And so now what?

So George Bush has won the election. Which, it must be said, is not too much of a surprise. I’d hoped that Kerry would somehow magically pull out a victory. I’d fallen for the Democrat axiom that a high voter turnout would mean a Democrat victory, because new voters vote for change. And the early results were good. But then the rest of the country voted, and long before it was official, it seemed pretty obvious. So, because I like to hear myself speak (read myself write?), I’m going to hold forth on why the Republicans won, and what the Democrats must do to win again at some point in the future.

The Republicans have been consistently on message for 3 years. Long before that even, they have been able to frame the terms of the debate. Since perhaps the Regan era, the Republican party has been remarkably consistent in its message. They have preached the rights of the individual over the many, the importance of faith & family, free trade and the right to self- & national-defence. You know, the “traditional” republican values. And this is fine. I expect parties to hold traditional values. But here’s why the Democrats keep losing (with the exception of the outrageously charismatic Bill Clinton): virtually all their arguments are defined in degrees of difference from republican stance. They fight from a purely defensive stance. It’s much less convincing to say “I’m for the war, but would do it differently” than it is to say “The war is wrong, I’m against the war”.

The Democrats suffer from a will to include, and this has serverely handicapped them. They want to appeal to everyone, from the far left to the center/center-right. Because of this, they always talk in terms of Republican issues, to offer a nuanced argument of why their version of that policy is “slightly” better.

It is incredibly hard to sell “The Communal good”, which is what the left traditionally does. We are all selfish beings who want what is best for us, personally, more than we care about our fellow men. For most of the past century, selling “The Communal good” has meant that the left plays well in rural areas, and not in the cities? Why? Because it was apparent in poor, under-serviced rural communities that everyone had to pull together to make things work, had to look after each other and help each other out. Somewhat Amish, if you will. The cities, by contrast, were dog-eat-dog rat races with everyone looking to make a quick buck. People came to the city to get rich. This, I feel, is because the default was to be rural, the conscious alternative was to be urban. This has reversed today. Being urban is the default, as more and more of us live in cities and couldn’t imagine not being there. People who move to rural areas make a conscious decision to do so. And Cities, where we are faced with the consequences of not helping others every day (homelessness, crime, drug abuse, etc), are now very concious that certain sacrifices must be made for the common good. This is less true in the country. It goes further than that, in many areas, in that ruralites feel that their needs are overlooked to pander to the urbanites. Cities get all the developments, all the money, all the support. And they’re the ones paying for it! And so they turn away from the promised communal good of the left and turn to the me-first promises of the individualist right. Look at the electoral maps from last night. All over the US, in “blue” and “red” states alike, cities votes predominantly for Democrats, and suburbs & small towns, the rural areas, uniformly voted republican.

So there are 3 tasks that the Democrats MUST take, and start doing now to potentially win in 4 years:

  1. Frame the discourse! Get funding from wealthy supporters to set up think tanks that spit out left-leaning documents. Saturate the media & public consciousness with progressive ideas. Learn from the success of the republicans, and match them with your own. Then, don’t wait for Republican arguments to make yours differ. Be strident, make your point the frame of debate, and force the Right to react, and differ from your point. Environmental accords are a right of all men – why haven’t your implemented them yet? Make the republicans explain why their less stringent protocols are important, etc.
  2. Win back the rural vote. Address the issues of “not off of our backs” and agribusiness free-trade/imperialism and find a way to make Rural voters care about progressive values. The cities, for the moment, are “safe”. Don’t purposely do cross your urban constituents, but focus on gaining the support of the rural voter.
  3. Lean left! The Democrats have been leaning right in an effort to win votes, but that’s not helped at all. It’s simply blurred the differences between republicans & democrats. So lean left! Champion progressive values. Fight ardently against social, economic & moral conservatism. Make “conservative” a dirty word the way “liberal” currently is.

What do you think the democrats should do, faced now with a Republican White House, a Republican Senate, a republican Congress, AND a Republican popular vote?

21 Replies to “And so now what?”

  1. Finally! Someone holding forth on the results!

    (This is my first time ever to your site, BTW. I promise to read more!)

    My reflexive answer to your question was “Run and hide.” Because seriously, after four more years, we will be more on our way to having a two-class system (the rich and the poor), we will have invaded (there is no other word) Iran, there might be a draft, and I’m sure you can think of other things.

    Everything is Republican majority now. Hell, Tom Daschle lost his seat! So how is the party going to check itself? Because one branch is there to check the other branch is there to check the third. But when it’s all controlled (more or less) by one party, how does that end up working? Or is the system of checks and balances going to go to hell now?

    Others, please: discuss. What have I forgotten?

  2. Finally! Someone holding forth on the results!

    (This is my first time ever to your site, BTW. I promise to read more!)

    My reflexive answer to your question was “Run and hide.” Because seriously, after four more years, we will be more on our way to having a two-class system (the rich and the poor), we will have invaded (there is no other word) Iran, there might be a draft, and I’m sure you can think of other things.

    Everything is Republican majority now. Hell, Tom Daschle lost his seat! So how is the party going to check itself? Because one branch is there to check the other branch is there to check the third. But when it’s all controlled (more or less) by one party, how does that end up working? Or is the system of checks and balances going to go to hell now?

    Others, please: discuss. What have I forgotten?

  3. Finally! Someone holding forth on the results!

    (This is my first time ever to your site, BTW. I promise to read more!)

    My reflexive answer to your question was “Run and hide.” Because seriously, after four more years, we will be more on our way to having a two-class system (the rich and the poor), we will have invaded (there is no other word) Iran, there might be a draft, and I’m sure you can think of other things.

    Everything is Republican majority now. Hell, Tom Daschle lost his seat! So how is the party going to check itself? Because one branch is there to check the other branch is there to check the third. But when it’s all controlled (more or less) by one party, how does that end up working? Or is the system of checks and balances going to go to hell now?

    Others, please: discuss. What have I forgotten?

  4. How many voters were really voting on issues like tax cuts? Sure the media takes it as a given that you need tax cuts to stimulate the economy and most of their ‘experts’ will spout forth similiar conservative thinking, but does that really matter? I don’t think it does for elections, at least not in the States.
    So much is now based on the perception of what the candidate is like on a personal level. Bush seems like a “solid” guy who would give you a hand shake and be a pleasure to have around for a backyard party. This is really why he beat Gore, because Gore seemed like a “know it all” and not someone who you would be friends with.
    There is a point to be made that the Democrats should have known right from the get-go that the Republicans would play dirty and would try their best to make people think twice about Kerry’s war record. I don’t like attack ads but I also don’t Hilary Duff- you go with what works and what is going to give you the end result. It isn’t like politics are clean, you’re just trying to do slight changes at the top because the system that we’re in doesn’t allow there to be any real change. Bush had so much to attack and they shouldn’t have pulled any punches and pointed out what a moron he is on a very personal level. I’m sure that there are bright people who could have phrased it in a way that it ressonated with many voters. Karl Rove is not Machiavelli (to be honest, not even Machiavelli was Machiavelli) and he can be beaten.

    Democrats are not going to get back the rural vote. As you point out it is the same in all industrial countries with the loss of the progressive left leaning vote now only in the urban ceters. This is where the real poor are now, the ones who have nothing and no hope to get anything. They’re everywhere of course but they’re very concentrated in the cities.
    And don’t forget about religion all the moral hangups that come with it. People in rural areas feel very strongly about issues such as abortion and anything homosexual. Everything else is secondary to this. The democrats and all parties of the “left” (if we use the term loosely) cannot reach out to these people because they cannot loose their supporters in the urban areas who support them mostly based on issues like these. The solution? Well, maybe we need to do a better job as a movement (if you want to call it that) in making sure that progressive ideas in the social realm are accepted by a majority of the population in areas outside of traditional support.
    If you want to get blunt, remember that the democrats lost the south when they supported the end of segregation. How do you propose to settle that and bring these people back in the fold?

    To make a last point (in this god awful long comment) Bush won because he was a “good guy”. Clinton because he was, as you said, charismatic. Reagan because he was loved as the movie star that he was. If the Democrats could have had someone with more personality then I think that we’d have a different result today. So what do we do? Do we change society so that a progressive government gets in or do we keep tweeking the election runs and fix it that way?

  5. How many voters were really voting on issues like tax cuts? Sure the media takes it as a given that you need tax cuts to stimulate the economy and most of their ‘experts’ will spout forth similiar conservative thinking, but does that really matter? I don’t think it does for elections, at least not in the States.
    So much is now based on the perception of what the candidate is like on a personal level. Bush seems like a “solid” guy who would give you a hand shake and be a pleasure to have around for a backyard party. This is really why he beat Gore, because Gore seemed like a “know it all” and not someone who you would be friends with.
    There is a point to be made that the Democrats should have known right from the get-go that the Republicans would play dirty and would try their best to make people think twice about Kerry’s war record. I don’t like attack ads but I also don’t Hilary Duff- you go with what works and what is going to give you the end result. It isn’t like politics are clean, you’re just trying to do slight changes at the top because the system that we’re in doesn’t allow there to be any real change. Bush had so much to attack and they shouldn’t have pulled any punches and pointed out what a moron he is on a very personal level. I’m sure that there are bright people who could have phrased it in a way that it ressonated with many voters. Karl Rove is not Machiavelli (to be honest, not even Machiavelli was Machiavelli) and he can be beaten.

    Democrats are not going to get back the rural vote. As you point out it is the same in all industrial countries with the loss of the progressive left leaning vote now only in the urban ceters. This is where the real poor are now, the ones who have nothing and no hope to get anything. They’re everywhere of course but they’re very concentrated in the cities.
    And don’t forget about religion all the moral hangups that come with it. People in rural areas feel very strongly about issues such as abortion and anything homosexual. Everything else is secondary to this. The democrats and all parties of the “left” (if we use the term loosely) cannot reach out to these people because they cannot loose their supporters in the urban areas who support them mostly based on issues like these. The solution? Well, maybe we need to do a better job as a movement (if you want to call it that) in making sure that progressive ideas in the social realm are accepted by a majority of the population in areas outside of traditional support.
    If you want to get blunt, remember that the democrats lost the south when they supported the end of segregation. How do you propose to settle that and bring these people back in the fold?

    To make a last point (in this god awful long comment) Bush won because he was a “good guy”. Clinton because he was, as you said, charismatic. Reagan because he was loved as the movie star that he was. If the Democrats could have had someone with more personality then I think that we’d have a different result today. So what do we do? Do we change society so that a progressive government gets in or do we keep tweeking the election runs and fix it that way?

  6. How many voters were really voting on issues like tax cuts? Sure the media takes it as a given that you need tax cuts to stimulate the economy and most of their ‘experts’ will spout forth similiar conservative thinking, but does that really matter? I don’t think it does for elections, at least not in the States.
    So much is now based on the perception of what the candidate is like on a personal level. Bush seems like a “solid” guy who would give you a hand shake and be a pleasure to have around for a backyard party. This is really why he beat Gore, because Gore seemed like a “know it all” and not someone who you would be friends with.
    There is a point to be made that the Democrats should have known right from the get-go that the Republicans would play dirty and would try their best to make people think twice about Kerry’s war record. I don’t like attack ads but I also don’t Hilary Duff- you go with what works and what is going to give you the end result. It isn’t like politics are clean, you’re just trying to do slight changes at the top because the system that we’re in doesn’t allow there to be any real change. Bush had so much to attack and they shouldn’t have pulled any punches and pointed out what a moron he is on a very personal level. I’m sure that there are bright people who could have phrased it in a way that it ressonated with many voters. Karl Rove is not Machiavelli (to be honest, not even Machiavelli was Machiavelli) and he can be beaten.

    Democrats are not going to get back the rural vote. As you point out it is the same in all industrial countries with the loss of the progressive left leaning vote now only in the urban ceters. This is where the real poor are now, the ones who have nothing and no hope to get anything. They’re everywhere of course but they’re very concentrated in the cities.
    And don’t forget about religion all the moral hangups that come with it. People in rural areas feel very strongly about issues such as abortion and anything homosexual. Everything else is secondary to this. The democrats and all parties of the “left” (if we use the term loosely) cannot reach out to these people because they cannot loose their supporters in the urban areas who support them mostly based on issues like these. The solution? Well, maybe we need to do a better job as a movement (if you want to call it that) in making sure that progressive ideas in the social realm are accepted by a majority of the population in areas outside of traditional support.
    If you want to get blunt, remember that the democrats lost the south when they supported the end of segregation. How do you propose to settle that and bring these people back in the fold?

    To make a last point (in this god awful long comment) Bush won because he was a “good guy”. Clinton because he was, as you said, charismatic. Reagan because he was loved as the movie star that he was. If the Democrats could have had someone with more personality then I think that we’d have a different result today. So what do we do? Do we change society so that a progressive government gets in or do we keep tweeking the election runs and fix it that way?

  7. Well, Brishen, I’d argue that the Democrats need to do both. In the short term, the solution is for the Dems, or the left to run someone highly charismatic & likable. No one has really stood out for the Democrats in that fashion for a while – perhaps Gen. Wesley Clarke, but he wasn’t accepted by the party.
    But for long term & deeper success (and by deeper I mean being able to win more Senate, Congree & Governorships), the Democrats MUST find a way to change the terms of the debate. They must find a way to connect with middle America without alienating their urban core. It’s hard, I don’t have an easy answer, but I do think that’s where they should focus. And I don’t think simply pointing out how the current, right-leaning system is failing middle America will work, because clearly, as you point out, values are trumping policy right now. But values are highly mutable and susceptible to societal pressure. So apply that pressure. It may take a decade, it may take longer. But that’s ok. Just run highly charismatic candidates in the interim. I’m telling you – Oprah/Hillary in ’08! 😉

  8. Well, Brishen, I’d argue that the Democrats need to do both. In the short term, the solution is for the Dems, or the left to run someone highly charismatic & likable. No one has really stood out for the Democrats in that fashion for a while – perhaps Gen. Wesley Clarke, but he wasn’t accepted by the party.
    But for long term & deeper success (and by deeper I mean being able to win more Senate, Congree & Governorships), the Democrats MUST find a way to change the terms of the debate. They must find a way to connect with middle America without alienating their urban core. It’s hard, I don’t have an easy answer, but I do think that’s where they should focus. And I don’t think simply pointing out how the current, right-leaning system is failing middle America will work, because clearly, as you point out, values are trumping policy right now. But values are highly mutable and susceptible to societal pressure. So apply that pressure. It may take a decade, it may take longer. But that’s ok. Just run highly charismatic candidates in the interim. I’m telling you – Oprah/Hillary in ’08! 😉

  9. Well, Brishen, I’d argue that the Democrats need to do both. In the short term, the solution is for the Dems, or the left to run someone highly charismatic & likable. No one has really stood out for the Democrats in that fashion for a while – perhaps Gen. Wesley Clarke, but he wasn’t accepted by the party.
    But for long term & deeper success (and by deeper I mean being able to win more Senate, Congree & Governorships), the Democrats MUST find a way to change the terms of the debate. They must find a way to connect with middle America without alienating their urban core. It’s hard, I don’t have an easy answer, but I do think that’s where they should focus. And I don’t think simply pointing out how the current, right-leaning system is failing middle America will work, because clearly, as you point out, values are trumping policy right now. But values are highly mutable and susceptible to societal pressure. So apply that pressure. It may take a decade, it may take longer. But that’s ok. Just run highly charismatic candidates in the interim. I’m telling you – Oprah/Hillary in ’08! 😉

  10. You’re right, Brahm, Moral Issues were #1 – and that’s exactly why the republicans win in the rural areas. Because it’s safe to be judgemental from a distance. That’s why I feel that progressives need to find a way to connect with rural citizens. And while voters may claim economy was number 2, all statistics point to the fact that Americans didn’t give a shit about the economy. Their economy is not doing well, has not been doing well for some time. I do believe that Terrorism/Iraq were significant issues, and that’s where I feel the democrats truly failed – there was nothing distinguishing about their policies on either vs. the republican’s policies on the same. But clearly, middle America has bought crass individualism & capitalism as good values. All I’m saying is that there must be a way to reverse that trend. I honestly don’t think economic outlook plays that well, because no one believes the government anymore when it comes to economic promises, and that’s probably a good thing. Could you imagine how bad for business it would be if every four years there was a radical shift in economic policy?

  11. You’re right, Brahm, Moral Issues were #1 – and that’s exactly why the republicans win in the rural areas. Because it’s safe to be judgemental from a distance. That’s why I feel that progressives need to find a way to connect with rural citizens. And while voters may claim economy was number 2, all statistics point to the fact that Americans didn’t give a shit about the economy. Their economy is not doing well, has not been doing well for some time. I do believe that Terrorism/Iraq were significant issues, and that’s where I feel the democrats truly failed – there was nothing distinguishing about their policies on either vs. the republican’s policies on the same. But clearly, middle America has bought crass individualism & capitalism as good values. All I’m saying is that there must be a way to reverse that trend. I honestly don’t think economic outlook plays that well, because no one believes the government anymore when it comes to economic promises, and that’s probably a good thing. Could you imagine how bad for business it would be if every four years there was a radical shift in economic policy?

  12. You’re right, Brahm, Moral Issues were #1 – and that’s exactly why the republicans win in the rural areas. Because it’s safe to be judgemental from a distance. That’s why I feel that progressives need to find a way to connect with rural citizens. And while voters may claim economy was number 2, all statistics point to the fact that Americans didn’t give a shit about the economy. Their economy is not doing well, has not been doing well for some time. I do believe that Terrorism/Iraq were significant issues, and that’s where I feel the democrats truly failed – there was nothing distinguishing about their policies on either vs. the republican’s policies on the same. But clearly, middle America has bought crass individualism & capitalism as good values. All I’m saying is that there must be a way to reverse that trend. I honestly don’t think economic outlook plays that well, because no one believes the government anymore when it comes to economic promises, and that’s probably a good thing. Could you imagine how bad for business it would be if every four years there was a radical shift in economic policy?

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