My Plea To Dems: Stop The Navel-Gazing

Okay. Once more for the cheap seats. When Republicans criticize us, it's not enough to say, "yes, that is their criticism and we will prove it wrong." That doesn't get you anywhere. First, reject the premise of the criticism. Next, show why the criticism is invalid. Even if you want to skip that first step because you think the criticism has some validity, skip to step two. Just answer the damn criticism.

Case in point, Evan Bayh. In a speech yesterday, Bayh acknowledged that Karl Rove, in accusing Democrats of having "a pre-9/11 worldview," had, in the words of MSNBC's Tom Curry"thrown down the gauntlet" on foreign policy and national security matters. That's certainly fair to say. But I strongly object to how Bayh chose to handle the matter from that point on.

"Some in my party are afraid of this fight," Bayh noted in a foreign policy address Thursday. But he said the voters would never trust Democrats to take care of education and other issues "if they don't first trust us with their lives. Who can best protect America in these perilous times is of paramount importance."...

Rove, he said, had thrown down the gauntlet. "We intend to pick it up.... I welcome this debate because it is one that we can win."

He explained that Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman had strong records in defending America. "It has only been since the Vietnam War that Democrats have been viewed by the American people as congenitally weak, too soft to be entrusted with our national security," he said. "But that can change, and if we aspire to national leadership, it must."

I know I'm going to get bombarded for going after another DLC Democrat. Here's the thing... I don't care where Evan Bayh lands on the political spectrum. I would be saying this same exact thing if it was Rush Holt making this type of statement. Moderation and centrism are fine with me. My problem is representation of the Democratic brand as broken and weak. That's a self-fulfilling prophecy. If even Democratic lawmakers are telling the media that Democrats don't appear strong, they're helping to perpetuate that narrative. In other words, my frustration is not with the ideology -- it's with the stupid marketing.

Representatives from Procter & Gamble don't go on CNBC and talk about the fact that the perception exists that Tide could do a better job of removing stains. They just show evidence to the contrary. This kind of message craft, starting from a negative assumption, is unheard of in the corporate world. It's a lesson Democrats need to learn if they're serious about winning the hearts and minds here at home.

Rather than declaring that the Democratic Party intends to pick up the gauntlet, why not just pick the damn thing up right then and there? To his credit, Bayh actually went on to do just that. He criticized the Bush administration, saying that they have "undermined our nation's security and bungled the war on terror." On Iraq, he advocated "benchmarks for success, a timeline for progress, accountability for results, and candor about how we are doing." And he criticized the "caricature of our situation as a choice between spineless 'cut and run' and mindless 'staying the course.' " That last part is especially important, coming from someone who's considered a hawk.

Still, the media focus was all on the fact that Bayh began by accepting Rove's premise. It doesn't matter how great the substance of Bayh's speech may have been if it follows a convenient and juicy soundbite of him attacking his own party. Debates and discussion about how to overcome obstacles is great. But it doesn't need to take place in a public speech. The only thing a politician has to gain from that is showing that they're different, smarter, and strong than the rest of their fellow Democrats. And I understand that Bayh wants to make his case that he's the party's best hope in 2008. But it's just as easy to do that without prefacing it with all the public navel-gazing.

Tags: 2008, Democrats, Evan Bayh, Message (all tags)

Comments

36 Comments

Re: My Plea To Dems: Stop The Navel-Gazing

Rush Holt is a member of the DLC fwiw.

by zt155 2006-02-03 09:06AM | 0 recs
Re: My Plea To Dems: Stop The Navel-Gazing

Really? I wasn't aware of that. It's great that you point that out though, as it proves the netroots are not 100% hostile to DLC members. I was using him as an example of a pretty progressive Democrat.

by Scott Shields 2006-02-03 10:05AM | 0 recs
Re: My Plea To Dems: Stop The Navel-Gazing

Yeah, you'd be surprised. I've taken people to task for that very reason whenever they throw out "DLC" to define whether or not a Democrat is good or bad. And remember how everybody thought Barack Obama was gonna be another Paul Wellstone for rejecting his DLC affiliation?

by zt155 2006-02-03 10:44AM | 0 recs
Re: My Plea To Dems: Stop The Navel-Gazing

Well said. Though I'm not sure you would have really had the same analysis if someone like Feingold or even Murtha had said the same thing, you make a great point. Thanks for giving Bayh credit for what he did right.

by bluenc 2006-02-03 09:07AM | 0 recs
Re: My Plea To Dems: Stop The Navel-Gazing

When Murtha or Feingold says something like this and I don't say anything about it, then ask me why I'm not commenting. If I don't comment then, feel free to let me have it. But until then, the charge is a little unfair, even if the perception is understandable.

When I first read the coverage of the speech, I was really annoyed with Bayh. The stories were all about Bayh criticizing Democrats and, if anything, indicated that he didn't really say anything about what a 'tough and smart' Democratic foreign policy would look like. The reporters did him a total disservice, as that speech was pretty compelling.

But predictably, they went with the more flashy angle and focused on the surface of his speech rather than the substance. Unfortunately, the deck is somewhat stacked against us now and we need to be smarter about how we present our message.

by Scott Shields 2006-02-03 10:02AM | 0 recs
Re: My Plea To Dems: Stop The Navel-Gazing

I agree with you. And it wasn't really a serious accusation, as I could easily see you guys going after someone more popular among the netroots.

by bluenc 2006-02-03 01:07PM | 0 recs
Sweet Jesus Christ On A Crutch!

Dammit bluenc! Can you quit your damned bellyaching about being picked on for one stinking day? Why in the hell did you throw in a gratuitous shot at Murtha and Feinngold? Murtha is a rock sold conservative for crying out loud. Give it a fucking rest already!

by Gary Boatwright 2006-02-03 10:32AM | 0 recs
Re: My Plea To Dems: Stop The Navel-Gazing

Scott, I think you are missing a point here -- Bayh framed his speech in this manner precisely BECAUSE he is running for president in 2008.  When he says "some in my party are afraid of this fight," the unspoken mext line is "But I am not, so vote for me or we will lose the election."  In other words, Bayh isn't engaging in public navel-gazing -- he's practicing some very cynical political strategizing.  In other words, his behavior is even worse than you say it is.

by Richter 2006-02-03 09:07AM | 0 recs
Re: My Plea To Dems: Stop The Navel-Gazing

I was more clear about it in my post about Vilsack the other day, but I tried to get that point across this time in mentioning 2008. And that's a big part of the problem -- tearing down the overall Democratic Party brand in order to build up one's self. There's no reason Bayh can't prove his own bona fides without tearing down the generic "some in my party." As you say, that's just cynical.

by Scott Shields 2006-02-03 10:10AM | 0 recs
This may be true

But his post struck me.   I find that democrats, especially on the tv "news" shows, are constantly gutted by their republican counterparts, and often by the shows host.

by dpANDREWS 2006-02-03 10:14AM | 0 recs
Daou

This is exactly what Peter Daou was talking about in his latest piece that Chris Bowers just wrote a post about.  And yea, this shit has got to stop.

by Fran for Dean 2006-02-03 09:25AM | 0 recs
Re: My Plea To Dems: Stop The Navel-Gazing

Moreover, Bayh doesn't do himself nor the Party any favors by reinforcing GOP framing lies about Dems being weak on defense and cannot be trusted to protect America. It is insane for any Dem to acknowlege this crap then help the GOP catapult the lies. The Dems need to be straight-up and repeat a message that says when the al Qaeda highjackers were plotting and training to attack us on our soil, no Democrat would have ignored the warning signs and stayed on vacation. A Democrat would've protected America.

by fafnir 2006-02-03 09:31AM | 0 recs
Another point...

that should be repeated endlessly by every Dem who gets on TV is this:

"If Republicans are really making us safer, why do they have to lie about it to the American people?"

If the premise is then questioned by John Q. Pundit, then that Dem has just been invited to list the many lies and deceptions of Bush and his apologists in the Republican Party - starting with why we invaded Iraq - on TV to a national audience. Gradually, the premise will stop being questioned and a new more realistic narrative will begin to take hold.

by miasmo 2006-02-03 09:59AM | 0 recs
Re: Even with the home team

Jeff Bingaman did it on Big Eddie's show today. This is on our home team's turf! And Bush is in Bingaman's state pushing his lies.

Ed was talking about the "addicted to oil" brainstorm from the SOTU, and Jeff made 2 mistakes:

1) took it seriously.
2) didn't relate the pushback Bush got from the Saudis or the backtracking they did the next day ("not literal")

Ed had to do this for him a few minutes later.

Jeff Bingaman got an F- for that, I tried to call Ed to let him know. He needs some training, and fast.

by zappatero 2006-02-03 12:39PM | 0 recs
Re: My Plea To Dems: Stop The Navel-Gazing

I agree with Scott's assessment that we need to stop saying these things in public.  However, we need to stop denying we have a problem in the area of national security.  Like an alcoholic who can't get sober until he admits he has a problem, we cannot address and fix this perception until we admit it exists.  

I just posted on Chris's diary that we need to do this stuff in private and have a more united front in public.  This goes for this issue too.

by John Mills 2006-02-03 09:38AM | 0 recs
What problem?

"we need to stop denying we have a problem in the area of national security."

What exactly is this problem? Dems are better than Republicans on security. Period. Bush's bullshit is making us less safe. He's Bin Laden's best friend, giving him a terrorist recruiting bonanza. Every thing Bush does makes us less safe.

The only problem Dems have is pretending they have a problem in order to pander to a rightwing corporate media.

by miasmo 2006-02-03 09:49AM | 0 recs
Re: What problem?

What is the Dems coherent national security policy?  What is our plan to make America safer? I am a loyal, educated Dem and I cannot tell you where we stand on this issue.  Not being George Bush is not a policy.  We have to stand for something.

by John Mills 2006-02-03 09:52AM | 0 recs
Re: What problem?

How is it that Dems somehow have a "problem" on security, while Republicans have no such problem? Pointing out obvious bullshit is a stronger position than being obvious bullshit. Could Dems be better? Sure. By not pretending we have a problem. Foreign policy is too complicated to put on a bumper sticker. The only true thing about security that you can put on a bumper sticker would be something as simple as "Republicans weaken America" or "Democrats are better for security than Republicans." If you want to get to the point where a truthful bumper sticker says "Democrats strengthen America," we need to start getting big corporate money out of politics and control of the media. That is a real problem. But to say that the Democrats have a "problem" on national security implies that they have a problem relative to Republicans, which is bullshit. The only problem is rightwing media bias and that Democrats are afraid to call bullshit on Republicans. The latter problem is only made worse by Dems worrying over the speck in their own eye rather than going after the beam in Republicans'.

by miasmo 2006-02-03 10:34AM | 0 recs
self-fulfilling prophecy

Here is a perfect example:

Kerry votes for a bullshit war because consultants tell him he needs to support the bullshit Republican position in order to be "credible" on security when he runs for president, because of the "problem" that Dems have on security. So he votes for it, the war is a disaster, and Kerry is portrayed as a flip flopper, reinforcing the perception of a Democrat "problem" on security. The "problem" itself was caused by the initial acceptance of the bullshit premise of this otherwise imaginary "problem."

by miasmo 2006-02-03 10:48AM | 0 recs
Re: What problem?

We could call BS on the Repubs by standing for something in this area.  What is our plan to combat worldwide terrorism?  What is our plan to make our ports more secure?  What is our plan to shut off money to terrorist groups?  I can't answer any of these questions and I follow this regularly!

This is a wonderful rant against the Repubs and the media which I thoroughly enjoyed.  However, in practical political turns this is not going to win us any votes we don't already have.  You want to change policies, you have to win elections and to win elections you have to make
voters comfortable with you.  

There is an old adage in politics that says when you are explaining you are losing.  It still holds.
 

by John Mills 2006-02-03 11:07AM | 0 recs
Re: What problem?

"What is our plan to combat worldwide terrorism?  What is our plan to make our ports more secure?  What is our plan to shut off money to terrorist groups?  I can't answer any of these questions and I follow this regularly!"

Dean answered all of these questions in 2003 in a major foreign policy speech, the details of which were promptly ignored by the media. So you are pointing out a flaw of the corporate media, not necessarily a real or imaginary lack of specific positions by Democrats on these issues. Dems can address these specifics until the cows come home, and it won't help their "problem", which is simply their internalization of an imaginary problem.

Going back to Dean, his relentless calling out of Bush bullshit during the campaign coincided with a remarkable slide of Bush's poll numbers, which magically stopped when Kerry secured the nomination. The answer to this problem is for Dems to stop accepting that they have some kind of "problem" in the first place, so that they can stop being afraid to go out and speak some goddamned truth and common sense.

by miasmo 2006-02-03 11:29AM | 0 recs
Re: What problem?

See Lucas below.  He understands what I am talking about.

Also, not to sound like a prude but it would be really nice if you could make your point with explitives.  Most people here seem to be able to do so.

by John Mills 2006-02-03 12:12PM | 0 recs
Re: What problem?

Meant to say without explitives.

by John Mills 2006-02-03 12:27PM | 0 recs
Re: What problem?

The problem is a problem of perception. Many independents feel that the Republicans are strong on defense and Democrats are weak on defense. It doesn't matter that it's not true. It matters that people beleive that it is true. I don't know how many times the people have told me that Gore or Kerry would give in to terrorists or be paralyzed by inaction. They believe it. Maybe it stems from the Carter inaction on the hostage crisis. Matbe it stems from the anti-war protests of the '60's. My own teeth still grate over "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh!" But I think this only applies to older voters. Middle-aged voters probably remember Carter.

Republicand talk tough and swagger like schoolyard bullies. This leads to the perceptions that they are tough. Democrats are more inclined to think first and this leads to the Caspar Milquetoast impression.

I don't know what to do about it. Putting veterans up for office is not the answer. Gore was a veteran and Bush was not. Bush is a coward but the public perceives him as tough and macho. This IS a problem and it's ours not the Republican's because they have the voters believing them and we don't.

by antiHyde 2006-02-03 01:10PM | 0 recs
Period.

Rather than declaring that the Democratic Party intends to pick up the gauntlet, why not just pick the damn thing up right then and there?

Every Democrat - every Senator and consultant, especially - needs to read this sentence as many times as it takes for it to become permanently imprinted on their brain.

It doesn't matter what the substance of Bayh's remarks were. What matters is that he is setting himself apart from the brand "Democrats" before going on to the substance. Thus any resulting positive associations are with Bayh, and the party's image suffers further.

Biden is the worst offender with this.

by tparty 2006-02-03 09:40AM | 0 recs
Re: My Plea To Dems: Stop The Navel-Gazing

I just posted my reaction to the speech with excerpts of the transcript from it.

by kydem 2006-02-03 09:45AM | 0 recs
Agree 110%

If you pull a knife on a republican in an interview they will shoot you with a gun.  We need learn from them.

Seriously they usually simply refuse to acknowlege the arguement at all, waving it away as a silly attack, and THEN THEY CONTINUE BLASTING AWAY at Democrats, or with their talking points.   If someone tries to point out they didn't address the issue, or whatever, they cut them off and filibuster ... they will talk real loud over the other person until that person gives in and shuts up.

Democrats tend to sit like lumps and take whatever punches are thrown at them, ignore them, and then act like the punch was never thrown and go on babbling.

WEAK.

by dpANDREWS 2006-02-03 10:12AM | 0 recs
Re: My Plea To Dems: Stop The Navel-Gazing

I couldn't agree more with you.  I say this over and over.  I come from a country district in Central PA and the thing that would win Indy votes is strength.  Not proposals, not ideas, not thoughtfull speeches - strength.
Period.
End of story.
Hasta.

Show strength in your beliefs and people will stand up with you - shut up your opponents and they will stand up with you.

by Robert P 2006-02-03 10:23AM | 0 recs
Re: My Plea To Dems: Stop The Navel-Gazing

Once, just once, I wish an elected Democrat would remind these TV hairdos that the if the Republicans cared about national security no one would ever have heard of Valarie Plame or Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan.

by Alice Marshall 2006-02-03 11:45AM | 0 recs
Re: What problem?

Thanks.  This is a good start.  We need to layout a few points and hammer them home.  That is how we change the perception of the party.

by John Mills 2006-02-03 12:10PM | 0 recs
Re: My Plea To Dems: Stop The Navel-Gazing

I don't know if anyone else posted this but Vilsack did the same thing a few days ago.  They are, as previously stated, playing into Roves narrative.

Here is the Vilsack

The Extremist Rantings Of A Mainstream Progressive

by frizzle 2006-02-03 12:24PM | 0 recs
Re: My Plea To Dems: Stop The Navel-Gazing

"undermined our nation's security and bungled the war on terror."

Nothing since September the 11th. Democrats are  pissing in the wind with this lame point.

And if something bad happens, Democratic opposition to the Patriot Act and the wiretapping will come back to haunt them.

Caught between a rock and a hard place!

by MomoAutre 2006-02-03 02:23PM | 0 recs
Re: My Plea To Dems: Stop The Navel-Gazing

The CIA estimates that there al-Qaida has more members in more places around the globe right now than it did before 9/11. Worldwide terrorist attacks have increased since the invasion of Iraq. bin Laden is still at large. Ninety percent of imports into our harbors are not inspected. The 9-11 commission's recommendations have been ignored. Katrina exposed this administration's utter incompetence in dealing with a massive disaster. Terrorist regimes have been strengthened in Iran, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories. And Iraq has become a breeding ground for terrorists.

BTW, Democrats support the Patriot Act. We're just against the small fraction of the law that violate the Constitution. Same thing with wiretaps. We want to spy on terrorists in the US. We also want to follow the law, unlike the Bush administration.

by bluenc 2006-02-03 03:37PM | 0 recs
Re: My Plea To Dems: Stop The Navel-Gazing

Hey Scott:

Rove: Security will be focus of 2006 campaigns
GOP strategist say Democrats have a 'pre-9/11' worldview

Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove charged that Democrats have not adopted to a "post-9/11 world."

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Embattled White House adviser Karl Rove vowed Friday to make the war on terrorism a central campaign issue in November and said Democratic senators looked "mean-spirited and small-minded" in questioning Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito.

"Republicans have a post-9/11 view of the world. And Democrats have a pre-9/11 view of the world," Rove told Republican activists. "That doesn't make them unpatriotic, not at all. But it does make them wrong -- deeply and profoundly and consistently wrong."

Yep, sure, you know, if that damned Evan Bayh would only stop saying that Democrats need to do
something about their perception on national security, why, John Kerry might be president today.

Oh, and guess who said this, Scott:

Well, that is exactly what I am working on right now. In 2002 the party had this idea that we just sort of cede national defense to Bush and we focus on domestic issues. You know, after 9/11 that is just not going to work. In the Bill Clinton era that was fine, but now the American people will only elect a party that they believe will do the job internationally, as well as domestically....

So, I think it is an enormous mistake to cede this and no political party that doesn't have a strong national security position will be successful in the long term.  This is one of my missions to present a progressive national security approach that will appeal to a broad sweep of Americans.

Oh, yeah. We all know what a fit you threw over that.

by blueflorida 2006-02-03 02:46PM | 0 recs
Re: My Plea To Dems: Stop The Navel-Gazing

I'm responding to this a week late, so I'm not really going to get into it because I doubt anyone's still reading. Still, where the hell does everyone get that I love Russ Feingold? Yeah, I like the guy, but that doesn't mean that I'm 100% behind everything he does.

Besides that, my problem is not admitting that the GOP is attacking us on defense. They are. My problem is when someone like Bayh goes out over and over again and says, "I'm going to stand up to this," but doesn't. Feingold was talking about the dynamics of the '02 election -- not '06 or '08 -- when he said that we ceded the issue. And he's right -- we stupidly did.

Even then, I don't really like what he said here. The thing is, Bayh's a chronic repeat offender and unlike Feingold, hasn't offered up any big proposals to change the current course we're on.

by Scott Shields 2006-02-10 02:10PM | 0 recs
Re: My Plea To Dems: Stop The Navel-Gazing
The only way to win a war is to attack.  No war was ever won by falling back to a defensive position.  And this is war, not a PTA meeting, as I keep saying.
The Republicans clearly understand this fact.  They are constantly on the attack.  They interrupt, misinform, twist facts... oh hell, they just plain lie and they do it with an attitude of full, unquestioning, conviction.  Democrats are seen as weak because they look weak.  They sit meekly and wait their turn, then go on and on about their agenda instead of taking the battle to the Republicans and pounding away at their multitude of weaknesses.  It's so freakin' boring, no wonder they are being tuned out.
It's time to be snarling dog Democrats.
by theanalyst 2006-02-04 12:39PM | 0 recs

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