Wednesday, November 03, 2004

A simple plan

The first of many post-election analyses about why Kerry lost--or will lose, once all the votes in Ohio are counted--finds that while Bush had a clear, simple message, Kerry had dozens. The writer, William Saletan of Slate, looks toward 2008 and believes the best thing the Dems can do is nominate John Edwards:

If you're a Democrat, here's my advice. Do what the Republicans did in 1998. Get simple. Find a compelling salesman and get him ready to run for president in 2008. Put aside your quibbles about preparation, stature, expertise, nuance, and all that other hyper-sophisticated garbage that caused you to nominate Kerry. You already have legions of people with preparation, stature, expertise, and nuance ready to staff the executive branch of the federal government. You don't need one of them to be president. You 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.

The good news is, that person is already available. His name is John Edwards. If you have any doubt about his electability, just read the exit polls from the 2004 Democratic primaries. If you don't think he's ready to be president—if you don't think he has the right credentials, the right gravitas, the right subtlety of thought—ask yourself whether these are the same things you find wanting in George W. Bush. Because evidently a majority of the voting population of the United States doesn't share your concern. They seem to be attracted to a candidate with a simple message, a clear focus, and a human touch. You might want to consider their views, since they're the ones who will decide whether you're sitting here again four years from now, wondering what went wrong.

Edwards could be damaged goods, but the general idea is sound. That said, I'm going to see if I can't write about something else for the next few days.

14 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

As the best anonymous poster here, I should like to say that Saletan's points were broached by me, here, several months ago. So, move over Willy!

And thanks, Iowa! You gave us John Flubs Kerry, and then voted for Bush! Thank you!

I'm not sure, however, that it all boils down to a "clear, simple" message. Edwards can be quite complex, as can Bill, Hillary and Joe Lieberman, but they come off as "thoughtful," not "otiose," or "pompous" or whatever disturbing trait JF Kerry was throwing off on the stump.

While I agree that a great deal of the Democratic loss should be tied directly to a repugnant candidate (thanks, Iowa!), a larger problem I've addressed on other blogs (I can't remember if I mentioned it here) was the DNC's inability to stem a basic Rovian strategy:
Canvassing the rural vote.

The Dems' grassroots system in rural America has broken down, and broken down badly. While they haven't had the farmer vote in some time (farmers are upper middle class businessmen dependent on commodity markets and the free flow of capital, in sum, similar to beneficiaries of corporate welfare everywhere), they've completely abandoned the rural vote.

For all the pub about the Deaniacs and Move On and P-Diddy, the reality is that these organizations reach a core of urban voters the Dems aren't likely to lose anyway. The real work must be done to extend the canvass to rural and suburban America.

To become attractive to these millions of Americans in small towns, suburban cusps and unincorporated townships, they will need to package their policies in different ways. They also will need to get serious about national defense (a huge issue for people most likely to sign up), topics of concern to Evangelical voters, and real solutions to what matters to these folks.

They should take a page from Clinton on this. People forget that he won several southern states and carried the rural vote in the battleground northern precincts, including Montana! Montana!

Does that mean abandoning the plank on freedom of choice for abortion? No, but it means refocusing a pro-family issue for rural voters. Take Clinton's enthusiastic support for Family Leave legislation. That was important to families who faced taking care of older parents. It was a big hit in the sticks because it gave real protections for Christian families worried about facing up to obligations to honor their fathers and mothers.

For defense, Clinton was a bonehead on gays in the military, etc. But he didn't alienate many of the enlisted men from rural areas because he boosted their pay AND improved housing and social services for them on base.

Clinton, also, was an Evangelical, who publicly professed his faith (when he wasn't boning interns), and worked for bipartisan agreements on abortion, the death penalty, etc., that are important issues to rural people.

The problem was that his own party failed to follow up on his successes, and as the traditional rural Dems (New Deal fellows) grew older and died, the grassroots move to get their successors wasn't on the ground. It was in the cities or the Internet, which is all well and good but it vacated some 30 million votes to the GOP.

That's inexcusable. For the strongest leaders in the Democratic party (the Clintons, Lieberman, Pelosi, Boxer, etc.), it's tough for them to make a model that works because their own states are so urban, blue and northeastern.

Edwards was brought in to "sell" a turd of a product in Kerry and to harpoon some of the rural vote. My hunch is that he was good for about 15 percent of the Democratic vote in key states such as WI, MN and, yes, Ohio, but in the end he couldn't save the goose-killing Kerry.

Give the Dems four years to reconstruct the rural precincts? I'm not sure they can do it. But I bet Edwards is up to the task of trying. I could see an Edwards/Hillary or Edwards/Bayh ticket doing very well in 2008, and maybe I'll even help them out.

11:05 AM

 
Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

I don't have time to discuss it now but I think your analysis is accurate.

11:26 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By the way, good call on seeking to dampen enthusiasm over early exit poll data. You saw correctly that they are inherently suspect (Yeah, sure Kerry is up by 20 points in PA and dead even in NC and VA). I wish other bloggers had been as responsible.

11:48 AM

 
Blogger girl said...

Hey, what do you think of the likelihood of Barack Obama being a future presidential candidate? There's a lot of talk of that happening (at least it seems so over here, but then again, he is from Illinois) and I think he would be a pretty good candidate. I guess we'd better see how he does in the Senate first, but he's a very well-rounded guy and the fact that he's really the most powerful black man in the U.S. right now gives him an edge. I'm not sure if America is really "ready" for a black president, but I think he's definitely someone to consider. I don't think Edwards would be a good choice in 2008. I don't think he can appeal to the average American... but maybe I'm wrong.

2:34 PM

 
Blogger Krista said...

Well, apparently we need someone that can cheat because that is how Bush got in. Then we need someone that constantly does not have a clue about what is going on. Oh, and he has to have a dumb clueless look on his face 24/7.

3:05 PM

 
Blogger the urban fox said...

Just watched the Bush victory speech. And permitted myself a wry smile when he stumbled over the word 'democracy'.

Hillary 2008, I'd say.

3:44 PM

 
Blogger girl said...

Hilary and Obama. I think conservatives everywhere would have a heart attack.

3:53 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bush didn't "cheat." The GOP was simply, and clearly, better organized in the battleground states. Internal Republican tracking polls in OH, WV, FL, NM, IA and WI were actually highly accurate (and were weighted with better metrics than used by traditional polling agencies). So the GOP always knew where they stood and what grassroots push they needed to put them over the edge.

The Democrats failed to win not because of Republican chicanery, but because they didn't take the time or effort to rebuild a shrinking ag/rural network over the past four years. You might have noticed Bush in obscure rural areas and Kerry flip-flopping from one major city to another. That's because Rove knew the key to the election was in the rural areas, far away from the "free media" of the local TV news. To do that, you have to have a receptive network of local hands to bring out the crowds and boost your candidate.

The Dems no longer have that in rural areas. Maybe they feel it's too expensive, and certainly a dearth of general funding for the parties in the wake of McCain-Feingold shouldn't be discounted.

But they need to do the hard work of rebuilding their rural grassroots organization.

You've got to be more than the party of gays, African-Americans, people of little religion, urban labor and old people to move the middle to your positions.

This isn't about how much I, personally, sympathize with the plight of gays, African-Americans, organized religion and the elderly. It's about selling your positions to a wider base.

Michael Moore is poison to this party. I keep saying that, and no one listens. So is Howard Dean. They are important adjuncts, but they better not become spokesmen for the base. In 2004, they did, and if you wonder why the majority of Americans decided to go with another person, even one so inept and corrosive as George W. Bush, look hard at yourselves.

I know I'm looking hard at myself, wondering what I can do to rescue this party, and whether it's even worth trying.

4:26 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bush didn't "cheat." The GOP was simply, and clearly, better organized in the battleground states. Internal Republican tracking polls in OH, WV, FL, NM, IA and WI were actually highly accurate (and were weighted with better metrics than used by traditional polling agencies). So the GOP always knew where they stood and what grassroots push they needed to put them over the edge.

The Democrats failed to win not because of Republican chicanery, but because they didn't take the time or effort to rebuild a shrinking ag/rural network over the past four years. You might have noticed Bush in obscure rural areas and Kerry flip-flopping from one major city to another. That's because Rove knew the key to the election was in the rural areas, far away from the "free media" of the local TV news. To do that, you have to have a receptive network of local hands to bring out the crowds and boost your candidate.

The Dems no longer have that in rural areas. Maybe they feel it's too expensive, and certainly a dearth of general funding for the parties in the wake of McCain-Feingold shouldn't be discounted.

But they need to do the hard work of rebuilding their rural grassroots organization.

You've got to be more than the party of gays, African-Americans, people of little religion, urban labor and old people to move the middle to your positions.

This isn't about how much I, personally, sympathize with the plight of gays, African-Americans, organized religion and the elderly. It's about selling your positions to a wider base.

Michael Moore is poison to this party. I keep saying that, and no one listens. So is Howard Dean. They are important adjuncts, but they better not become spokesmen for the base. In 2004, they did, and if you wonder why the majority of Americans decided to go with another person, even one so inept and corrosive as George W. Bush, look hard at yourselves.

I know I'm looking hard at myself, wondering what I can do to rescue this party, and whether it's even worth trying.

4:41 PM

 
Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

I agree that you can't blame GOP chicanery for Kerry's defeat. The Democrats have been in decline for more than a generation, and they refuse to heed the lessons of Bill Clinton, who despite his personal foibles offered an excellent blueprint for winning the White House. More in the next post.

5:58 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For a good laugh, I keep going over to Fester's hut to read the exegesis of victory (ooops, no, uhhhh, defeat) for John Flubs Kerry.

It seems the reason Kerry lost is because most Americans are religious morons who can't possibly see that their economic lives depend on embracing a very liberal Senator from MA. Of course.

Maybe, just maybe, the Dems lost because they offered up a very bad candidate and didn't do the hard work at the grassroots level the GOP did.

The problem for most bloggers is that they have no clue how campaigns are really run. You do, J, because you covered a few of them over the years.

The GOP works harder than the Dems, and they have to because they're not a "natural" majority. They have better organized outreach for financing and marketing their candidates. They spend more money, and they spend it more wisely, on targeted polling data. They're better at coordinating with nonprofits such as the NRA to ensure a seamless message reaches important (and likely) voters. The only voter drives their interested in are for voters who are LIKELY TO VOTE, and computer-assisted demographic research tells them that.

This takes brains and dedication. For all the well intentioned volunteers from Move On, et al, you can't beat the church lady in Ashtabula, OH who gets off her ass for six months and knocks on every likely voters' door in her precinct.

When people begin to realize that it takes more than posting a few witticisms about "W" every day to affect change (see most of the bloggers in this town), the sooner they'll understand how the process works.

I can talk all day about how the Farm Bureau networks with the county commissioners and the GOP leadership at the most basic voting blocs to win elections in the country, from the grain mill to the Clerk of Courts' office, but no one will listen to me. And this is just a coffee break excursion anyway.

Maybe because I've actually had to do this ON SUCCESSFUL CAMPAIGNS FOR THE DEMOCRATS, it makes such sense to me. And it's why I predicted Kerry was a trainwreck of a candidate those many months ago.

The irony that hasn't been lost on me, of course, is that Kerry should have been able to do this nationwide because he f-ing did it in Iowa! That's how you win Iowa!

Ironically, Gephardt understood it, as did Lieberman (which is why Joementum never got started in Des Moines; he realized he didn't have the core group in place to make it work). Had Edwards and Clark not run, I can bet you Gephardt would've cleaned Kerry's clock in Iowa.

Disclosure: Gephardt is a genuinely good man, a guy with an Edwards-sort-of-story who truly means to do great things for the American working man. That he's also a hard-as-horeshoes campaigner doesn't hurt.

Now, I don't know if Gephardt could've beaten Bush, because I really respect what the GOP does to win elections, but he would've known HOW to beat Bush, just as Clinton's team knew how to beat the elder Bush, and you can bet Hillary will put together an enviable host of talent, too.

I can mention other reasons why I saw the Kerry loss coming, but I don't want to bore people with inside baseball. The top reason, of course, is the candidate himself, who wasn't such a hot commodity. Remember, he barely won his last senate seat as an incumbent in a one-party town.

But I will say that Bush didn't win this thing by himself. He had a lot of help from Kerry and, especially, Kerry's team.

6:30 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree generally, Anonymous, though I'm not so sure that Edwards drew in many rural votes in the regions you mention. At the top of the ticket he may have succeeded in doing that, but not as the number two attraction; I would guess that the votes Kerry got in those places are residual Democratic loyalists. You can find some of those anywhere you go, even in Wyoming.

Clinton demonstrated that a Democrat with a good message and a smart team can win in regions that have trended Republican, which proves in turn that many people -- perhaps even a majority of Americans -- will vote for the man rather than the party. I thought Kerry would have made an excellent president, but I'm not the audience he should have been trying to convince; I wasn't likely to stay home or to vote for anyone else.

Josh Marshall wrote that his biggest worry is that the new networking mechanism the Democrats assembled will be tossed aside as a result of this defeat, but I think Anonymous is correct in suggesting that the mechanism Marshall is talking about was solipsistic; the people who bought into it were looking at their own reflections in the mirror. The good work of Move On and like organizations ought not to be shelved, but it's not enough. My grandfather won a seat on the New York State Supreme Court despite being a sacrificial lamb sent to slaughter by his own party -- they dumped his literature in the Buffalo River and snickered at him on election night at party headquarters. But he won late in the going, when the rural vote came in, because he realized that without an organization working for him he'd have to go door to door out in the boondocks and reach the people the party generally ignored, staying out until 2 or 3 in the morning, eating three or four dinners a night and drinking so much coffee that he couldn't sleep. He won by a comfortable margin and owed his party nothing.

When Republicans say they're trying to "motivate the base," what they're really doing is inviting people to join that base in language tailored to suit the audience. In the next two years the Democrats need to start rebuilding networks in the rural Southeast and Midwest, especially, and in the Mountain states. Test the networks midterm. Find a good candidate, preferably a Southerner who can bring in some favorite-son votes, speak simply, smile nicely and demonstrate thoughtfulness or intellect, as the audience demands. edwards might be the guy, he might not be -- he's got problems in his own state. Hillary is not a winning presidential candidate in 2008, though I wish she was. Obama is still a cipher, and it has nothing to do whether the country is ready for a black candidate. It is. Maybe as VP.

7:13 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By spatchcocking Edwards' role as a bug light for rural votes, I wasn't suggesting that he was ensuring a net gain of country supports. Rather, his job steadily became simply keeping the "residual" votes. I suspect that the elderly rural vote is demographically dead to the Dems for two salient reasons: (1) The high mortality rate of New Deal Democrats; (2) The increasingly conservative religious values of those older voters, and the fact that they, too, feel at odds with what threatens to become a Democratic play to present blue-state losers for election.

The message is important, of course, but you can't discount the most important aspect of all, which is grassroots organizing. Maybe I'm a little biased here because that's where I cut my teeth, but you must (MUST) have a ground game to win. The tragedy of McCain-Feingold is that a great deal of the cash to support this network is disappearing into 501s. Not that I'm opposed to 501s, because I'm a small-d democrat too, but if you're drawn to giving to a largely unaccountable Swift Boat group rather than the traditional party, your dollars likely won't be duplicated to the meet-and-greet, Jefferson Jackson dinner or outreach to the grain mill staff; buying FFA pigs at the county fair or supporting block drives to get out the vote.

That shit wins elections. It's the heart and soul of every party and it ties the headliner through his or her allies all the way to the block or rural route organizer.

Call it a "machine" when it runs roughshod over democracy, but it's important to get that personal, shake-your-hand and slap-your-back presence to the most local levels. The Dems aren't doing that anymore, and they wonder why they can't win in the South or West?

It will take a great deal of time and effort to rebuild this network. The right guy to do it is a sort of Rovian figure, and I don't see one of those in the Democratic National Party right now.


My hope, however, is that the Dems do it, and that the feedback they get from these new networks of volunteers STARTS TO CHANGE POLICY AT THE NATIONAL LEVEL.

I love Nancy Pelosi. I think Lieberman is a helluva guy. Hillary is a gem, very bright, very hard working, with good instincts. Jon Corzine is an honorable man who is dedicated to public service.

Fine.

But I don't necessarily want my party bound by the views of New England, Mid-Atlantic and Pacific people. We must be a national party, and our views must be animated by the best hopes to help these people. If you build a party like this, dampening some of the rank stupidity of Michael Moore-ons, Deaniacs and Move On, you'll be better off.

You might have even win a national election against the single worst Republican candidate since Herbert Hoover.

Just a thought.

10:54 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really should proof my typing. Won, not win.

12:50 PM

 

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