Friday, November 05, 2004

An Open Letter To My Party

It's a few days after Election Day. Kerry has conceded. Let me say it- Bush won, fair and square. He won over 50% of the popular vote, and will probably finish in the 272-276 range in the electoral vote. Congratulations- to the victor go the spoils, and the Republic survives (yet again). Let us shake hands, and let us harbor no ill will, because that is what we do. Democracy is like baseball, George
Will once said- it's not about winning all the time.

However, I do not have to like it. We Democrats have now lost the last two Presidential elections, as well as the 2002 midterm elections. Three consecutive campaigns down the toilet. Why? Because we refuse to recognize what is obvious- it's time to rewrite our partisan mythos.

We are no longer the party of the White Working Class.

It seems almost absurd- the Republicans are the party of the mega-wealthy and the corporate oligarchy. Bush gave tax breaks to millionaires and incentivized outsourcing. Republicans have tried to undo welfare, Medicare, and Medicaid. Leave No Child Behind is a phenomenal failure- in order to pass the required tests, states are lowering the score necessary to pass.

In almost every major bread-and-butter issue, Republican policy keeps the WWC down. The rich, meanwhile, get richer.

We Democrats have lost the WWC, the so-called "base" of our party. Moreover, they ain't coming back. Even the voters who say that the economy is their number one issue cast votes that ultimately undermine their own interests. The reason is clear- the Democrats have become the party of social change- pro-gay, pro-abortion, pro-environment, anti-gun, anti-church, anti-military, and anti-family.

Modern Democrats are increasingly well-educated, highly paid, and urban to suburban- college educated professionals, employed in science, finance, and the "Information Economy." We drive Volvos and Saabs, listen to NPR, and buy books at Borders. The WWC is generally not college educated, generally not well paid- probably living
paycheck to paycheck- and exurban to rural. They drive Fords and Chevys (pickups, most likely), listen to AM talk radio or country music, and buy books at Wal-Mart or the supermarket (if at all).

The WWC thinks that Modern Dems are egghead snobs who insist on imposing their values on the nation. The WWC is right. And you know what I say?

Screw the White Working Class.

Hard as it is to admit, especially since I am from WWC stock, it's time to leave them behind. They've made their choice, but then againso have we. Our priorities are different now, and if we are to move forward and build a new progressive coalition (and maybe return to power) just need to acknowledge it. The days of the New Deal are over- Kansas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska long ago left our column. However, we can win without them. Here's how.

CONTROL THE TERMINOLOGY Since Reagan, the GOP has forced to us to debate on their terms. Literally. They have been controlling the terminology. When you dictate the terms of the debate, you will emerge the victor. This year, Kerry decried the "Bush tax cuts," defended "partial birth abortion," and denied "flip-flopping." No matter how much the facts were actually on his side, the fact that he had to respond in their terms only reminded the voters that Bush cut
taxes (albeit for billionaires), that abortion killed babies (albeit not yet born), and that Kerry flip-flopped (albeit after careful consideration).

How much different would this election have been if Kerry had attacked the President as promoting "wealthfare," called "intact dilation and extraction" a life saving medical procedure, or admitted that changing circumstances require "flexibility" and "reconsideration."

The only Democrat who has understood this in recent years is James Carville. When he said "It's the economy, stupid," he forced Bush 41 to respond to a crisis that didn't exist- we were not in a recession in 1992, and everytime GHWB said so, the voters came to the conclusion that we must be in a recession.

And while we're on the subject of controlling the terminology, know that we're going to get called "liberal." I used to think that the best response was, "Yeah, so what?" Then I realized that "liberal" meant profligate, effete, and immoral to some voters. Contrast with "conservative," which voters interpret as thrifty, cautious, and solid. Control the terms- we are "progressive." Calls to mind high ideals, new thinking, and bold plans. The other side- they're "inflexible reactionaries," or "backwards right-wingers," or "obstructionist." Whatever you like- one of them will stick. Just put them on the defensive.

DIVIDE AND CONQUER Political parties are non-ideological in America; unlike in other countries, where the Conservatives are conservative, and the Liberals are liberal, parties in America are organizational entities. They raise money, find candidates, and get out the vote. If you can deliver your district, you don't necessarily have to see eye-to-eye with the written party platform.

Just like the White Working Class have left the Dems, the GOP has a unsatisfied wing. Fiscal Conservatives- socially liberal, anti-wasteful spending, and well-educated- are on the way out. The Republicans are increasingly the party of hand-wringing moralists and evangelical Christians. The WWC fits very well into the new
Republican paradigm. Fiscal Conservatives do not, and they are ripe for the picking.

How do you steal Fiscal Conservatives from the GOP while keeping another key constituency, the Urban Poor, in our column? Believe it or not, these groups have interests in common. Both Fiscal Conservatives and the Urban Poor understand that the way out of poverty is education; moreover, Fiscal Conservatives tend to be urban
to suburban dwellers, and have actual interaction with the Urban Poor. They know it's a real problem.

Fiscal Conservatives don't mind paying their taxes as long as it is well-spent. We can rope them in by rolling back wealthfare (see, I didn't call them the Bush tax cuts). Increase spending in education and infrastructure, but cut spending elsewhere.

Defense? Modern warfare no longer requires the two front doctrine (have a big enough Army to fight WWII style on two fronts); hell, modern warfare doesn't even really have fronts, anymore. The fight is fluid, mobile- as should be our military. Scale it back, make better use of special forces and airborne power. No need for Cold War spending (or thinking) to respond to today's threats.

Farm subsidies? Corporate welfare? Redundant government agencies? There are lots of things that can be streamlined, reduced, or altogether dropped. End unnecessary spending, and we can pick up some disaffected Republicans.

POLICY, POLICY, POLICY John Kerry lost this election not because he couldn't communicate his policy ideas clearly- he lost because he didn't have any policy ideas to communicate. Rightly or wrongly, there was no doubt what the President believed, why he believed it, and what he intended to do about it. Presidential malapropisms aside, he communicated his ideas in short simple declarative sentences.

Kerry, on the other hand, ran a campaign that really only attacked the President. The people will not elect a candidate whose sole paltform is "The other guy sucks."

We need to get back to basics- what do we believe, why do we believe it, and what are we going to do about it. These three things are the necessary elements of policymaking. You need all three.

"What we believe" is the first step- it's the abstract statement of broad policy goals. "All people have the right to marry whomever they want" is a good "what we believe" idea. It's not complete, though.

"Why we believe" is the second step, the intellectual justification. All people have the right to marry anyone they want BECAUSE marriage is, among other things, a legal status that bestows rights and responsibilities on the couple. To deny these rights and responsibilities to willing people solely because we are not comfortable with the sexual makeup of the couple is arbitrary. If equal protection of the law means anything at all, it is that we do not make arbitrary distinctions. (Can you imagine if someone actually had the balls to say that?)

"What are going to do about it" is the necessary third step. It's the concrete implementation of the first two. "If elected President, I will fully support the rights of all persons to marry. I will encourage Congress to pass legislation to that end, and I will...." This is how you win elections.

Al Gore was great at "what I believe" and "what I will do about it," but he never really got a handle on the "why I believe" part. John Kerry Was far better at "why I believe" than he was at the other two- the most frequent criticism thrown at him was that you could never tell quite what he believed. Of recent Dems, only Bill Clinton could communicate all three elements of policy (and he did so in a way that
was easy to follow but never condescending).

What do we believe, why do we believe it, and what are we going to do about it. Spell those things out, and we can win elections.
This is just the first part in a larger discussion, one side of a
dialogue. It is an idea, not a manifesto. We only have one year
before it's time to start thinking about state and federal elections
again. We can do this. Please forward to anyone who might have an

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