan on

    I guess the prospect of another 4 years of W has made them all int choir boys (and girls) didn’t it?
    Kinda reminds me of the “scared straight” program.

  19. LeeMelon on

    Instead of a clunky “reformer with results for the opportunity society,” try Mario Cuomo’s simpler “We’re all in this together…,” and expand accordingly from situation to situation: the quality of public education and career opportunities; foreign policy and security alliances between liberal civil societies and democracies-in-training; energy independence and environmental integrity; etc.

  20. Bob H on

    As a former Dean supporter who regards Iraq as the most colossal national security and foreign policy scewup in modern times, I would like to hear from Kerry something like: “I assure you that nothing like the Iraq war and occupation will ever happen again”. He gets my vote anyway, but I think a lot of Dean people need to be reassured.

  21. Chad Robinson on

    Okay, first “brilliant idiot’s” retort. BI said:
    he’s far more popular among D’s than he think – just not the kind of Democrats he seems to know.
    Really? Then how come the level of undecided’s was so high RIGHT UP TO the primaries? And how come Kerry’s support in those same polls was so low? When we see the same kind of thing dealing with the President, we say that those lower number of “I will definitely support X candidate” are the candidates “core supporters” and the rest of them, the undecideds who break near election day, represent soft numbers and are wont to swing wildly.
    I would love to see someone come up with a credible claim about Kerry’s popularity with Democratic voters that somehow factors in his insanely low support throughout the MONTHS of politicking leading up to Iowa. Laughable? I think your scorn got ahead of your capacity for rational thought.
    Oh, and while i’m sticking pins in things, I actually *DO* have a criticism of Ruy’s understanding of polling data. The assertion, in his latest post, the Gen Next (or whatever they’re getting called now) somehow represent a new tidal wave of incipient democratic support is… well, to put it lightly, it is stuffing the horse as far behind the cart as possible. Young people are generally more liberal than older people. Conservatism comes with age… As I grow older, my lefty views mellow more and more, and I watch my friends also become more moderate. This poll showing huge youth support for the Dems seems less like an incipient democratic tidal wave to me and more like young voters doing what us older folks are doing: solidifying behind the Not-Bush ticket and that tickets only viable candiCATEGORY: Ruy Teixeira’s Donkey Rising
    And thanks, Peter. I’m not actually trying to crap on anyones parade. I want a new President as much as anyone else here. And while I freely admit to being deeply disturbed by Kerry as a candidate, it’s not because of any personal antagonism towards the guy, nor because pf resentment that my pick lost… it’s because I want to win and I don’t see Kerry as the best choice to do that; nor as the best choice to actually hold this party together through the long fight to reclaim Congress and, from there, the Supreme Court. My eyes are fixed firmly on the goal, and I honestly don’t thnk his are.
    I think, as megapotamus stated, that Kerry ran for President not out of deep concern for the direction of the Republic, but because he thinks it’s his “turn” because he has “paid his dues.” I truly hope I am wrong, but that’s my fear.


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