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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?