How the Dems can get Over the Top

The depression is finally beginning to lift, and I'm starting to see clearly again.

First off, we really didn't do that bad. This wasn't a blowout like in '72, '84, or even '88. We only lost by three percentage points, right?

That said, however, it's not immediately obvious where the Democrats can go for that last 3%. After all, we worked our a$$es off this year, like most of us have never worked before. And we still came up short.

Making matters even worse is that the difference apparently hinged on "social" issues, like gay marriage. This may explain why Democrats only got 60% of the Hispanic vote, when they usually get 65% or more. Many new Hispanic voters came to the polls, but they broke toward the Republicans on issues like abortion and gay rights.

This is going to tempt a lot of Democrats into that deadly "move-to-the-right" dance, which has gotten us where we are today. To become the majority party again, Democrats need to resist that temptation. Instead, we need to tap a reservoir of socially liberal voters we've failed to reach so far: youth.

As Josh Marshall pointed out, youth did turn out in record numbers yesterday, but so did everyone else. Therefore, the proportion of youth voters remained at the low levels typical of the post-Vietnam era.

This year, Democrats tried to motivate young voters to vote primarily by raising the spectre of a draft. But the Republicans neutralized that issue by pledging there would be no draft. Sure, they're probably lying, but the Democrats didn't make that case. Making matters worse, Sen. Kerry never explained how he was going to get those 40,000 additional troops without a draft. This let Republicans "flip" the issue against us.

This may not be a problem next time. The Republicans' militarism may well force a draft by 2006. But, we shouldn't count on that. We need to offer young voters more than just a promise not to draft them, but what?

I think we need to tap into young voters' social liberalism. Surely the GOP's sexual Puritanism doesn't sit well with youth - even if they aren't gay. But the Democrats have been conceding this issue since the Clinton era, mostly by favoring censorship technologies that target youth: Internet "filtering" in all public libraries, even for adults; "V-chips" to "protect" them; Tipper Gore's PMRC; etc. Kerry didn't expressly push any of these views, but he didn't renounce them, either. I doubt youth saw much difference between the parties on these issues.

It would also help to de-escalate the drug war. I'm not talking about coming out for marijuana legalization or the like, just some common-sense measures like: opposing suspicionless drug testing or random locker searches in school; supporting full repeal of the ban on financial aid to college students who have a run-in with the law due to drugs; and repealing other harsh penalties for said run-ins, such as mandatory minimum sentences.

Some may think these are non-issues because, by the time someone can vote, they usually are free of these restrictions. Not necessarily. First, someone who will be 18 in 2008 is only 14 today. Memories of the humiliation of having to pee into a bottle just to join the Chess club will be fresh in their minds. Second, many of these restrictions continue past high school and age 18 into college and the workplace, so this might help with the blue- and pink-collar vote too.

Of course, there's a risk in such a strategy. Democrats may frighten away more parents than the young voters they win. But I think the issues can be framed so as to minimize the risk. Besides, it's time to take some risks. What we've been doing has only gotten us close, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, not elections.

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Comments

4 Comments

Drugs Wars
Great point on drug wars.  My generation is much more liberal than those preceding us on two issues:

Gay rights and Marijuana legalization.  To a man, nearly all of us agree that legalizing marijuana is just the common sense thing to do on many levels.  However, I don't think Kerry harping on this would've helped him too much necessarily.  Kerry was never the best candidate to appeal to the youth is the bottom line.  In fact, in most cases the best candidate to appeal to the youth is one of the worst candidates.  So it's tough.

I think we get over the top by talking about liberalism like Obama did.  Showing how Democrats are fighting for American values..."If there's a child on the southside of CHicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it isn't my child."

by dan s 2004-11-03 12:35PM | 0 recs
Re: Drugs Wars
I agree about Obama. He's going to make a great President someday (if the nation survives the next four years).

In fact, in most cases the best candidate to appeal to the youth is one of the worst candidates.

Sort of rhymes with my concern that appealing to young voters might alienate the slightly older "parents" generation. The Rethugs will try to scare parents with phantoms of rampant Internet porn and teen drug use; we need to frame our proposals to reassure parents, not back away from them as Clinton and Gore mostly did.

One way for a Presidential candidate to deal with this is to pick a running mate who appeals to youth. I'm not sure if Edwards was that type of pick, although he's young himself; I kind of think Dean might have had more "youth appeal," judging from his supporters during the primaries. (Of course, Dean was radioactive after the "scream," or at least that was the CW.)

What did you think about Edwards? Would a different running mate have helped Kerry with youth?

by Mathwiz 2004-11-04 06:22AM | 0 recs
Re: Drugs Wars
I agree about legalizing marijuana too. Although no drug is perfectly safe, marijuana is one of the safest we know of - we do far more harm trying to keep people from using it than they would ever do to themselves by using it.

I just think legalization is a bit like gay marriage right now. Even though it's a good idea, it's pretty clear the majority doesn't realize that yet, and explicitly running on such a plank would be political suicide in most of the country right now.

But we can start small, as with Measure Z which passed in Oakland last Tuesday, and as we show the people there's nothing to be afraid of, eventually they'll come around.

by Mathwiz 2004-11-04 06:34AM | 0 recs
liberal
You are right, we need to change the "L" word from bad to good again, if not they are going to pin us with it like it was a scarlet letter of yore.
by Democrata 2004-11-03 01:43PM | 0 recs

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