Democracy Corps Versus MyDD

The latest Democracy Corps memo (PDF) contains the following graph:The latest Democracy Corps survey, echoing two previous surveys,1 shows that Democrats can fend off Republican attacks on these issues and decisively win the national security debate, including the core issue of Iraq, with the audiences who will decide the November election. Democrats must not duck these issues, as some did in recent elections, and have no need to: unlike in previous years, there are few signs that Republicans come out ahead when Democrats contest them. At this point, the Bush focus on the war and national security is only pumping up his base rather than winning over contested voters or districts. By contrast, when Democrats join this debate and lay out their critique and plans, Democrats win across the broad electorate, particularly among Independents and other swing blocks. This is similar advice to the MyDD / Courage Campaign candidate memo, although we argue against laying out plans and in favor of demanding accountability. I think Democracy Corps is certainly right about their analysis of the public mood heading into this election, since we also argue that ducking Iraq is disastrous, and that Democrats can easily win the Iraq debate with proper messaging because the country knows that Republicans have completely messed up in Iraq and are not going to change course. However, I have to disagree with most of Democracy Corps's advice to candidates, since it is just way too wonky and asks candidates to say things that voters do not believe they can implement:On Iraq, stress that "it is time to change course," because Bush has mismanaged the war, has no real plan going forward, and has made America less secure through skewed priorities that deflect our focus and resources from other key priorities in the fight against terror. I agree with most of that, but even that alone would barely fit into a 30-second spot. The one thing I would change is to add "and the leaders who create this mess must be held accountable" instead of " deflect our focus and resources from other key priorities in the fight against terror." The real problem with the memo comes in when Democracy Corps seems to suggest that Democratic candidates should submit 15-page policy proposals to the voters in their districts on Iraq:
  • Lay out their own plan for protecting the nation's security; voters want to know that in addition to the critique on Iraq, Democrats have a positive program to combat terror and make America safer.

  • As part of that plan, highlight the steps Democrats can take to cut America's dependence on foreign oil. This is the public's number one national security concern, and the public sides with Democrats overwhelmingly when they lay out steps to improve America's energy security.

  • Describe how America can take stronger actions against the threat of Islamic extremism and terrorism, including implementing 100 percent of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations.
What, what, what? Is this a homework assignment that we need to have double-spaced and on the desks of voters in MLA format in two weeks? We need to submit a plan to voters that, among other things, highlights the several steps we can take to reduce our dependency on foreign oil, the steps we can take to otherwise improve our energy security, the several steps we can take to protect us from Islamic extremism, and the many things we will do in order to implement the many recommendations of the 9/11 Commission? That is just crazy advice to give to candidates. Back when I was a writing instructor, there is no way I would have ever assigned a paper like that to my students unless it had a minimum length of 4,000 words.

Democracy Corps is asking for Democratic candidates to present an incredible amount of wonky details on a variety of topics to the voters in their districts. No one is going to read those plans. More importantly, no one is going to believe that a freshman member of the House of Representatives could possibly implement them. People know that Congress can't do that, especially individual, freshman members of Congress. Even Admiral Joe Sestak, who in PA-07 might be the most qualified person running for the House in the entire country when it comes to this area of public policy, is not going to become Secretary of Defense if he defeats lunatic Curt Weldon. And even if he was going to become Secretary of Defense, everyone knows that Bush would fire him for offering such a rational, detailed plan, and that the RNC would back up Bush's decision by running $100M of ads detailing the horrors of then former Secretary Sestak's plan to the entire country.

This is just way too wonky. It suffers from the long-term Democratic candidate disease of hyper-cognition, and the long-term political professional disease of assuming that the rest of the country thinks about politics as much as political professionals do. There is nothing wrong with having plans like this--in fact, it is probably a good sign that a candidate can formulate plans of this nature. However, post them on a PDF link in the "issues" section of your website, or in some other out of the way location. A candidate's message should not be a public recitation of their latest policy proposal.

As I noted, the first bullet point in Democracy Corps's memo wasn't bad, but even that comes close to a 30-second ad all on its own. Keep it Simple, Stupid. I know it is a struggle for many Democrats, but we really need to de-wonkify ourselves around campaign season. I know it wouldn't work either, but I actually prefer the crude, simple message proposed by a Dailykos diarist six weeks ago: Yo, Bush! We're going to stop YOUR shit. Obviously, that would need to be rephrased, but it is simple, direct, it is what people want to hear from politicians and, if it is said in the right way, people will actually believe it. It would certainly be better than the wonkerific campaigns Democracy Corps seems to be suggesting challengers run this year. If this election is supposed to be "it's Iraq, stupid," then please don't turn it into "it's my 43-point treatise on Iraq, professor!" Democracy Corps is right that we can win the national security debate and that we must not avoid it, but we are not going to win it by being wonkier-than-thou.

Tags: Candidate memo, Iraq, messaging, polls (all tags)



Re: Democracy Corps Versus MyDD

What I am suprised by is that they agree with you on the underlying premise. Is there a shift happening the party? You are right about keep it simple, but its nice to see that people are agreeing on what to keep simple versus arguing about the what.

by bruh21 2006-09-07 01:30PM | 0 recs
Re: Democracy Corps Versus MyDD


I agree with you in terms of priorities and the need to steer clear of counterproductive wonkiness.  But I'm not so sure that in adding and emphasizing accountability candidates need to totally drop some short and clear version of the following:

"On Iraq, stress that "it is time to change course," because Bush has mismanaged the war, has no real plan going forward, and has made America less secure through skewed priorities that deflect our focus and resources from other key priorities in the fight against terror."

I also think that, instead of the 15 page document (or maybe in addition to it), something along the lines of a one-pager with bullet points might be useful.  Maybe half the page can itemize Bush-failure accountability points and the other half can list short and clear things the Dems would do differently.

by mitchipd 2006-09-07 01:43PM | 0 recs
Re: Democracy Corps Versus MyDD

On Iraq, stress that "it is time to change course," because Bush has mismanaged the war, has no real plan going forward, and has made America less secure.

Period. Drop phrases like "skewed priorities". Maybe one in ten voters know what skewed means.

by antiHyde 2006-09-07 02:07PM | 0 recs
Re: Democracy Corps Versus MyDD

I'm not saying you should use the word "skewed," only that some mention of the impacts of the Iraq screw up and possibly its relationship to other issues/policies (e.g., energy, having money to spend on domestic needs, including homeland security, etc.) is appropriate in some campaign communications.  

But I agree that the word "skewed" is an example of how wonkiness can even show up in specific wording.

And I concede that, with a 30 sec and even a 60 sec spot, you've got to keep it pretty simple and to the point, which seems to be what you're saying.  And I like the short, one-sentence message you suggest.  

But there's also other campaign communications, including speeches, etc. beyond the 30-60 sec spots where there's more room for some elaboration and some "positive" vision and policies, without necessarily descending into wonkiness.  At least I'd like to think so.

by mitchipd 2006-09-07 03:21PM | 0 recs
Re: Democracy Corps Versus MyDD

Agreed. A well-done position paper or even a speech to specific groups should go into depth. I was only refering to MSM ads and also to general public speeches and debates.

by antiHyde 2006-09-08 04:23PM | 0 recs
Seems Better for A Pres Election

There is good stuff in here but this seems more like the road map for a Pres race rather than a Congressional one.  I agree with Chris's assessment that new members of Congress can't implement major policy changes so proposing them makes little sense.  It is encouraging that they draw many of the same conclusions about what to run on as the MyDD/Courage poll.  

Most Congressional races, even in a nationalized year, are a combo of national themes such as Iraq, accountability, Bush is incompetent, etc with local issues.  I think about a heated primary race here in NYC (this is the election) to succeed Cong Major Owens which alternates between Iraq, accountability, the huge Atlantic Yards development project (this is a big issue in Brooklyn) and the candidacy of a white guy running in a gentrifying minority seat.  There are national themes but lots of local stuff too.  

by John Mills 2006-09-07 01:49PM | 0 recs
Put another way...

Yo, Bush! We're going to stop YOUR shit

How about this less colorful version: "Bush has dug America into a hole.  The Democratic Party will take away his shovel."

by CA Pol Junkie 2006-09-07 02:37PM | 0 recs
deserves more attention

American Petrocracy

Among the shifting rationales for the war in Iraq, the most plausible motive may be the least discussed: access to oil.

by Kevin Phillips

In sum, the energy-related price of the administration's dishonesty and massive miscalculation in Iraq ought to be a central discussion point in this election year and again in 2008.
 [emphasis added]

see also:

Yes, It's About Oil, at Greg Palast's site

Short answer: It's the oil, stupid.


Oil and Iraq, by the Global Policy Forum

The four giant firms located in the US and the UK have been keen to get back into Iraq, from which they were excluded with the nationalization of 1972. During the final years of the Saddam era, they envied companies from France, Russia, China, and elsewhere, who had obtained major contracts. But UN sanctions (kept in place by the US and the UK) kept those contracts inoperable. Since the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, everything has changed and the companies have been scrambling to grab their share of the spoils. In the new setting, with Washington running the show, "friendly" companies expect to gain most of the lucrative oil deals that will be worth hundreds of billions of dollars in profits in the coming decades.

by manonfyre 2006-09-07 02:37PM | 0 recs
Re: Democracy Corps Versus MyDD

This is right. We need to stop aiming for the head and start aiming for the gut.

Like Paul Waldman said yesterday:

If there's one thing Republicans have understood and Democrats haven't, it is that politics is not about issues. Politics is about identity. The candidates and parties that win are not those aligning their positions most precisely with a majority of the electorate. The winners are those who form a positive image in the public mind of who they are (and a negative image of who their opponents are). Issues are a vehicle to create that identity, one that combines with symbolism and narrative to shape what the public thinks about when they think about Democrats and Republicans.

Think about what happens in campaign after campaign. The Democrat comes before the public and says, ``If you read my 10-point policy plan, I'm sure you'll vote for me. Let's go over it point by point." The Republican then comes before the public, points to the Democrat, and says, ``That guy is a weak, elitist liberal who hates you and everything you stand for. I'm one of you and he's not." And guess who wins.

by tgeraghty 2006-09-07 02:45PM | 0 recs
Re: Democracy Corps Versus MyDD

Though I happen to agree with him, Waldman is arguing the exact opposite of the advice/criticism most often heard for and about Democrats: You can't just campaign on NOT being the other guy. Waldman is essentially saying that Republicans campaign PRECISELY on not being the other guy.

by jamfan 2006-09-07 02:56PM | 0 recs
Re: Democracy Corps Versus MyDD

I don't totally agree that Waldman is saying just to campaign on not being the other guy, or that this is all that Republicans do.  I think their "identity" message is that "I'm strong and they're weak", "I'm a good Christian like you, and they're not," "I'll protect you and they won't", "I'm like you, they're not," etc.

So there's two parts to the message: "I'm X and they're not."  

And my point about the Dem's message is that in addition to hammering on Bush failures and accountability, some element of an alternative and POSITIVE identity for the Dems might enhance rather than distract from the accountability message.  It doesn't need to be at the level of specific policies, but more at the level of basic identity.  It could even be (which seems consistent with the accountability memo) that the Dems are the ones who will really hold Bush accountable and change course from his horribly failed policies, by doing so, will make us all more secure.

by mitchipd 2006-09-07 03:54PM | 0 recs
They're not talking points

Chris, I don't think Dem Corps was claiming that they were issuing talking points.  Really they were giving the concepts upon which candidates could base talking points.  (of course, this assumes campaigns have talented Comm Dirs who can do this well)

This just from a read of your post; I haven't read the memo - pardon me if it contradicts my point.

by Andmoreagain 2006-09-07 03:06PM | 0 recs
43% still think Saddam had something to do w/911

Remind voters Saddam had nothing to do with Alqueda or 911 and invading Iraq was a diversion to the real war on terror.  Replay many times Bush saying Saddam had nothing to do w/ 911.

by jasmine 2006-09-07 03:11PM | 0 recs
My add


Whats going on in washington?
Why are our children dying in Iraq?
Why are we paying companies to hire illegal immigrants to fail at rebuilding the gulf coast?
Why haven't we caught Osama Bin Laden?
Why is the republican medicare drug program failing seniors?

Dem Candidate: We can't change the counry with a magic wand, but the first step to taking charge is to demand accountability from our leaders. The Republicans are using their control of congress to keep us all in the dark. Democrats want to shine some light on Washington--so vote for me, Candidate X, and let's turn the lights on in Washington because it's the only way to solve our problems.

by MNPundit 2006-09-07 03:58PM | 0 recs

Democrats should immediately declare that Iraq should nationalize it's oil, and that Iraq's people should evenly share the oil wealth.

What democrats need is strategic vision for peace.

by medleysoul 2006-09-07 04:16PM | 0 recs
Re: Democracy Corps Versus MyDD

Spot on, Chris.  I'm so tired of hearing that Democrats need to present a positive alternative set of plans.  'We will stop them from fucking up as badly' is a positive alternative.  It's not a happy promise but it's a real one.

by Matt Stoller 2006-09-07 04:44PM | 0 recs
Mouth discipline

The GOP swept the table as much by what they did not say as by what they said.

Everything you don't say makes what you do say louder.

by stevehigh 2006-09-07 06:15PM | 0 recs
more effective crudity

Democratic Party slogan for 2006:
This is the land of the FREE, and the home of the BRAVE."

See Republicans are LOSERS! and Republicans are chicken!

by Simplify 2006-09-07 11:00PM | 0 recs
Re: Democracy Corps Versus MyDD

"Wonky details"? "Tired of hearing that Democrats need to present a positive alternative set of plans"? Is this really where we are right now?

We Democrats have been in the minority too long and if we want to dig ourselves out of this whole and into a majority for the next 10-20 years we damn well better have a set of alternative plans. The absolute worst thing that could happen to the party right now is that Democrats take back the House (and god forbid, the Senate) and have absolutely ZERO plan other than investigating the Bush administration. "Accountability" will truly be shown when Democrats present ideas that make the American people realize how dangerous and wrongheaded the policies of the last 5 years have been. It is not enough to say, "we are not the other guys." We must present the face of a major political party prepared to lead the nation into a period of security, prosperity and freedom - not a permanent minority party which can only pick up seats on the incompetence and gross negligence of the opposition.

The House and to a lesser extent, the Senate, are DEFENSE. We need to go on the offensive and look towards the real goal, which is taking back the White House. If we elect a Democratic majority with no positive agenda for the 07/08 session, we will be hard presssed to make the sale that the nation needs a Democratic president.

Carville's points are all valid and to diminish them as too "wonky" is to degrade the intelligence of every American voter. How difficult would it be to write effective ads based on Democracy Corps. memo? I could see at least a half dozen 30 second pieces coming from the two points Chris touches on from the memo.

Here's an ad:


Hi, I'm (some idiot congressional candidate) and I approve this message. The Republican party has been getting the security of this nation wrong for far too long. More troops have died in Iraq than on 9/11. Osama is still alive and free. Iran is getting closer to the bomb every day; and Afghanistan is sliding back into Taliban control - and while all this is happening, we're paying $3 a gallon at the pump.

Its time for a change of course.

We need to begin to redeploy our men and women in Iraq so that we can fight terror in the rest of the world. We need to invest heavily in renewable energy and begin to end our dependence on foreign oil. And finally, we need to implement the reccomendations fo the 9/11 commission so that we can all be safer.

On Nov. 7th, vote to change the course. Vote Democratic.

by The Big D 2006-09-08 06:43AM | 0 recs


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