Wednesday, November 03, 2004

We don't feel their pain

Nicholas Kristoff offers a cogent diagnosis of the Democrats' ailments in wake of John Kerry's loss in Tuesday's election. Simply put, much of middle America views the Democratic Party as cultural elitists who don't respect their values:

To put it another way, Democrats peddle issues, and Republicans sell values. Consider the four G's: God, guns, gays and grizzlies.

One-third of Americans are evangelical Christians, and many of them perceive Democrats as often contemptuous of their faith. And, frankly, they're often right. Some evangelicals take revenge by smiting Democratic candidates.

Then we have guns, which are such an emotive issue that Idaho's Democratic candidate for the Senate two years ago, Alan Blinken, felt obliged to declare that he owned 24 guns "and I use them all." He still lost.

As for gays, that's a rare wedge issue that Democrats have managed to neutralize in part, along with abortion. Most Americans disapprove of gay marriage but do support some kind of civil unions (just as they oppose "partial birth" abortions but don't want teenage girls to die from coat-hanger abortions).

Finally, grizzlies - a metaphor for the way environmentalism is often perceived in the West as high-handed. When I visited Idaho, people were still enraged over a Clinton proposal to introduce 25 grizzly bears into the wild. It wasn't worth antagonizing most of Idaho over 25 bears.

Democrats don't know how to talk to most Americans, and this is something to which the left wing of the party can't reconcile itself. The left thought in 2002 that the Republicans cleaned up in the midterm elections because the Democrats had drifted too far to the right; but the real reason the Democrats lost then, and the reason they lost Tuesday, is because they do not have a clear message, a coherent governing philosophy or a well-organized party structure.

What's really amazing is the Democrats have a successful role model in the form of Bill Clinton, who as a Southern Baptist knew how to talk to evangelicals. (Keep in mind that one of the most religious segments of the population are African Americans, and cultural issues matter a great deal to them.) When Clinton said that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare" he may not have satisfied die-hard pro-lifers, but he reassured the majority of Americans who, as Kristoff notes, think abortion is wrong but don't want to send women scurrying to back alley butchers.

Clinton wasn't perfect; in addition to his ethical problems, he was too quick to compromise, but I can't think of too many Democrats who wouldn't pick him over George W. Bush in a heart beat. Clinton stood on principal on health care and gays in the military, and he failed; but he survived his failures and lived to fight another day.

So the question is, when the inevitable bloodletting begins in the Democratic Party, who will win? The left, which is still mired in the grievance politics of the past, or those who understand that it is more important to win the support of people who go to church than people who go to Starbucks?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The easiest thing to do, of course, is to do nothing. Let the status quo continue and pray (well, OK, most Democrats no longer pray; how about 'hope?') the GOP nominates a moderate who will negotiate with the weaker party.

Four years is a short time to resew a tattered fabric of rural organizers, expand the urban base and reach out to younger people who seem interested in "change," but not so much that they actually will put down the pizza and vote.

It's always the easier choice to stay with the leaders you have, doing the same things, as your party becomes increasingly irrelevant. The DNC had the same choice in 1992, and, with a little help from Ross Perot, got lucky with Bill Clinton. But what if the party hadn't gone in a different direction and had nominated Paul Tsongas, Mario Cuomo or Bill Bradley?

Personally, I preferred Tsongas, Cuomo and Bradley, but I learned a long time ago that my choice doesn't count for shit. The important thing is to bust the balls of the GOP and deliver meaningful legislation to the American people and our allies abroad.

It's not about the personal egos of Sen. John Flubs Kerry and his nutty wife; the victimological rants of scatterbrained powerbrokers; or the activist pleas of people who can't sway a majority. They're important constituencies, but the Democratic Party MUST start to address their grievances AND the needs of the vast majority of Americans.

If we can't do that, then why even be a party? Listen, the Democrats have a proud legacy over the past fifty years. We became the party for civil rights on principal, even though that cost us the South's white vote. We were the steadfast allies of NATO AND the farmer AND organized labor AND the women's rights movement.

But I challenge us to also be the party of William Jennings Bryan AND Scoops Jackson AND Harry Truman AND Martin Luther King.

We can do this!

11:24 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I won't be able to crunch all the numbers until more reliable county-by-county indicators come in, but initial results suggest Kerry lost 21 percent of the rural vote Gore claimed in 2000. Please remember that Gore, himself, suffered from a major reduction in rural support (18 percent), which would put the Dems down close to 50 percent (OK, forget the continuous numbers issue) in a fairly stable voting base.

In the coming weeks, I'll be able to factor out what appears to be tallies from Indian Reservations and African-American rural enclaves in the Mississippi Valley and mid-Alabama. By Census Tracking, I should be able to give you the analysis for predominately white, rural counties.

Right now, the initial data dump seems overwhelmingly anti-Kerry, from California to Vermont. You might never win Wyoming or Montana (don't tell Clinton that, however), but at least the Dems could be competitive there and force the GOP to spend dollars there they would rather blow in battleground states.

Rove was very successful doing that against Kerry, forcing him to pull the trigger on media buys in PA, NH, NJ, WI and MN that should have been easy pickings.

Remember, my friends, the rural/suburban vote, and that Kerry and Gore couldn't take it.

As an aside, these initial numbers do suggest a very, very strong rural outreach for the Dems in eastern Kentucky, mid-Northern VA and the far western points of WV. That's coal country, and the UMWA might have some secrets to share with the leadership because miners are a very small proportion of the population there.

But, again, the point of this exercise is about the ways to build the grassroots structure you need to win elections. While UMWA might be a small part of the general population in these regions, they nevertheless were able to build a door-to-door network.

I'm calling my buddies there tomorrow to see what they did right. While identifying too closely with big labor isn't a great winning combination (see Gephardt), they can teach us a lot about what to do right.

Another predictor: The African-American and Jewish vote is being taken for granted by the Democratic leadership. Socially, the culturally conservative segments of the African-American Evangelical base is closer to their pals in the GOP, and we should realize that, just as Jews increasingly will find common ground on financial and defense issues with the Republicans.

The GOP already has proven it can absorb nearly 40 percent of the Latino/Hispanic vote, not to mention a third of the gay ballot. If I were Rove, I'd start making those moves.

5:25 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

By the way, for you bloggers there's a good study of the Kerry debacle by Bush's cousin at

Bear in mind, I disagree with him on the strategy, but not the message. He identified Kerry's weak "communications" system (hear this Cutter?????), which marketed him. But I still say the product was a turd, and if Edwards couldn't peddle it, no one could.

And the ultimate communications network is the grassroots outreach as administered by the party (or, in reality, the party is administered by the grassroots, which is what you see in the decentralized GOP). You want the exurbia/rural vote? BUILD THE F-ING APPARATUS THAT WILL DELIVER IT. Then you don't need giant nationwide media buys. You've got the volunteer from corner who will bust her ass to make Kerry palatable to an undecided neighbor.

A TV ad showing nutty-assed Teresa talking about her John isn't going to help. John Edwards can only do so much. You need the church lady.

I also disagree with Ellis on Edwards. Edwards is a keeper. I shuddered today when I heard Kerry referred to as the "natural leader of the Democratic Party" now. Uggggh. There should be a putsch by the centrists. The center of gravity for the DNC should be Lieberman/Clinton/Edwards.

Boot Kerry, the windsurfing French poodle, and get a hard-as-nails Clinton and her pretty-talkin' man-wife on speed dial. Now.

The Zinni ploy would have been seen as a stunt, and Wes Clark would have been an unmitigated disaster as VP. The military still wouldn't buy into Kerry, not because of his antics in '71, but more so because of '91, when he voted against the resolution for force against Iraq.

If you're not going to liberate Kuwait with the blessing of the UN and with French troops on the battlefield, when would you kill a terrorist?

6:07 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

By the way, J, you should check this out:

Luntz is a very respected GOP strategist. Anybody But Bush carried Kerry only so far.

4:17 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

DB gets it, too:

Donna Brazile: Before I answer your question, let me congratulate Peggy and the entire Republican team for their victory. This time, you actually got out more votes than we did and you deserve a moment to celebrate.

Also, let me thank the Kerry campaign, DNC and all the other allies for their hard work and dedication. We worked hard, but the other side worked even harder. Out battle continues.

Prior to receiving my first batch of exit poll numbers, I was feeling pretty good about Senator Kerry's chances. Why not, in addition to the early exits, we had strong proof that Democrats were overperforming and turning out in large numbers.

Too bad I did not call into radio stations in rural America. Perhaps, I would not have swallowed so hard on the pre-election polling, election day exit polls and the news coming in from across America.

But, we never gave up on Election Day. We worked through the day and night encouraging people to get out to vote and stay in line.

DB isn't being fully honest, because her boy got smacked in the sticks in 2000, too. But she and I have both been talking to the UMWA, I suspect, and the errors of the DNC's ways are being realized by those in a position to change it.

That said, she's not the person to lead us out of the wilderness.


4:58 PM


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home