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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Harold Meyerson Notes Continuing Democratic Unity

An excellent piece by Harold Meyerson in Wednesday’s Washington Post emphasizes the vitally important fact that Democrats are not falling back into division and back-biting in the aftermath of the elections. Here are a few highlights:

Listen closely. That silence you hear is the sound of Democrats not recriminating.
We are, to be sure, post-morteming like nobody’s business. It could scarcely be otherwise after the most heartbreaking defeat just about any Democrat can recall. But this year, I sense, there is a little more consensus than conflict — and a lot more confusion than either — Democratic ranks about what went wrong and where we go from here.
To begin, there’s a genuine respect for John Kerry that will spare him from the kind of morning-after rage that many Democrats directed at Al Gore four years ago. Kerry, and Kerry alone (well, with some help from George Bush), put himself back into contention with his three debate performances. They did not win him the White House, but they won him a respite from the kind of backbiting for which we Dems are justly famous.
That’s not to say we don’t all have criticisms of Kerry’s campaign. It was too slow to respond to the summer’s character assassinations. Kerry’s plan for Iraq never sounded very plausible, but that’s chiefly because the administration has made such a hash of the war that there are no good alternative policies..Above all, Kerry was unable to sufficiently press the Democrats’ advantage on issues such as health care, education and jobs.

In large ways and small, campaign 2004 was marked by unprecedented Democratic unity. That’s one reason why the defeat feels so shattering: The whole team was on the field, working together as well as if not better than ever before.
For this reason among others, the Democrats’ postgame analysis has not yet assumed its accustomed form of a circular firing squad. Among Democrats I speak to from all corners of the party, the same points come up over and over again. The mobilization of the Democratic base that the party and the “527” groups threw themselves into this year remains essential, but it is plainly not a ticket to victory in itself. Democrats cannot go into the next presidential election with just a handful of states truly in play; they need to be competitive in more red states to keep the Republicans from concentrating their resources in Florida and Ohio and some borderline blue states.Above all, the fact that the only two successful Democratic presidential nominees since Lyndon Johnson were both governors of Southern states now looms hugely in Democratic calculations.

Read the whole article, it’s worth it.

7 comments on “Harold Meyerson Notes Continuing Democratic Unity

  1. arpad on

    I agree with the above comments. They are pragmatic and realistic given the current political landscape.
    I think the party can moderate some of its views and more importantly, its image, on abortion, guns, and gay marriage while still maintiaining New Deal principles, such as fiscal conservatism,social security and coherent internationalism. Also, we need to distance ourselves from the Hollywood set. It only confirms suspicions that Dems are a bunch of hedonists out to destroy family values. Again, these are image issues, but frankly, image is what sells politics to most voters.
    Some call it Republican lite, I call it winning for a change.

  2. thecreature on

    Agreed Gabby.
    And what I find particularly galling is that even many of the left’s otherwise fairly eloquent theorists and pundits are extremely quick to criticize the Democrats if they diverge even in the slightest way from the New Deal orthodoxy.
    Thomas Frank’s book on cultural conservatism makes many good points (particularly about the conservatives’ persecutorial paranoia), but he seems, quite honestly, to be committing the same fallacy he accuses the Kansas Republicans of committing in reverse: he refuses to consider that any person might honestly decide that economics matters less to him than other issues. In Mr Frank’s perfect world, all the rich are Republicans, and all the poor are Democrats.
    But this ignores a very basic fact: that it is possible to see the world in terms other than your own advancement. By his logic, I should be a Republican. After all, I’m from a well-to-do neighborhood and would benefit (in the short term anyway) from Bush’s tax cuts. But I’m not a Republican, because to be a Republican I would have to ignore the fact that what’s good for me is actually bad for the rest of the country. While the conservatives’ state of “perpetual victimhood” indeed makes no sense, he refuses to admit that a rational choice may in fact be taking place, albeit in a very strange, prejudicial way.
    He also has also been seduced by the far-left myth that the DLC is the Republican Fifth Column in the Democratic party. He seems to blame the DLC for the decline of unions, rather than noting the increasing dissapearance of manufacturing jobs, where unions were most common. He claims the DLC hungers only for the vast soft money in the pockets of the social moderates, despite the fact that McCain-Feingold outlawed this practice even as he wrote the book. He also claims, strangely, that Democrats have backed deregulation and privatization, but offers no examples to prove this assertion. I for one cannot think of a single instance in which Republican deregulation or privatization plans found many friends on the other side of the aisle. Al Gore, if I remember correctly, called the Republican Social Security privatization racket “much too risky.” Hardly the words of a “pawn of business.” Frank also seems content to ignore the failed Clinton health care proposals of 1994, and the Kerry health care proposals of 2004, whose focus on egalitarian access runs strongly counter to the typical corporate line of social Darwinism.
    Labor unions were, and still are, an extremely useful engine for progressive change, but to blame their decline on the DLC is simply silly. More likely, it was the oft-repeated right-wing myth of their ties to the Mafia and their corruption that convinced some workers to abandon the unions that had given them so much. The task for the future will be to introduce unions to the service sector, where the vast majority of the working poor are now employed. If this is done, a resurgent labor movement could perhaps wrest some of those blue-collar conservatives from their cultural fears.
    I find it rather dissapointing. A brilliant dissection of the far-right’s victimhood fantasies coupled with an inability to see the Democrats as anything but the “union party.” His willfull blindness to the disappearance of manufacturing jobs (coupled with Republican whisper campaigns about unions’ alleged corruption) allows him to blame the “right-wing” DLC for unions’ decline.
    The Democrats never left the unions, the union workers just got fired or laid off (manufacturing jobs declined every year after 1960), and the labor movement never really tried to court the new working poor (service workers). That’s changing, thank goodness, but I’ll be damned if I’ll let him say that my party abandoned unions. It’s just not true.

  3. Gabby Hayes on

    Unfortunately, in the age of television, the cult of personality rules. Anyone who is interesting and good on TV has a shot at being president, provided they have the credentials to be president.
    I firmly believe that we do not need to change our policies. We do need to change marketing firms, and we need a new spokesman.
    Would Joe Biden have won this race? I don’t know, but I know that if a yellow dog Democrat like me could barely stand to listen to Kerry speak, how terrible must he have been to the middle?
    We need the left, we’ve always needed the left, but many of us have been the left. And you know why they call it LEFT? Because you always get LEFT at election time.
    Liberals ultimately reject democracy in favor of the elitism which Hannity and Limbaugh allege. That elitism is evident when libs implore that we go left instead of right.
    The party has had a Kamakazi wing for decades. That is what we call them. Kamakazi liberals. Always going out in a blaze of moralistic glory.

  4. thecreature on

    I’m with Gabby on this one.
    Now I grant that I am fairly young (this was my first presidential election), but frankly I think it’s safe to say that purist ultra-liberalism is not a winner in this country. If we stuck to such dogma, we would run the risk of becoming merely mirrors of the Republicans, who blindly trumpet tax cuts and repeal of government aid, even when there is evidence that the tax cuts do nothing constructive, and when the government programs they want to cut are effective.
    We should not be about dogma, but rather about what works to get the things we want. The older welfare systems weren’t actually fixing poverty, so we reformed them. The various groups that declare the Democrats aren’t doing enough for them should stop and think: are their interests necessarily those of the whole nation? We should strive for the national interest. My parents, for example, actually would get their taxes raised by the Kerry plan, but voted for him anyway becasue it would be better for the country.
    As I’ve mentioned earlier, we need to tweak the message, and that’s all. Ideologically, I think we’re right where we should be. It should be mentioned, also, that with the exception of his anti-war rhetoric Howard Dean was a pragmatic centrist. Just look at his Vermont record. I don’t know how the myth of him as “McGovern II” got started (probably by a right-winger) but it makes no sense.

  5. Gabby Hayes on

    I don’t recall who it was that said it, but it might have been LBJ.
    “To be a politician you have to be able to count.”
    It’s a simple thought, and always true. If you don’t have the votes for something, you don’t have the votes for it.
    LBJ understood that elections could be stolen, and he also understood that elections could be won, and he did some of both.
    To all the young bucks of the party who think the DLC way is selling out, I would remind you that those of us who back the DLC learned our lessons in 1972 and 1984, when we thought we knew better, too. We created the DLC for that reason, because we realized the party had won 1976 by default, meaning in 1984 we really hadn’t won the presidency in 20 years.
    We did 1988 your way, and it got us Dukakis.
    We did 1992 our way, and it got us Clinton.
    Your choice is not DLC or the liberal wing. It is DLC or RNC.
    Better wise up and smell the Senate losses.
    And don’t talk to me about bona fides. I was a McGovern delegate, and I campaigned with Fritz Mondale. For 20 years now we have fought this battle in the party, and the more the left demands of the party, the further it sinks.

  6. Mimiru on

    It makes it more depressing in that there is no one to blame like Nader in 2000. We threw everything we had at this and we still lost, and lost solidly.
    If this keeps democrats together well I hope thats a good thing because that will mean that the DLC and such types will actually be listening to the new blood once in a while.

  7. Mady on

    I read the article.
    So we adopt a right wing Democrat of our own, in order to win. I think this needs to be about presenting the values that Kerry and other traditional, New Deal type Democrats expound rather than putting our tails between our legs and crawling right.
    Again…instead of flailing around begging for help from the right of this party, hammer, hammer hammer at the difference between the Republicans and us, as we go through this insane Bush II administration.
    If we cannot make our point as Bush takes down the economy, Social Security, the environment, the criminal justice system–not to mention presides over what is turning into an ongoing guerrilla war in Iraq, we are not worth acquiring the office. The point is to embrace the core values of our party, not turn to Republican light, and look at the South as our only hope.


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