TO: Democratic Candidates Across the U.S.A.
FROM: Your Humble Blogger
RE: Victory in 2006 and 2008
With midterm elections just around the corner and the 2008 Presidential contest already looming on the horizon, it is high time to discuss in dead earnest, what we must do [and not do] if we are to reverse the trend of the past several elections. It is an axiom of American politics that every campaign, every election is called "the most crucial" in our history, or "a fight for the soul of this great nation." And while such verbal puffery can indeed sound dramatic, it often swallows up and obfuscates the real, compelling issues that confront us. Having said that, I do believe that the elections of 2006 and 2008 are about as critical as any we've had in the past three generations.
I liken the upcoming midterm and presidential election cycles to those of 1930 and '32, when American voters faced down a Republican Congress and White House, and sent them packing into the political gloaming. After a decade of feel-good, muted Republican politics -- which led to economic disaster and political anomie -- American voters, to use the old saw, "threw the rascals out." Voters back then understood to the very core of their collective being that the Republican Congress and Republican White House were frightfully out of touch with the lives, needs and aspirations of the common clay, and thus sent them packing. It wasn't until after World War II that the GOP got its act back together -- and that largely due to the fear they instilled by waving the bloody shirt of the Communist Conspiracy.
It is obvious that once again Republicans are in trouble. Witness the number of GOP incumbents who are running away from the Bush White House. Witness the number of entrenched officeholders who are banking that issues like abortion, gay marriage, prayer, immigration, and stem-cell research will divert attention away from far more pressing issues like the war in Iraq, our unfathomable national debt, and the strangle-hold that oil has on our national economy and aspirations. Witness the ratcheting up of verbal vitriol: within the past several days Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld likened those who question our war in Iraq with Nazi appeasers of an earlier generation. What unmitigated chutzpah!
If Democrats are to take back Congress in 2006 and recapture the White House in 2008, certain fundamental "rules of the political road" will have to be observed:
- Keep the message positive: Already, we are seeing Democratic candidates slinging buckets of political mud on each other. While most campaign gurus and consultants stress going negative, the American voting public actually yearns to hear that which is both uplifting and positive. Negativity breeds resentment, and resentment keeps people away from the polls. When candidates continually attack one another for a vote they cast twelve years ago, or for what they did or said in college, it leaves voters with the feeling that politicians are venal, shallow and willing to do or say anything in order to get elected. The party of Jefferson, Jackson, Wilson, Roosevelt and Clinton would do well to take a page from the party of Harding, Coolidge, Nixon and Bush: thou shalt not speak negatively about another member of thine own party."
- Hold Republican Feet to the Fire: Here is another page that can be taken out of the Republican playbook. Democrats would be wise to ask pointed questions such as: Do you feel safer today than you did five years ago? Are you satisfied that the massive tax cuts which the Republican Congress and Republican White House have bestowed upon the very, very wealthy are good for you, your family or our economy? Do you think that the Republican response to Hurricane Katrina shows either compassion or political will? Are you satisfied with the price of gas, the billions upon billions we are spending in Iraq, or the White House's response to global warming?
- Issue a National Challenge: It seems to me that among the many, many things that have been missing from the American political scene these past many years, the issue of a "national challenge" is most glaring and obvious. Hearkening back to John F. Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you . . ." Democrats would do well to solidify a national message that includes an overarching challenge and a set of national goals. Remember, Kennedy staked us to landing a man on the moon within a decade, created the Peace Corps, encouraged people to take 50-mile hikes and otherwise raised the level of enthusiasm. For far too long, our political leaders have asked for nothing -- save our votes and our acquiescence. I believe that one national challenge that would strike a wonderfully resounding chord is energy independence. While President Bush will publicly state that America is "addicted to oil" at the drop of a hat, neither he, his administration nor his toadying Congress will do thing one about it. Democrats can fill this alarming void by waging "the moral equivalent of war" on our energy dependence. We can propose a massive technical/intellectual/scientific assault on the problem which will create new avenues of power. From wind and geothermal to solar and -- dare we even dream? -- anti-matter, this is an issue that can easily affect everything from conflicts in the Middle East to global warming and the creation of jobs.
- Stay on Message: Assuming that Democrats can agree upon a cogent, unified message, they must stay on point, and not be pulled hither, thither and yon by petty internecine squabbles or the base venality of political greed.
- Start Catering to the Best, not the Worst in the American Electorate: For the past generation, Republicans have been treating the American voting public as if they were vassals of a great feudal lord. They have run their campaigns -- and administrations -- as private fiefdoms and rarely -- if ever -- been honest with the American people. And although we are certainly not all Rhodes Scholars or members of Mensa, it doesn't take all that much to understand that we can do one heck of a lot better . . . if we all work together.
Let the races begin.
And to the victors go not so much the spoils of war, but the challenges of the future . . .