What we are talking about here is indeed about getting the language right so we do achieve ownership of a political moral argument that appeals to precisely the kind of people mentioned in the posted memo -- the folk in coal country, or the mill hands, or the waitress -- you name it.
I strongly recommend getting Thomas Frank's recent book, "What's the Matter with Kansas" and giving it a very careful read. It is very painful for Progressives and Liberals -- but necessary. Put simply, we've alienated too much of the working class base, and become untrustworthy. But yea -- it can be reversed. To an extent, we did it in Minnesota on Tuesday.
The problem began years ago -- but in 2002 the Republicans feasted on the hype after Paul Wellstone's memorial, and on election day we lost a slew of seats in the House and Senate. Kept the Senate by 2 seats, we were down 15 in the House, and elected a Ideological Twins of Bush to all but one State Constitutional office in a 4 way race where minor parties deprived us of the chance to win. Pawlenty won with 43% -- but minor parties took 14 points away from the DFL even though they are not rightists. On Tuesday we won 13 seats in the State House back -- mostly moderate women candidates running in Suburban districts that Bush carried in the Presidential race. We have one race being recounted -- but now the DFL has either a 67-67 tie, or is in the minority 66-68. Races were won on fundamentals, school funding, transit, sound financial practices, Health Care, and an odd issue Pawlenty had put forward, should we solve our deficit problems by stealing the Indian Gaming Biz from the Indians. (Pawlenty threated them with bringing the big boys in from Vegas as competition if they didn't hand over 25% of assets.) The Campaign used tactics such as, "Is it Christian to again steal the White Buffalo from the Indians?" That is precisely what I mean by taking ownership of the Moral Argument.
Anyhow what happened Tuesday positions us to do well in 2006. We may even have two marginalized Republican State Senators ready to cross over and make the majority in the Senate four. And I should add that many of our candidates recruited their Campaign Managers out of the Dean Campaign last spring when it folded. They are getting rave reviews. And to be honest if we want to have a say in redistricting after 2010 -- we have to hold Governorships and State Legislatures. It took the Republicans 20 plus years to game their present outsized House margin -- we have to be in a position to undo their damage in 2010.
I think Minnesota is very close to jumping the MOE in Kerry's favor -- but the final result will depend on the GOTV. There may be some weak districts, but overall it looks strong. I am particularly impressed that as a 1 for the DFL ticket, I am not getting all that many calls. They are focused where they need to be.
But what's gone wrong with the DFL is a very legitimate discussion topic. I totally discount the 2002 results -- if you haven't had your principle candidate killed less than two weeks before the election and comprehend what it means to have the kind of grief Wellstone's death brought to the thousands he knew on a first name basis -- you cannot comprehend 2002. The whole GOTV effort that year was coordinated with Paul's campaign -- and once he was dead by law you could not touch his assets. Many of his phone banks were even off limits even if people could stop crying long enough to make a couple of calls.
But that's not saying the Party is otherwise healthy -- it isn't. It never has mastered how to select candidates and win in the suburbs, and when you overlay that with too much tradition favoring sons and daughters of the DFL founders who were with Hubert when he brought about the merger of the parties in 1944 -- you have a recipe for irrelevance. The Caucus system which initially enabled people without huge bank accounts to run successfully, has become a game that produces candidates who can't win state-wide, even though they are pure on a few favored issues. The party culture is not attractive to young people these days (which is why so many found Ventura of interest), and the old links with young labor are nearly dead because the Unions are no longer very young. Time was when that DFL endorsement was a ticket to success -- these days it is depressingly low in value.
I'am not speaking from the outside -- I did my ten years as an elected member of the DFL State Central Committee, and I've managed about twelve campaigns, chaired state convention committees -- all that. Indeed, I was part of the "movement" in the late 1960's that flooded the caucuses and took the party away from the old timers in the name of opposition to the Vietnam War. The party will regain its health if those in their 20's and 30's get their act together, and do something similar. In 2006 there is a grand opportunity. All the State Offices will be up, so the chance of moving some new blood forward will be substantial.