My Plea To Dems: Stop The Navel-Gazing
by Scott Shields, Fri Feb 03, 2006 at 08:44:56 AM EST
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.