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.