Democrats Are Lost In The Shuffle

That's Ronald Browntein's analysis, not mine. Brownstein has accurately portrayed the dilemma of both the Democratic party and the DLC. Hopes are high that the Democratic party will be able to deftlly handle the imminent showdown on the filibuster. I have my doubts.

Democrats Are Lost in the Shuffle While GOP Holds All the Card: On almost every major question in Washington today, the choice isn't whether to move in a Republican or Democratic direction, but how far in a Republican direction to move.

Up to this point, whatever strategy Harry Reid and the Democratic party may have has been badly bungled.

This is the grim reality of political life for Democrats at a time when the GOP controls the White House and both chambers of Congress.

This situation creates obvious problems for Democrats. But it's also produced surprising risks for Republicans, measured in skidding approval ratings for President Bush and Congress.

The dynamic is more complex than it might seem.

I agree with Brownstein, that even on their signature issue of Social Security, Democrats have played their hand poorly.

From Social Security, to intervention in the sad case of Terri Schiavo, to the appointment of conservative federal judges, every major debate positions the parties in the same way: Republicans are on offense, Democrats on defense.

                                   . . .

Democrats are furiously laboring to prevent Bush from carving out private investment accounts from Social Security, but even if they succeed -- which increasingly appears likely -- they only will have preserved the status quo.

The same can be said on every single issue. The Democratic party has not even managed to step up to the plate.

t's like watching a baseball game where one team is always at bat, or a basketball game where one team always has the ball. The best Democrats can do is hold down the Republican score; the Democrats have found virtually no opportunities to advance their own ideas or to steer the discussion onto their strongest terrain.

Some of their problems are structural and procedural.

The Democrats' biggest problem is that they don't have a viable means to spotlight or forge a party consensus behind these ideas. Unless they can recruit Republican defectors, Democrats can't force the serious legislative debate on their initiatives that would attract news coverage and public attention.

But the crux of the issue is that Democrats have not managed to define their own values and beliefs in a way that is understandable to the American people and in a way that distinguishes them from the Republican party.

The larger problem is that the Democrats' inability to sustain attention on their ideas encourages a public sense that they have none. In the latest poll from Democracy Corps, a project of leading Democratic consultants, Republicans held a crushing 30-percentage-point advantage when voters were asked which party knows what it stands for.

Frankly, I am not the least bit impressed with the problem of being branded as "obstructionist.

The most immediate political danger is that Republicans can portray Democrats as obstructionists, a dangerous label in the "red" Bush states.

Why do Democrats tremble at the thought of upsetting David Broder, Cokie Roberts and Sam Donaldson? Are Democrats more concerned about sucking up to the D.C. media establishment, than standing up for their core principles?

The Democrats have a tremendous opportunity, if they can respond to the approaching fillibuster "crisis" deftly.

The danger for the GOP is that the political dialogue is being structured less as a choice between Republican and Democratic ideas than as a referendum on Republican ideas alone. And some of those aren't faring so well.

An overwhelming majority of Americans opposed congressional and White House intervention in the Schiavo case; Bush's Social Security plan is lagging in the polls too. And it's difficult to imagine that many Americans outside the GOP's conservative base applauded House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's (R-Texas) fevered rant against the courts last week following Schiavo's death.

                                      . . .

Conversely, Democratic thinkers like veteran pollster Stanley B. Greenberg believe Republicans are planting the seeds for a voter backlash by overreaching. "Democrats have an opportunity in pushing off this agenda, which may seem extreme to many," he says.


Republicans can continue to talk smack about being the party of ideas, only because the Democrats lack the will to define their own brand. Republicans are counting on the week kneed response of the Democrats to continue.

Republican strategists like Stephen Moore, president of the Free Enterprise Fund, believe that even with these near-term reversals, the central focus on Republican ideas will benefit the party over time. "In the long term, this is the way you win in politics," he says. "You plant the seeds of your ideas, and you effectively blockade the other side from advancing any of its ideas."

Brownstein's concluding thought is only accurate if the Democratic party continues to timidly dodge the issues.

Only future elections will settle that debate. But both analyses point to the same conclusion: The fate of both parties hangs mostly on the public's verdict about Republican ideas.

Are the Democrats helpless? Not if they unleash their secret weapon.

I say "Cry havoc! Let loose the Deaniac dogs of war!

As my wiser friend, Paul Rosenberg says, "Let the conversation continue . . .

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Comments

20 Comments

I Agree Some and Disagree Some
My understanding of Brownstein's article was a little different than yours.  For the most part, I think he was merely noting a basically unavoidable fact:  because the Republicans hold every facet of poer, it is very difficult for us to get an sort of message out.  Political losers a.k.a., the political minority, dont get much press attention under any circumstances.  The fact that the media is either directly subservient to, or completely intimidated by, the right wing and the minority in question is center-(occassionally) left, just makes getting the message out all the more difficult.

That being said, I still agree with many of your points about standing for our beliefs.  The party's silence during Schaivano was near criminal.  There was a golden opportunity to turn people to a more pro-choice position, to show that the radical theocons will leave no decision to the privacy of the persons most involved and the doctor, and the Dems' leadershop remained silent.  The fact that so many Dems betrayed the middle class and working poor during the defining bankruptcy issue also makes having a message and playing offense almost impossible.

In summary, I didnt necessarily agree with your characterizatin of Brownstein's article, and I appreciate how difficult it is for Democrats to get their message out, but the lack of conviction we often show makes the problem all the more difficult.  

by Andy Katz 2005-04-04 08:23AM | 0 recs
Re: I Agree
I'm not sure any disagreements we have are more than quibbles. There's an old expression I still recall from The Education of Henry Adams. A politician is like a boar hog. Sometimes you have to smack him on the snout to get his attention.

If Reid and the DLC have any core beliefs at all, I'd like to know what they are. Their biggest problem is a complete lack of identity with the voters.

If anybody has a clue what they stand for, I haven't seen it written down anywhere, aside from the wishy washy platitudes that we got from Al From a few days ago.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-04-04 08:34AM | 0 recs
Re: I Agree
One thing I will agree with you is the Democrats are not sure what their core beliefs are right now.  It is my understanding after this election loss and losing seats in both houses, that the party is looking at what its core beliefs are and that few issues are going to be sacred.  One issue that we see that is sacred is social security, but other than that they are going to hold off in the short run.  By 2006 the elections the party should have some idea, but at this point I do not know exactly what it will be.
by THE MODERATE 2005-04-04 09:17AM | 0 recs
The Tabula Rasa
Right now Reid and Pelosi have made it very clear that Howard Dean does not speak for the party on issues and Dean has agreed. The problem is that nobody else seems to speak for the party either.
The reason Republicans, as well as Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, are so successful at telling Americans what the Democratic party stands for, is that the Democratic party has done a terrible job of explaining it themselves.

Dean is on a southern tour right now. I saw him on CSPAN at the Tennessee Democratic Headquarters and he seemed to be getting a very warm reception. I just cherry picked these from his talk:

The fault of the Democratic party is that we think we can logically talk people out of their fears about where our society is heading on moral issues.
Backlash Republicans were our voters for many years. Those are the voters we need all ovef America, to get elected. Repbuliciasn are very smart. They talk about the fears and don't do anything about them. We need to acknowedge their fears and let them know we are the party that has solutions.  We are the party that believes in helping with day care and decent jobs here in America.

We have to communicate that this party belongs to ordinary Americans.  The Halliburtons and the Enrons are nto the ones collecting thei hard earned money they pay in taxes.

Most importantly, You must have conviction.  Americans want somebody who makes decisions out of deep conviction and not from politics.  If we want to win we need to explain our positions with convictipn and make sure we do not become a pale copy of the GOP party.

When GOPers were out of party for years they used to try to be pale democrats. We must not make that mistake . We ar closer to American people on critical issues. We need to tell the American people what we believe

My position on gay rights is the same as Dick Cheney's. If they think I'm too liberal, they should send Dick Cheney back to wherever he came from.

We care more about militiary families and our vets.  We didn't send troops without adequate equipment. We don't fail to provide for their health care when they come back from Iraq.  We care much more than GOPers about vets and their families when they come home from Iraq.

Humility is a Christian Value too.

I didn't hear anything else Dean said that any Democrat would have any difficulty agreeing with whatsoever. The longer Democrats wait to start defining what they stand for, the longer Rush and Hannity and O'Reilly and Elder and . . . you get the idea.

As far as I can tell, the only holdouts to letting Dean define what the Democratic party stands for are the DLC and I really don't understand their problem. It is genuinely baffling.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-04-04 09:34AM | 0 recs
Re: The Tabula Rasa
At variuos times the defenition of a party changes.

The father of the Democratic party is Andrew Jackson, the party followed his view until the 1860's when it was the party of Stephen Douglass, then in 1900 it became the party of William Jennings Bryan.  In 1932 it was FDR' party, in 1968 that party took its current face.  But this has been a face that has seen Democratic party support errode in the last 40 years now the party is begining another transition.  My guess is someone will become the face of the party soon.  I doubt it will be Reid or Pelosi or even Dean, they are merely caretakers.  In my opinion the one to watch is Evan Byah, who may well be the nominee in 2008.  If Joe Biden were a bit younger I would say watch him, had John Edwards not thrown his career away in 2004 I would say watch him.  Other possiblities include, Gov. Bredesen of Tenn, Gov Henry of OK, Gov Easley of NC, Gov Rendell of PA, Sen Salazar of CO, or perhaps Arkasas Sen Proyor.  and may we not forget Hillary but I have a sneaky suspicsion that she may not run and if she does she may not live upto expectations.  Still few Americans are following politics right now so do not get in too much of a hurry.

by THE MODERATE 2005-04-04 09:54AM | 0 recs
Re: The Tabula Rasa
Allow me to repeat: This is not rocket science. What core beliefs have I listed that Bayh or anyone else would object to? What we have here is a failure to articulate core values that should be universally agreed upon.

If the Democratic party doesn't have any core beliefs they should disband.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-04-04 11:01AM | 0 recs
Re: The Tabula Rasa
I can answer this question two ways one is a theme oriented answer the other are some issues I think may be changed.  But from what I can tell of the core values the party is trying to only use isses where there is an almost unanimous agreement.

The theme is the target voter is working class voter of conservative social values.  This is why one issue the party has not abandoned is social security.  An issue that the party is reviving is anti free trade.  Look for them to hit the GOP on being the party that is pro investor while being anti worker/ jobs.  Issues that the party is going to drop or at least lower the proflile on begings with abortion rights.  Look for the party to attempt to become alot more accomadating to pro-life voters.  As for gay rights the party is holding its collective breath.  Altough they will not admit it publicly they hope the courts upholds the DOMA so they hope to neutralize the gay marrige issue.  Look for them to continue to fight any Federal amendments on gay rights, while staying out of the fight on state amendments.  On the world view the party is going to say the Iraqi war was mishandled but will stop short of saying the idea of an Iraqi war was wrong from the begining.  

by THE MODERATE 2005-04-04 11:56AM | 0 recs
Re: The Tabula Rasa

Well, that's just sad.

In light of the poll reponses to the Schaivo case, Dems now have a big opportunity to capitalize on privacy issues.  This is true for both end of life and beginning of life issues.  People don't want politicians to interfere in their personal decisions and this includes abortion.  

I hope you're wrong and they don't throw away the opportunity to reclaim all that is right about being pro-choice.   They will lose votes if they do and they will not win enough new votes to compensate.  Single issue anti-choice voters are firmly in the pocket of the Republican Party.

by bellarose 2005-04-04 03:20PM | 0 recs
Re: The Tabula Rasa
Well in politics an event could always lead a group to change minds.  But as it stands now the plan is to make the party more accomadating to pro-life voters.  Not all pro-life voters are the same, it is believed that a group of pro-life voters Democrats on economic issues and are target voters, as for voters who favor's abortion the party is not adopting a pro-life stance at this time, just becoming more open to pro-life voters.  More like abortion neutral with a slight lean towards abortion right's.
by THE MODERATE 2005-04-04 03:50PM | 0 recs
Re: The Tabula Rasa
Great idea! Let's piss off the most ardent abortion rights activists in the country! That'll help the Democrats, for sure!
by Gary Boatwright 2005-04-04 04:02PM | 0 recs
Re: The Tabula Rasa
The problem is their are not enough ardent pro-choice voters to matter.  In the end most pro-choice voters do not vote for a candidate based on their abortion views.  Pro-life voters are more likley to vote on that issue including a group of blue collar voters who have alot in common with the Democrats.
by THE MODERATE 2005-04-04 04:08PM | 0 recs
Re: The Tabula Rasa
"In the end most pro-choice voters do not vote for a candidate based on their abortion views"

Anti-abortion forces are mobilized precisely because they have no legal standing.  The status quo would switch if abortion rights are placed on the chopping block.  

 

by bellarose 2005-04-04 04:34PM | 0 recs
Re: The Tabula Rasa
Would you care to post a diary to that effect over at dkos?
by Gary Boatwright 2005-04-04 06:42PM | 0 recs
Re: The Tabula Rasa
Actually, I think the party has been fairly consistent over its history in favor of two principles:  (1) equal economic opportunity; and (2) increasing voter rights.  Both are very relevant today.  I would add three more: giving comfort and protection to those who cant provide for themselves; social equality; and being good stewards of the earth;
by Andy Katz 2005-04-04 11:32AM | 0 recs
Re: The Tabula Rasa
No problem. Now, all you need to do is work on the language a little and add some policy positions in and the core principles of the Democatic party is done. That's how easy it is.

All of this nonsense about study groups and "grand vision things" is pathetic. Decide what we stand for and step up to the plate. I don't think there's even going to be a whole lot of quibbling. Just for god's sake stand for something. Anything.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-04-04 11:56AM | 0 recs
If I may be so bold
A few other simple concepts that should be non-controversial:

  1. The Democratic party believes in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Democratic Process.

  2. The Democratic party believes in freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. Every American has the right to live their life according to the dictates of their personal religious beliefs and their own conscience, without interfernce from some mangy politician that can't even run his own life.

  3. The Democratic party believes in taking personal  fiscal responsibility for themselves and their country. We oppose massive deficit spending and massive tax cuts for billionaires.

This is not rocket science. If the DLC can't write up a simple list of ten core beliefs in a day or two tops, the only assumption I can make is that they don't have any core beliefs and nobody can make them have any.
by Gary Boatwright 2005-04-04 09:51AM | 0 recs
Core beliefs.
I am not sure I agree with your statement that Democrats are not sure of what their core beliefs are right now.

I believe that they do know. The problem is that they have no problem betraying those beliefs just as they have no problem betraying those who supported them to put them where they are.

Case in point: Freddie Ferrer In NYC telling cops that the Diallo case was overprosecuted.

by Rigel 2005-04-04 01:12PM | 0 recs
Re: Core beliefs.
I'm trying to give them the benefit of the doubt. I'm not familiar with Ferrer, but telling cops the case was over prosecuted sounds like a routine opportunistic statement for a politician. We've had all kinds of problems with opportunistic politicians and the police here in L.A. over Rampart. They're still wrangling over enforcemnt of the consent decree that was imposed by a federal judge.

The best example I know is the bankruptcy bill. To this day, I have not heard a single Democrat defend their vote to give Bush and MBNA a victory on this issue. That is what I consider a betrayal of principle and your party as well.

The Schiavo vote can marginally be defended on moral values grounds, but it was still a huge mistake that was caused by Democratic incompetence. This was so obviously a right wing power play that every Democrat in Congress should have opposed it. I don't cut any Democrat any slack for that vote. Our Constitution is even more important than the Democratic party, and their vote helped give De Lay cover for shredding it.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-04-04 02:47PM | 0 recs
Re: Core beliefs.
Routine opportunistic?   Nah.
This one went to the heart of his character.
He tried to please both sides and he lost them both.
Ferrer is toast.
by Rigel 2005-04-13 08:37AM | 0 recs
Dems are lost, blame the DNC, not the DLC
I said it before, and I'll say it again, the reason the Dems are lost are the policies of the DNC, not the DLC. The DNC is so far to the left, that the communists are not going to vote for you anymore. The last two elections proved that the DNC is not where the country is. Bill Clinton used DLC ideas and won 2 terms. George Bush is the most despicable human being since Attila the Hun and yet the Dems lost both times. What does that tell you? Case closed.
by liebermanlives 2005-04-05 01:23PM | 0 recs

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