We obviously lost Tuesday, and we lost in many more ways than just the Presidency. Unfortunately, Deception and dishonesty and bigotry were allowed to win the day. Like most people, I?ve been running, in my head, my own post mortem of what happened. As you might expect, I have some thoughts on what happened, what we should do about it, and on frightening scenario that could play out over the next four years.
I believe we lost this election 24 years ago when Reagan took office. I?ve written about that before. Except for Clinton we lost our voice. We ceded strong democratic issue after issue. We allowed Gingrich to go unanswered. As I asked earlier, where have all the liberals gone? We allowed liberal to become a bad word.
We have to define liberalism according to positive semiotic frames. We have to be willing to take these frames to every corner of the nation, and run candidates in every single race in every single district (preparation for which begins today). We have to be willing to spend tens of millions of dollars not to win elections, not to help “worthy causes,” but simply to sell liberalism. We cannot be reconciliatory, since the conservative reactionaries never have been, and never will be. This has worked to their advantage. Being conservative must become a dirty word. We must become willing to insult people for being conservative. We must recognize that this struggle is permanent, and does not only happen in campaign years, and must not only be waged against specific individuals or policies. It is a permanent ideological war.
This is not always about campaigns. This is not always about how much money we raise for candidates, how many volunteers we provide for candidates, how many news stories we manage to break, how good our media is, and how well we do in picking the most electable candidate as our nominee. Instead, this also must be about defeating conservatism itself, something conservatives long ago realized about defeating liberalism. For nearly forty years now, the national electorate has been decidedly tilted in favor of conservatives, who at any given moment have outnumbered us by anywhere from 50-80%. It has been proven time and time again that liberals can win among moderates. In fact, 1984 and 1972 were probably the only two elections over the past forty years when Democrats did not win among self-described moderates. John Kerry is a liberal, and he won convincingly among moderates. Not only does our ground game kick ass, we sell ourselves to moderates just fine. These are not our problems.
The solution to our problems, the only solution that actually addresses our problems rather than criticizes us for not doing well at tasks where we actually excel, is to increase the number of liberals in this country at a more rapid pace than the number of conservatives are increasing. We must grow liberalism.
We must crush conservatism itself. This will be accomplished by activism alone. This will not be accomplished by “moving to the center.” In fact, this will not even be accomplished by the combination of the two. Instead, we can only win by moving the country itself to the left.
The reactionaries have finally achieved what they have fought decades to achieve: a government that will completely destroy every last remnant of the New Deal, make us a worldwide colonial power, and be able to institute to most frightening aspects of the “culture war.” Despite our best efforts, the reactionaries have achieved total victory. Prepare for hell. While I believe that selling liberalism and clawing our way out of the minority is the only way to reverse this trend, I am not sure how we go about doing that. However, I do know it is time that we at least start talking about it. We are in the minority, and that must end. It is time for us to grow.
Democrats must develop and articulate an alternate vision. We then critique and publicize poor policy choices, and then wait in opposition for the wheels to come off–which they will. In the meantime, we must wrest the concept of “morality” away from the right in language it understands–to remind America that indifference to the plight of the poor, of the sick and lame (both mentally and physically), of the “least of these” in society is a sin; and that reckless stewardship of God’s creation and failure to love your neighbors (regardless of race, sex or prodigal behavior) are fundamentally immoral acts.
Anyone who thinks this election was about policies is missing the point. Kerry wasn’t elected because:
- He wants to take away your guns.
- He likes killing unborn babies.
- He wants to destroy your marriage (by letting gays get civil unions).
- He wants to take away your bible.
- He’s a turncoat when it comes down to a fight.
True or false, that is the way national democrats are perceived in places like West Virginia that should be party strongholds.? None of this has to do with policy.? People don’t like where we are under Bush’s policies, but that is trumped by the easier decision to “vote your conscience” rather than to educate yourself on details.? That is not going to change, so we need to adapt.
We must re-frame some of the issues Republicans have taking for their own:
- Patriot Act — Make it clear how much the patriot act allows the government to disrupt your liberties.
- Guns — Since Democrats already support guns when they are running for national office, come out in complete support of guns.? That way, republicans lose a major campaign plank, without any real shift in democratic policy.
- Abortion, Gays — Simple position: this will have no effect on your life, so let other people make their own choices.? This is a country of freedom, and if it doesn’t interfere with the freedom of others, the government. should have nothing to do with it.
I think the big strategic blunder was trying to wage a campaign just in a few swing states. When Clinton won in 1996 he won LA, MO, TN, KY, WV. This was only eight years ago! We need to field a candidate who can run a truly national campaign. We need to focus on winning the national popular vote, and let the Electoral College follow. 2000 was an aberration and we let it dictate our entire strategy. We need to run candidates on a platform that can appeal to Americans all across the country, and have campaign stops in places like Nebraska and Georgia, bringing the positive message to the people. Forget 2000.
As Democrats, we need to do what the Republicans did in 1998. In 1998 and 1999, Republicans cleared the field for George W. Bush. Members of Congress and other major officeholders threw their weight behind him to make sure he got the nomination. They united because their previous presidential nominee, a clumsy veteran senator, had gone down to defeat. They were facing eight years out of power, and they were hungry.
Get simple. Find a compelling salesman and get him ready to run for president in 2008. Put aside quibbles about preparation, stature, expertise, nuance, and all that other hyper-sophisticated garbage that caused us to nominate Kerry. We already have legions of people with preparation, stature, expertise, and nuance ready to staff the executive branch of the federal government. We don’t need one of them to be president. We just need somebody to win the White House and appoint them to his administration. And that will require all the simplicity, salesmanship, and easygoing humanity they don’t have.
Maybe that person is John Edwards. Edwards did very well in the exit polls from the 2004 Democratic primaries. Maybe it?s some politically attractive southern governor. Regardless, do what the Republicans did. Identify this person now and give him a job that will position him to run for president again in a couple of years. Clear the field of Hillary Clinton and any other well-meaning liberal who can’t connect with people outside those islands of blue on the electoral map. Because we?re going to get a simple president again next time, whether we like it or not. The only question is whether that president will be from our party or the other one.