How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

I have been following an email discussion on this topic, but I thought I would present my response to the entire MyDD community, because I would like to hear your feedback and ideas. The important thing to remember in this discussion is that we are looking not at different tweaks and temporary adjustments that would just lead to victory, but that would actually lead to a significant, long-term change in the electorate.

This is a big and important question that we need to try and develop an answer for. Using a wide selection of my post-2004 election writings, I have placed my rundown of the most common ideas in the extended entry. In the comments, I would like to hear your ideas (and so would quite a few other powerful netroots progressives).

I am going to post one idea above the fold because, unlike everything else I discuss, it is based upon something I have never posted on in the past:

1. Clearly differentiating ourselves from Republicans. I'm all for this idea and for its sibling, "moving to the left." I actually believe that it is absolutely necessary in order to create a change election. After all, how can there be a big change if the electorate doesn't think that a big change is possible?

The problem with this is, I think it has already happened in the mind of the electorate. Long term NES data shows that more than any time since the start of public polling, the country believes there is in fact a clear difference between the two parties (see here), and that it matters which party wins any given election (see here and here).

Conclusion: If voters believe now, more than at any other time in history, that there are important differences between the two parties, and that it matter which party wins any given election, then maybe clear differentiation isn't the Holy Grail many have long thought it was. I still think it is good that it happened, because I'm not sure how a change election would be possible otherwise. But I don't think we need to do something in 2006 that already appears to have been accomplished in the mind of the electorate.

In the extended entry I consider several other ideas, including talking more about values, the "Culture of Corruption" frame, the 50-state strategy, running on national security, running on any issue besides national security, pointing out that Republican control congress and moving to the right / center.
2. Talking Values. Dems in DC may be convinced that Tim Kaine is the model candidate for Democrats in 2006, largely because he seemingly was able to do well among exurban voters and talk values. However, if you are looking to make a long-term change in the electorate, I don't think the focus should be on "talking values," otherwise known as to appeal to white Christians who go to church regularly. While "talking values" may lead to narrow, short-term victory, I am pretty convinced, based on long-term demographic data, that becoming a second "party of white Christian values" is not the path to long-term dominance. As I discussed in The Rise of the Non-Christian Coalition, the number of non-Christians in this country is growing at a much, much faster rate than the number of Christians. And when you compare white Christians to people who are either non-white and/or non-Christian, then the differences in growth rates are astronomical. When you consider that people who are either non-Christian and/or non-white are voting Democratic in large numbers, this just won't represent our coalition very much not long from now. Besides, I really don't think we can appeal to the "values voters" long-term, especially considering the way that those votes are themselves changing.

Conclusion: To pass up appealing to the fastest growing demographic in the nation and in our coalition in order to appeal to a shrinking group whose values are truly antithetical to progressivism itself, count me as someone who doesn't see that long term "change" potential though "talking values."

3. Culture of Corruption. Back in late 2004, I wrote a piece that argued that largest, and most heavily swinging, demographic in the country was primarily non-ideological, mostly interested in good government, and always interested in "reform." Given that I still believe this, I really like the "culture of corruption" frame. It is a good government frame, an outsider frame, and a reformer frame. It could really appeal to this swing group. I also still believe that the big Republican success in 1994 was swinging the Perot vote away from Dems and heavily in their favor.

Conclusion: "Culture of Corruption" could swing the Perot vote back our way, and as such I give it a big "thumbs up" when it comes to creating a change election.

4. 50-state strategy. I definitely think that running in as many seats as possible would be a big help in creating a change election. I even included an entire article on its importance it in my still unfinished series Building a House Landslide. I think that it goes without saying that it will be impossible to create a "change" election if your primary strategy is to tepidly target only two dozen House seats, and a handful of Senate and Governor's races. An old saying goes that you end up governing based on how you were elected, and our current narrow targeting strategy pretty much guarantees that even if we win in 2006, we are going to end up governing narrowly as well. A 50-state strategy would help to create structural difficulties for Republicans on defense that could lead to a change election, and it will also help spread whatever message we end up running on to every corner of the nation. I have lots more on this in an old article entitled Uncontested.

Conclusion: A fifty-state strategy is almost certainly a pre-requisite for a change election to take place. However, it also is almost certainly not enough in and of itself to create a "change" election. Running everywhere in one election is not going to structurally change the electorate in one shot. This is something we need to keep doing again and again and again.

5. Hitting hard on National Security. One thing that has always baffled me about many progressive election observers and strategists is how often they are convinced that our number one priority must always be to eliminate the Republican advantage on the issue where Republicans are currently their strongest. The largest Republican lead is in defense? Then we must hit them on defense! The number one Republican issue is taces? Then we must hit them on taxes! And so on.

I have two basic problems with this. First, this mentality ignores the obvious fact that it doesn't matter where we gain on Republicans, because a gain is the same no matter where it comes from. As I wrote back in April:Pundits have a weird problem that emerges whenever they try and explain what Democrats must do to improve their electoral prospects. Whenever they see Democrats losing on Issue X but winning on Issue Y, they become convinced that Democrats would gain more by improving ten points on Issue X than they would by gaining ten points on Issue Y. However, that does not make any sense. Moving from a fourteen point lead on "pro-middle class" to a twenty-four point margin on "pro middle class" would gain us exactly as much ground as moving from a twenty-two point deficit on "keeping America safe," to a twelve point deficit on "keeping America safe." Both would move us ten points, and ten points are the same wherever you draw them from. The second problem I have with this is that attacking the strong point of the established national Republican brand is a lot more difficult than attacking the strong point in the established brand of any individual Republican. Republicans have built their national security band over the course of several decades, making it a lot harder to deflate than, say, it was to Swiftboat John Kerry's image as a war hero. Kerry image on that issue was, nationally, only a few months old, and it related entirely to himself. The Republican brand on this issue is decades old, and relates to numerous individual Republicans. Thus, not only is a ten point gain a ten point gain no matter where it comes from, there are probably a lot of other areas where Democrats could more easily make a ten point gain than on national security.

Now, all of that being said, I do think that Democrats have a terrific chance in 2006 to run on a national security issue: Iraq. Specifically, as I have argued repeatedly, Democrats need to run on a strong withdrawal plan, because not only is it the right thing to do, not only is it the number one issue on the mind of the electorate, but it is also overwhelmingly popular and would drive a wedge right down the middle of the Republican coalition. In particular, as the MyDD poll showed, Murtha's plan is overwhelmingly popular among Democrats, Independents, and Republicans. This could really sweep the nation, but I worry instead that Democrats will party like its 2002.

Conclusion: I think that Democrats have a big opportunity on national security in 2006, but I don't think they will bother to actually take it (probably because the policy wonks they go to cocktail parties with in Washington think it is a bad idea). Anyway, even though I think it would probably net a lot of seats, I'm not even sure if ti would seriously challenge the Republican advantage on national security, long-term, thus creating a real "change." I have real doubts about whether the American populace has learned any lessons from Iraq, except that we shouldn't invade Iraq. As dominant as it is right now, it may just be a short-term issue in the mind of the electorate.

6. Non-defense policy proposals. I'm just going to tell you right now that your well thought out, twenty-point plan to reduce our dependency on foreign oil, revitalize public education, or lower the cost of health care isn't going to swing a single seat in the country. Not only do I have grave doubts about running campaigns in specific issues, mainly because I am pretty sure the electorate doesn't organize policy issues the same way advocacy groups, congressional committees, and think tanks have organized them in Washington, but I can tell you right now that we have no chance of getting that message through the contemporary media filter. We just can't hope that well thought out policy proposals will win us elections, because the media doesn't bother to give such plans time, the electorate doesn't listen to such plans, and the republican Noise Machine is just going to heavily distort them anyway.

Along the same lines, I am also generally opposed lengthy policy platforms. In my experience, I felt hat policy and ideological platforms do far more to tear people apart than bring them together. Almost every ideologue is going to find something they dislike in any given platform. As such, rather than join up with a large movement they are close to, they will probably splinter off and create a new platform, convinced that said new platform is The One True Path that will sweep the nation. Never in my life have I seen a policy platform win an election, and that goes for the Contract For America. I don't think it was the ideology in that platform that won the day for Republicans back in 1994, but rather it was the good government, reformer appeal that they presented to the public.

Conclusion: Most wonks and ideologues either have no idea how to win elections or, more than likely, they are opposed to using tactics that are actually more likely to win elections. They would rather lose than have to play dirty and / or appeal to the way the electorate actually thinks.

7. Pointing out that Republicans Control Congress. Obviously, I think that this idea has great short-term potential. However, I am started to wonder if one the reason Democrats are already doing so well in generic congressional ballots is because two-thirds or more of the country already agrees that Republicans control congress. Still, even if this is the case, I can see nothing but positive things coming from raising voter knowledge even higher on this issue.

Conclusion:This is great for the short term, but it has absolutely no chance of creating a "change" election. Basically, it is just a short term "give someone else a shot" pitch, and it could easily be used against Dems in the near future if congressional approval ratings remain low. Since congressional approval ratings are almost always pretty low, even if it works it could be successful used against Dems in 2008 or 2010.

8. Moderating or moving to the right or center. Yeah, that won't work. I'm still with Lakoff on this one. Not to mention that I had a political scientist friend of mine tell me recently that only about 5% of the country is truly ideological anyway--the rest would be latent ideology, ala Lakoff. I don't think that actually being extreme or moderate matters in elections. What really matters is whether or are perceived as extremist or moderate.

Conclusion. People who think about politics a lot should realize that they don't think about politics the way that the vast majority of the nation does. For starters, the vast majority of the nation doesn't actually think about politics that much.

OK, so what have I got overall? Looks like a combination of culture of corruption, Murtha's withdrawal plan, running in every seat, and pointing out that Republicans control congress. I don't know if that is enough to create a "change" election, but it's the best I can do based on all my writings since November 3rd, 2004. In truth, I think that the country is so polarized and divided right now, that the odds of change elections taking place has been reduced significantly. Still, if everything goes our way, and Bush's job approval falls back into the mid-thirties, an indycrat realignment, or a mass swing of Perot voters back to Democrats, might just take place.

Your turn.

Tags: 2006, Realignment, strategy (all tags)



Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

Chris, I think you've mostly got it covered here. A focus on competence and public responsiveness to the real problems of Americans is probably the Democrats' best strategy in the short term, and feeds in to a lot of the other themes--e.g. the disastrous and confusing Medicare Part D is a direct outgrowth of what happens when you legislate explicitly for the special interests.

But I'd respectfully urge you to think a bit more broadly about point #2, the "values" question.

I don't think the focus should be on "talking values," otherwise known as to appeal to white Christians who go to church regularly.

If this is how you define it, I agree with you. But most people view the question of "values" a bit more broadly. This debate, like that over national security, is one Democrats need to address head-on. The point isn't to suck up to church-going whites; it's to convince all voters, in the face of hardcore propagandizing from Fox News, Mullah Dobson and the rest of the Dominionist Right, that you're not a moral monster even if you disagree with them.

To use the Kaine example, since you brought it up, what Kaine's God talk did was neutralize the hot-button issue of capital punishment. As a devout Catholic, Kaine's opposition to the death penalty came from the same place as his anti-choice views; this year, I suspect (well, I hope) you'll see Bob Casey make the same argument when he talks about economic justice and preserving opportunity.

"Values" broadly, and religion in particular, is best viewed as a way to frame our issues, from national health insurance to using war only as a last resort in foreign affairs, to voters who have been misled about what Democrats believe and fight for. The African-American church gets this; even as an agnostic who was born Jewish, I've never grasped why white liberals don't.

by dajafi 2006-02-20 12:45PM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?
I can see your point in theory, but "talking values" has always meant, both in subtext and practice, appealing to white Christians who go to church regularly. I'm pretty sure that is exactly what Tim Kaine did (the practice part), and I know that is what every pundit who used the term in the aftermath of election 2004 meant but never made explicit (the subtext part).

I am not opposed to Dmeocrats having more values-based language of the kind you discuss, but I don't think that is what most people have meant by the term.
by Chris Bowers 2006-02-20 01:14PM | 0 recs
forget the pundits

And forget the "professional election losers" from whose ranks "liberal pundits" generally spring.

A better example of what I'm talking about than Kaine is Barack Obama. In his 2004 convention speech, as well as the marvelous commencement address he gave at an Illinois college last spring, Obama did a terrific job of articulating liberal values as American values. To a lesser extent, Bill Clinton did the same thing in 1992 (and, IIRC, did okay with the white Christians of all denominations, even though he was already getting tarred with the draft-dodger/philanderer slime).

Later in your essay here, you opine that a detailed 20-point policy plan won't win us any seats this  year. I agree. (And as a guy who writes detailed policy plans for a living, this isn't an easy pill for me...) What can win races, however, is a broad narrative about where we want to take the country. "Values"--and I'd actually emphasize secular/Constitutional values more prominently than the Judeo-Christian set--inform that narrative.

When you cut yourself off from those taproots of political storytelling, you're left to choose among the following:

1) "We don't suck as bad as those guys."

2) "Good jobs at good wages."

3) "Social Security should be put in a lockbox."

4) (Whatever Kerry was trying to say two years ago)

by dajafi 2006-02-20 01:33PM | 0 recs
Re: forget the pundits

Yes yes yes! I am a white Christian and very left leaning Democrat, but talking values doesn't have to mean talking religious. It's frankly irritating when secularists feel compelled to talk about how important their faith is (when Howard Dean said that his favorite New testament book was "Job", I cringed).

Values-talk means exactly what you said; telling our story, explaining how important it is that we not put savage corporate "free" markets ahead of our friends and neighbors who work hard and play by the rules, explaining how patriotic Americans have faith in our system of checks and balances and civil liberties, and that we don't need an unaccountable strong man who ignores the Constitution to keep us safe from terrorists. In America we look out for each other, we always have from the Great Depression through WW II all the way to Hurricane Katrina when the Republican controlled government failed completely to do the job we taxpayers expect from it.

your friend

by keith johnson 2006-02-20 06:57PM | 0 recs
Re: forget the pundits

I agree with this generally, but believe it can be stated more succinctly -- the national Democratic Party needs to take a stand.

Our recently successful candidates have all stood on principle. (Buckets of money, ala Kaine, certainly help, too.)

by Bill Rehm 2006-02-20 07:26PM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

Nice job, generally.  And . . .

Values. Most people, Chris included, miss the point of talking about values.  Kaine was successful not because he talked about "values", but because he talked about his values.  That is the whole point. Most of the electorate doesn't necessarily want someone who agrees with their values.  They want someone who has some clear values.  Voters accepted Kaine's opposition to the death penalty when he explained that as a Catholic he opposed taking life in this way.  Voters, even those who disagreed with him on capital punishment, were thereby reassured that he had some core values; he wasn't a weather vane, like so many politicians.  Really.  It isn't so much the particular values, it is knowing that the candidate is serious about some things and that s/he has a moral copmpass.  That is what "values" is largely about.  It is a way of projecting authenticity and strength. But is the latter two things aren't there, no amount of pointing at "values" will help.

I largely agree about differentiation.  Bush and the arch conservatives in Congress have done the heavy lifting here for us.

Culture of Corruption is absolutely necessary if the Dems are going to project themselves as agents of change.  Pelosi has to somehow come to understand this, or the GOP will pull the issue out from under the Dems.

National security Absolutely.  Dems need to stand up and call Bush on the mess he has made, the way that security has been bungled.  And favor withdrawal from Iraq so that we can turn our attention to the really serious threats to our security.  What I said about values applies here as well.  Standing up to the GOP is a proxy for standing up to our enemies.

Issues  The Dems need to pick a few themes, not issues, such as retirement security (includes the drug debacle and the pension peoblem), health care generally, and falling behind on education and science.  Then just say when we get power we will make improving the lot of everyday people in these areas the most important and enact policies to do this, not giveaways and subsidies for big pharma and big oil while they fleece ordinary people.  No specific proposals, just a theme and a focus.

by Mimikatz 2006-02-20 03:49PM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

You and dajafi have done an excellent job of hitting the high points on the values issue. The only thing I'd add is that voters, at least according to Michael Lerner, want their candidates to demonstrate that they have some sense of direction for their community. So "having values" not only gives you insurance against the accusation of being an amoral bastard--it helps develop a narrative of you as a leader.

Standard caveat: I'd really like to see a world where atheists (among others) could claim their values without fear of getting their asses nailed to the wall for doing so.

by pastordan 2006-02-20 05:08PM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?


Anyone can talk about their values, assuming they have some.  They can put them into a narrative, what they learned from their parents, or grandparents, or a particularly important teacher, or scout leader or employer or whoever--someone who taught them, as my father taught me, that the most important thing is integrity, and once you've lost that, you're on the way to losing everything.  Or the value of hard work.  Whatever.

Sometimes liberalism, with the penchant to be "tolerant", seems not to care overly much about anything in particular.  But most liberals I know care about their families and their communities, about honesty and accountability in government and myriad other things.  It is just a matter of explaining these things, and I don't think it has to be religiously based, certainly not Christian-based.

by Mimikatz 2006-02-20 06:09PM | 0 recs
You gotter, Otter.

As somebody mentioned elsewhere in this thread, Ed Rendell (of all people) did a good job of this the other night when he said "I'm not a very religious person, but I know what the Old Testament and New Testament have to say..." That made what he had say universally moral, though grounded in a particular religious tradition.

by pastordan 2006-02-21 03:37PM | 0 recs
Structural problems fisrt

Our party is a loose committee run by party surrogates; until this basic structural defect is corrected no single issue will make much of difference. One only has to look at the lost opportunities of the last two years (S.S. aside) to see we have no cohesive collaboration within the party caucus.  Somehow discipline has given way to individual stance. Every issue you mentioned above supposes that it will be implemented with cohesion and discipline, and I just do not see that happening. I'm afraid we are in a rebuilding phase that will take two to four cycles to correct, and that may even be optimistic given the self preservation of the "insiders".

by Citizen80203 2006-02-20 12:57PM | 0 recs
Re: Structural problems fisrt
Wel that's true, but that won't be fixed in 2006. How can we create a change election despite of lack of cohension and our infrastructure deficit? It might not be possible, but I'm interested in coming up with ideas anyway.
by Chris Bowers 2006-02-20 01:21PM | 0 recs
Re: Structural problems fisrt

Point taken.

Pointing out that Republicans Control Congress. This should be first and foremost. Reminding voters repeatedly between now and November that every defect runs through the GOP government.

Non-defense policy proposal. One non-defense policy proposal only (simple straight message). Dependence upon volatile and costly foreign oil, will end within ten years.

Hitting hard on National Security. I disagree with you here Chris. At the very least this issue must be neutralized, and at best negated. Increase border security, port security, and infrastructure security by twenty billion over two years.
Embrace Murtha's plan, and I mean a disciplined embrace with no  open dissention. "We will bring our National Guard home to guard our nation."

Culture of Corruption. Every Democrat should end his or her speech with a jab at the GOP corruption. We need to come up with a specific dollar amount what this corruption has cost the average citizen. "this Republican corruption has cost every American man, woman, and child $150,000.00 each."

Prescription Drug Plan. "We will end the GOP/pharma welfare plan and replace it with a new "Senior Citizens right to medication".  

by Citizen80203 2006-02-20 01:55PM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

We need phases and talking points,that every Dem repeats no matter what the question is.

Example would be on providing access to affordable health care.

We should hear this everyday-"Every American has a right to affordable health care"

"Social Security was in good shape until the Republicans spent the money in the SS lock box."

by TANK1 2006-02-20 01:12PM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?
I don't think I beleive that. I'm just not convicned that top-down, repetitive messaging is the way of the future. I think that diffuse, bottom-up messaging is. I do think that we eventually need a shared vocabularly through which we can discuss our beliefs and feel like it really makes sense. However, in the absence of that, I'm not sure that repeating taliing points is the key.
by Chris Bowers 2006-02-20 01:20PM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

Bottom up messaging is really old fashioned reaching out, knocking on doors, introducing ourselves to our neighbors AND LISTENING TO THEM. We have to be the agents of change,the ones who are willing to knock on the doors- the activists.

I did this the week of 2/4; I was running to be elected as a delegate in support of Deval Patrick in MA. I had my town's voter registration list and I was checking for all the registered Dems. Once I identified myself as a neighbor (albeit from a few streets over),and my mission, these people couldn't stop talking about HOW UPSET THEY WERE  WITH WHAT WAS GOING ON IN THE COUNTRY

They were upset,felt helpless, and a few said they were "sick" about what is happening. They want change alright. They also want to talk about politics. I felt as if I was witnessing a floodgate open with some people - Bush, the war, divisiveness, corruption. All these topics were brought up by these people. Not me. I was there to ask for their vote.

Now would be a good time to say that I am on my local Dem Town Committee. When I got back from my vote getting mission I immediately contacted my town chair by email and strongly suggested that we do precinct walk throughs. Start with the registered dems and then ask them about whether they ever initiate conversations with their neighbors who may happen to be independents/republicans who hopefully are also fed up.

One conversation, one voter at a time is how we will win

by merbex 2006-02-20 02:42PM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

Talking values: As someone else said, "talking values" is not the same as "pandering to church values".  Talking Values is a key strategy because Liberal values fundamentally are American values.  Stuff like support for education, honesty among public officeholders, being pro-civil liberties, etc.  That stuff is the core of what makes America, America.  If we don't stand up and say "Hey, being a liberal isn't a bad thing: it's all these X Y Z plain old American things," then we lose, and deservedly so.

Internal Reform: I'll second the notion that we have to help Dean clean the Democratic house.  We can hardly "live our values" if our own house is as full of underhanded, sneaky backroom crap like what the party did to Paul Hackett.  That shit simply cannot be allowed to stand.

Root Causes: I've said many times (if not here on MyDD specifically) that one of the deepest root causes for the horrible "image is everything" political climate we have is the plurality system itself.  The simple way we tally our ballots to determine a winner has caused, largely via the spoiler effect, a political dynamic to emerge which favors negative campaigning and personal attacks over positive, issue-based campaigning as the easier route to electoral success.  It's a root cause, and I'm all in favor of fixing root causes first, because it makes cleaning up the symptoms (negativity in politics, and the attendant backroom corruption you get when image is all that matters) tons and tons easier.  All of which is my way of saying that the best, most effective, and deepest route to creating lasting change in the electorate is to switch to a voting system that encorages issue-based debate and penalizes attack-politics.  Any of the systems (IRV, or the many Condorcet methods) which allow voters to rank all the candidates from 1 to N achieve this.  Honestly, if the magic genie gave me a wish to change exactly 1 thing about politics in America, I'd use my wish to switch us to a better election method.  (personally, I'd choose a Condorcet method, although I know that the mass sentiment seems to be lining up behind IRV.)

by jasonbl 2006-02-20 01:20PM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?
Saying that we need a better elctoral system isn't a way of sdescribing how we can make a change eleciton in 2006.
by Chris Bowers 2006-02-20 01:23PM | 0 recs
Re: Accountability, accountability, accountibility

This is the message Dems can rally around.

The Bush administration and Republicans in general think they are above the law and accountable to no one.

Holding irresponsible people to account resonates with Americans.

It's a simple message:
No one is above the law and, as Democrats, we will
make sure the government is accountable and is held accountable to you, the electorate, no ifs ands or buts.

And we have a useful comparison that many voters remember, Nixon. Trot out tricky Dick and remind Americans what it was like when the president and his administration thought they were above the law. So many of the current Bush policies have their genesis in Nixon's WH.

by phillydem 2006-02-20 01:43PM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

While I think the culture of corruption is important, I fear that Americans who aren't partisan one way or another pretty much look at both parties as being as crooked whether it's true or not or the scale differs. What I think really needs to be hammered away at is the Republican's utter incompetence on practically every issue -- and when we talk about that we have to be ready to say what we would do differently.

by Edward Copeland 2006-02-20 01:44PM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

That is why it is crucial to specifically spell out that cost in real dollars to every citizen.

by Citizen80203 2006-02-20 02:14PM | 0 recs
Policy platforms

I have to disagree a little bit here.

Sure, in depth 20-bullet policy platforms by themselves don't win elections, but policy proposals like, say, support of a national clean elections law can reinforce strategies to brand yourself as a reformer. Or support for an increase in the minimum wage or stronger labor laws can signal "worker-friendliness"

Further, what do you plan to do once you've won? Do you just hash out proposals on the fly once you're in office (you know, like Clinton's health care fiasco in '93-'94)? Successful big policy departures (like Medicare, say) were pushed by Democrats in the 1950s, a decade before they ever got passed. How can you develop political momentum in favor big policy changes like, say, universal health insurance, if you don't campaign on them?

Even if this stuff doesn't get through to the public at large too easily, it does influence the media and political elites who set the national agenda in large part.

Can't we walk and chew gum at the same time? Put together an agenda that helps us brand ourselves to the public at large while setting the stage for big changes we want to make once we acquire power?

I'm afraid if we ignore this we'll just be spinning our wheels even if we do end up back in power.

by tgeraghty 2006-02-20 01:54PM | 0 recs
Re: Policy platforms

I don't think anybody is arguing against having policy proposals. Just against running on them.

Although I also agree with your first point, that five bullets, plus or minus two, can be a wonderful tool for showing where the Party stands and that the candidate stands with the Party.

by Bill Rehm 2006-02-20 07:37PM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

Here are my two cents and they focus on the culture of corruptiom.

I believe that our party has a lot to gain by picking one ethics/CFR bill and pushing for it no matter what.  Ethics should not be negotiated.  We need a firm stance and clear distinction between the wishy washy and watered down McCain style reform bills.  Reform as you point out plays well to large masses of the electorate.  If we can paint the Republicans as defending the status quo corruption, we will do well.  It would be key to shut down any weak Republican moved bill and take a stance that it just isn't good enough for the American public.

by juls 2006-02-20 01:58PM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

I strongly believe in grassroots organizing. Because many people just do not care that much about/follow politics. They vote the way their friends do. The way their family does. The way their neighbors do. The way their coworkers do. We are very atypical here because of our interest in politics and the process of elections, and what works for us does not necessarily work for the masses.

I think the DNC's precinct organizing strategy is spot on. We need a precinct captain for every precinct in the country. And they are responsible for building a network in their precinct: finding the strong Dems and banding together to reach out to their neighbors. That's the best, lasting way to change hearts and minds, not ad buys or direct mail or anything else.

I suspect most voters have a person or persons in their world, who they see as "political experts". Maybe it's their brother. Maybe it's their local paper's editorial page. Maybe it's Rush or Hannity (shudder). And those voters are influenced by their perceived experts when it comes to election time. (See Gladwell's The Tipping Point - good book.) We can't compete against all that unless we show up in their world too.

Grassroots organizing is hard. And scary, especially the first time you knock on your neighbor's door or make that phone call and bring up the dreaded subject of politics. That's probably why so many candidates and organizations shy away from it. It's a lot easier to set up a website or do an email blast or buy an ad or go on a talk show, than face down your friends and family and risk rejection. But we've got to do it if we want to win elections again.

So my #1 suggestion is to build out that structure and start that work. Candidates can do whatever on TV, but in the end it won't matter nearly as much as what friends and neighbors are saying about them. I think Dean and the new DNC get it. It remains to be seen whether all the other groups out there get onboard too.

by lpackard 2006-02-20 02:00PM | 0 recs
How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

With Hillary lurking in the wings? Anybody thought that one through?

Me, personally, I think we don't win shit with the Clintonistas at the Party helm.

by trueblue 2006-02-20 02:06PM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

My 2 suggestions (in addition to Bower's)

- Articulate a truly coherent message. Dems have a tendency to push a zillion different messages and nuances on the electorate. Let's stop doing that. All we need is: Freedom, Security, Prosperity - For All. These are our values. "Freedom" is the most promising value right now, when Republicans are giving up on civil liberties and individual rights in their post-9/11 fantasy world. We would benefit enormously, I think, from giving up on gun control. If we are pro-gun then we are pro-freedom in every way - and our message becomes more coherent and less muddled. We would have a much bigger appeal on libertarians.

- Find leaders that can speak straight/forcefully and are populists to the bone. I'm talking about Dean, Schweitzer, Tester and Hackett (minus the hyperbole) here. Pelosi, Kerry and Hillary are all  decent politicians but they should not represent our party in the media. No weak talk ever from a Democrat. Just telling the truth, plain and simple. Less nuance, more force and passion.

by Populism2008 2006-02-20 02:12PM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

And I forgot:

3. Paint the GOP as extremists and push the "Religious Right = taliban extremist batshit crazy Middle Eastern style theocrats" meme constantly, but under the radar (not through elected officials) just like the GOP did with liberalism ("= communism").

If we can convince the American electorate that GOP is controlled by right wing mullahs the moderates will be scared away. The GOP will then have to distance themselves from the RR, and this would kill there chances (no grassroot support left). This strategy might take a decade to fully implement but we should start already today. We need to demonize the right wing, make these people toxic to the mainstream.

by Populism2008 2006-02-20 02:25PM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

You left out the essential right wingnut phrases "the antichrist" before her name and "spawn of satan" after.

by Michael Bersin 2006-02-20 02:18PM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

Uh-huh. Yes. But who is gonna hang this bell around the cat's neck?

by soybean 2006-02-20 03:00PM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

I realize this is not what you're asking about, but since we in the blogosphere ascribe to the 50-state strategy and work for the long-term health of the Democratic Party, you should also consider something that can create a change election in 2006 that can also be used in 2008 to convince people that "yea, Democrats are in charge now, but things are going pretty well and you want to keep us in charge now."  Or else it could just as easily be another change election the other way.

I'm thinking Health Care could be that issue.  As has been pointed out before a few times on MyDD, the polling indicates that people really dislike Medicare Part D.  Hey guess what is one of the Democrats' best issues!  We can tie the health care disaster around the GOP's neck this time around, and then next time around show people the work we're doing to fix it and make it better.

by Fran for Dean 2006-02-20 03:15PM | 0 recs
Rendell nailed the values issue

I went to a rally yesterday at Bryn Mawr college, which included Ed Rendell along with Lois Murphy, Joe Sestak, Mike Gerber, Josh Shapiro, Bryan Lentz and a some other democrat candidates.  There is much to report about this meeting, but my time is limited right now.  One take away, however, relates to your "values" issue.

Rendell spoke about the Republicans owning the values issue, but that there was no necessity for that.  What he said most eloquently was that it has less to do with religion than with basic humanitarian values. He said that although he was not religiously active, he knew the Old and New Testament pretty well and whereas you see practically nothing about abortion or gay marriage in it, on nearly every page it talks about feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and attending to the poor.

The take away line, which I loved, was this:  The Democrats are the "golden rule party."

Do unto others ....  It's a simple thought, something everyone understands.

by accumbens 2006-02-20 03:22PM | 0 recs
Make it easier.

I'd start with "It's Enough- Republicans are finished and obsolete now" as the starting point.

There are really only five or six fundamental issue areas.  Don't get bogged down in the subissues- take the central one in each area and answer it right off the bat.

> Iraq: Not a democracy, not going to be a democracy anytime soon.  It's not worth more torture, killings, or money.  
>The solution to Iraq: withdraw to safe haven zones, let them have their civil war, then let the UN peacekeep it and nurse it to a functional democracy.
>Social policy:  We stand for the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.  They deny it exists.
>Economic policy: They're bankrupting us.  End the stupid tax cuts for the richest, the rest is easy to fix.
>Ethics: We have real ethics.  They're all crooks.
>Terrorism: Are you safer than you were five years ago?  When is the next Al Qaeda attack, and where?

by killjoy 2006-02-20 03:28PM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

My suggestions

1) Talk about values. I agree this is often code for going for the church crowd (If I can put it that way), but what I mean is each candidate honestly talking about their values; what matters to them and not complex policy initiatives. "I believe in XXXX and that is what I will use to vote on."

2) Don't hide who and what you are - I am a Progressive Democrat (or whatever). This goes well with #1.

3) Stop bad mouthing individuals (Bush, Rove, Coulter, and the random evil Republican of the month). But do keep mentioning they are in charge and what they are doing. "The Republicans in Congress don't care about deficits, just tax breaks."


by jpdonaghue 2006-02-20 03:53PM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

Change the storyline. Republicans are incompetent freeloaders. Exhibit A: ion=root&name=ViewPrint&articleI d=11174

Oh, and Republicans control Congress.

by gorillagogo 2006-02-20 05:05PM | 0 recs

I like your number 7, but I would add H-E-A-L-T-H  C-A-R-E.

by jgarcia 2006-02-20 05:25PM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

I agree with much of what you've said except on foreign policy.  In a long-term sense, it's incredibly important to be perceived as being the right party on defense.  It's even more important that the U.S. actually have a good defense strategy because if we keep inflaming the entire Muslim world, not securing the nuclear materials in the former Soviet countries and not guarding ports, a nuclear weapon is going to go off in the U.S.; it's only a matter of time.  So we need to be pushing good policies now.

As has been noted a lot in the comments, the platform that we win elections on is really important (even if, as you say and I agree with you, it's not a detailed platform) in order for us to govern.  To that end, if Dem candidates run on platforms that include the foreign policy ideas that we all generally agree on--turning Iraq over to Iraqis, securing nuclear materials, securing ports--they'll have a much better chance of actually getting them done once elected.  It seems to me that this is really important for actual governance, if not elections.

As far as elections go, it'll be one big pain in the ass if Democrats in 2056 have to deal with the same perception of Republicans as better on defense than Democrats that Democrats in 2006 have to deal with.  Seems to me that there's no time like the present to start changing that.

by DanM 2006-02-20 05:34PM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

I'm not a big fan of the tactics Rahm Emmanuel has been using thus far in this election cycle, but the fact that the DCCC has recruited so many Fighting Dems is a big part of changing the perception that Democrats are weak on defense.  I think that's the single biggest thing that Democrats can do at least this cycle to counter that meme.  If all these vets are coming back from war and deciding to run for Congress as Democrats, that says quite a bit about which party is the party of the troops.

by Fran for Dean 2006-02-20 06:08PM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

I think that you are quite right, in a short-term sense.  But, in a longer-term sense, we need to have lots of people who are versed, coherent and outspoken about foreign policy in order to make the advantage that we get from having the Fighting Dems run stick.  To the extent that having Fighting Dems run accomplishes this, that is a positive.  

But, IIRC, most members of congress with military experience are Dems, which doesn't appear to have helped significantly.  At the very least, the 2004 election--which pitted a decorated military veteran against a draft-dodging incompetent leader--shows that simply having people with military experience is not enough, in and of itself.

by DanM 2006-02-21 08:31AM | 0 recs
Scorched Earth

Combine #3 and #7 with an ethics war.  Get someone to break the ethics truce shortly before the 60 day deadline, and watch congressional approval drop 10 more points.  Combining that with telling people that Republicans are in charge should create a pretty strong desire for change.

by ItsDrewMiller 2006-02-20 06:22PM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

Maybe I'm biased since I'm from New Orleans, but I think that we should be pounding away about Katrina.

As far as I'm concerned, there are only four issues for this election: Iraq, Katrina, Corruption, and Healthcare(specifically the Medicare debacle).

You hit those again and again and again, because they hit all the negative elements of a Republican government.

Iraq: Dead American soldiers in the pursuit of what cause, exactly? Gross mismanagement from the administration. Billions of dollars that have just disappeared. Whoops! Cronyism and Halliburton's ultra-expensive contracts. Lack of body armor. Greeted as liberators? Kidnapped and exploding journalists!

Katrina: Dead American citizens for what reason, exactly? Gross mismanagement. Cronyism and no-bid contracts. Journalists can make it to New Orleans, but FEMA can't find their way? Trucks of ice driving from state to state, winding up in Maine. Exploding gas prices, and oil execs testifying without being under oath. Heckuva Job Brownie the Horse Judge. And Dennis Hastert, third in the line of succession, saying that a major American city probably should not be rebuilt!

Corruption: Dead social reforms for what reason, exactly? $$$$$$$$$$$ Jack Abramoff. Minority citizens are "troglodytes." Congressmen selling votes, the routing of a representative democracy. Cronyism and more cronyism. Energy companies writing energy policies. Frist insider trading.

Healthcare: Almost-dead elderly people for what reason, exactly? Change in policy! Meds no longer covered! Whoops! Gross mismanagement. States bailing out the Federal government. Exploding cost of "reforms". Can't buy drugs from Canada, though! Cronyism. Insurance companies writing healthcare policies. Frist sneaking protection for drug companies into legislation.  

And those are just the first images that come to my mind. All those instances of GOP incompetence and criminality, covered by four words...

Iraq Katrina Corruption Healthcare

by paulrobeson 2006-02-20 07:32PM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

Clearly differentiating ourselves...

I'd say this is a harder problem than you think.  Right now the populace may note that there are differences between parties, but when the campaigning gets rolling, and the media begins highlighting double talk, or Dem candidates begin sounding vacuous, then we are back to the old, "same ole shit--they're all the same" response.  

So the expression of human values (as discussed here by other posters) and the need to convince people we have a vision (if not in 20 point plans) is what will truly cement the differences in the minds of the electorate.

by The lurking ecologist 2006-02-20 07:36PM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

Character matters.  Not the character matters bullshit about Bill Clinton, but the character embodied in Cheney shooting an old man in the face then lying/hiding/denying/spinning about it.

The character about standing up for what's right, not for the party.  The character  of Sy Hersh, not of Judy Miller.  The character of Scout Prime in New Orleans, not rick santorum in PA doing a Randy Cunningham.

Of course, it would help if the Democrats started doing that with any regularity, but hey, you work with what brung ya, right?

Never mind, I don't think we can win on character until we have a few more victories, a few more challengers that start the process of enforcing discipline a bunch of wayward cats.  Which explains the Senate Dems problem, doesn't it, what with Kitty Kevorkian as Majority leader, no?

by DuckmanGR 2006-02-20 08:08PM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

i think the democratic party can win by doing this ...

get a big pile of reasonable, intelligent, wise, serious democrats in a room, a cross-section of the democratic party.  ask them this one simple question - what would make america better ?

and then make them sit there and talk about it for days upon days, and weeks, after taking away their cell phones and poll numbers and all their other crutches.  at first they'll argue, which is good.  later some of them will be smiling and others will be really angry, also good.  later there will be a few who want to take their toys and go home but most of the majority is going to be thinking, hey, we've got something here.  and then finally there'll be some crazy ass 10% of the folks that are just flaming mad and a seperate majority of what i'll call normal folks who actually have a real agenda, a positive plan to make the world a better place and america there in it.  then you get that 10% that's mad and kick their asses out and discredit their crazy ass stuff everytime you get the chance as a bunch of wacko non-sense, distancing yourself as much as possible.  and you take what's left, the plan, and take out the most important parts, and that's the master plan.

then you take this great plan you made and stand up in front of the world and say, here it is, we all got together on this thing and this is it, this is what we really think would make the world a better place.  and since you actually fought it out and have a consensus and it's righteous and has some backbone then it will stand up to all the attacks launched at it, and people will have to actually say something intelligent about it if they want to fight against it.  but the most important thing is that it's righteous and not a lot of reactionary horse sh*t, or answering attacks being launched from the republicans, or reacting to the news cycle, or whatever ... but that it is instead an actual positive plan put together by bright minds with the real hope of doing right by the american people, i mean really right by them.  not ideological non-sense or anti-right-wing non-sense or let's get elected non-sense but actual SENSE, some real plan that everyone is behind that has spirit in it and is strong in essence and beauty.  hell i'd like to see it, i'd like to see the plan myself!

and then you stand by it.  and you tell the voters about what you want to do.  and you keep saying it, over and over and over, at every opportunity.  and you do it in a suit with a clean shirt with a serious expression of warmth and sincerity on your face .. and you leave the attack ads at home, and you leave the hollywood stars in hollywood.  and you don't get upset and start reacting to republicans when they hit you, you just stick with the message and keep sticking with it, keep saying it, over and over.  and then when it comes time to vote ... the voters go into the polls, and they either like what you said, or they don't.  they either like your plan and want it implemented, or they don't.  but at least you can stand tall and say hey, this is what we're about, we're not going to roll around in the dirt just to get into a street fight ... this is our plan, and we're standing by it .. and if you don't like it, then vote for the other guy.

by Purple Foxglove 2006-02-20 10:24PM | 0 recs
Outraged Moderates
Check this site out:  
and especially this: ngsAmericaAgreesOn.html
Almost everything we say we stand for had about three quarters of Americans behind it.  I wasn't happy when former Virginia Governor Warner dismissed worries about clean elections but he had a point.  These elections shouldn't even be close.  Who likes corruption, huge deficits, war, expensive and uneven health care?  
by prince myshkin 2006-02-20 10:24PM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

Here's what I would add to your list, Chris:

9. Message: "Republicans are greedy." The current corruption scandals make for a great opportunity not just to win elections this year, but to finally re-open a long-standing national debate. Simply put, Reagan said, "It's your money," and Democrats have never had an answer that resonated. It's time to bring the Reagan Democrats to finally understand that they made a mistake in 1980. Dems can do that by pointing to the failure of trickle-down economics and to the policies that have ended up lining the fat cats' pockets. The evidence? The weakness of the economic recovery, and the record profits of the oil companies and the health insurance companies at the expense of consumers.

(By the way, a couple of months ago, someone said that the Republican's priorities we "1. me 2. me 3. me ..." That was meant as a joke, but I think it should be the Democratic campaign slogan. It's simple and effective.)

10. Message: "We are the party of compassion." Over the last few decades, the Democrats have lost the support of the religious conservatives, who used to vote Democratic quite consistently. It's because the Republicans managed to brand themselves as the party of God. It's time that the Dems take that mantle back, not as the party of God (we know they can't do that), but as the party of morality and compassion. Take almost any political issue, and it can be viewed through the greed/compassion frame. The Republicans appeal to people's greed (e.g. tax cuts), while the Democrats appeal to people's compassion (e.g. Medicaid). Then of course there's Katrina. And my favorite is the environment. There are finally some groups that are trying to bring religious conservatives over to the environmentalist cause where they belong. The Democrats should jump on that bandwagon now. At the least, it has the potential to take some steam out of the Republican grassroots engine.

by nstrauss 2006-02-21 01:15AM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?


The absolute refusal of the people who have been in the Democratic Party establishment over the years, to follow the prescription you set forth, is the reason we keep losing elections.

Thanks for giving voice to common sense.

May I also add a comment?  Apropos of #7, reminding voters that it is the Republicans who control Congress.

In addition to the entrenchment of the Shrum-types, we also have a problem getting our ideas down to nuggets which are digestible to the US public, after years of being having dumbed-down shit drummed into them by the networks, and the VRWC.

Harry Truman called the Congress he was running against in 1948 the "Do Nothing Congress".  Three words that said a mouthful.

Our people in 2006 should be talking about the "Cover-up Congress".  I saw that moniker at MyDD earlier this week; I wish I had thought of it.


Why?  The prize.  What is the prize?  Double-header impeachment and removal.  Eyes on the prize.

by jfrankesq 2006-02-21 03:20AM | 0 recs
Re: How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

Good post, some personal followup:

Clearly differentiating ourselves from Republicans:

Yes & No. Yes in that the party should articulate some (general) themes that it stands for, because by practice, a party saying it stands for something is also saying the other party is the exact opposite. No in that just because the GOP takes a certain stance on an issue or is 'for' an issue, doesen't neccessitate that Democrats must take the opposite side of an issue. There's no reason Democrats cant be for generalisms like "Responsibility", "Strong National Defense" and "Values"

2. Talking Values: Yes & No again. You are right that we are talking about "White Chrurch goers." The goal is not trick otherwise conservative christians into voting Democrat or even trying to seriously challenge the GOP for the White Christian vote. We are never going to seriously get many of them without seriously altering the platform of our party in bad ways.

All we have to do is subtlely adjust the party in certain ways so that liberal christians who are looking for an excuse to vote Democratic but don't because they believe the party is godless, is opposed to christians or doesen't care about issue X, can feel more comfortable voting Dem. Much of this can be achieved by simply "talking" values. Joe Lieberman's political career is a great example of what can be achieved through little more than rhetoric. Lieberman, through discussing the merits of faith and rhetorically coming down against violent video games, has garnered him significant support among conservatives (who vote for him) despite the fact that his voting record on "family" issues is the exact opposite of those in the GOP aisle who talk a similiar game.

5. Hitting hard on National Security: I don't think so, in that I don't think the Dems can usurp the GOP lead in this field, but the Dems can easily close the gap and it would cost them virtually nothing but rhetoric. Think Joe Biden.

8. Moderating or moving to the right or center:

Are we speaking whether it's politically advisable or whether "it's the right thing to do."? It seems kind of contradictory to advise against this on Lakoff's thoughts that moving rightward sends the message that you are moving away from what you support and then say that most of the electorate doesen't think idealogically.

by Epitome23 2006-02-21 05:35AM | 0 recs


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