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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Reflect and Reform, Don’t Recriminate

Sorry once again for the lack of posts, but (1) the posting problems have continued, (2) the Day Job has been frantic, between helping formulate the DLC’s official take on what happened Tuesday, and dealing with an incredible number of press calls, and (3) like many of you, I am still in recovery from Election Night. After a good night’s sleep Wednesday, I felt pretty good until I made the mistake of reading today’s morning papers, and the previous night’s bad dreams came flooding back.
To those of you who think of the DLC as an organization that wants to engage in intra-party warfare, and that perennially advises Democrats to “move to the right,” I suggest you give today’s New Dem Daily a thorough and dispassionate read. We do not think this is a good time for a “struggle for the soul” of the Democratic Party; the unity we achieved in this campaign is a precious asset that it would be stupid to throw away, and moreover, we are all complicit in the mistakes our party keeps making.
Moreover, and I will say this personally, you won’t get any argument from New Democrats that the Dean/MoveOn legacy of this campaign–the ability to build passionate grassroots organizations, and to raise money from small donors–should be thrown away, either. But in the end, the problem we had this year was not a shortage of money, volunteers, organization, excitement, or candidate charisma: it was a shortage of message. An electorate poised to fire Bush and his Republican allies was never convinced it understood exactly what Democrats would do with the power they sought, and that was the killer.
The GOPers had a clear message, and a mobilization strategy as well. We just had a mobilization strategy, and it wasn’t enough. You have to persuade as well as “energize,” and we didn’t do it.
It’s time, finally, for Democrats to understand that we have to walk and chew gum at the same time. We have to persuade and mobilize; we have to appeal to voters on cultural and economic issues; we have to make inroads in red states without sacrificing blue states; we have to turn out our base and reach out to expand it.
And there’s another point on which Democrats of every ideological tendency ought to be able to agree. We’re the “out party” now. Republicans control every nook and cranny of the federal government they still pretend they are fighting. Why on earth can’t Democrats finally take advantage of hostility to Washington, supplementing anti-corporate populism with anti-government populism? Polls consistenly show that more than a third of Americans don’t know who controls Congress. But how often did you hear any Democrats–not just Kerry, but congressional Democratic candidates as well–remind voters of that fact, or pledge to reform all the patent abuses of power in Washington, from corporate welfare to strong-arm partisanship to fiscal profilgacy? Why are we defending government programs, and demonizing every dishonest Republican claim to reform them, when Washington is being run by Republicans like a country club? Beats me.
Reviving Democratic fortunes is not a matter of moving left or right. And it’s not a matter of money or mechanics or organization, important as they are. It’s a matter of reconnecting the party with the mainstream values, the economic aspirations, the openness to reform, and the craving for security and unity, that Americans want, and that we can and should be able to supply.

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