Can The Democrats Resurrect Themselves?
FORECASTS & TRENDS E-LETTER
Can The Democrats Resurrect Themselves?
IN THIS ISSUE:
1. Dems Need To Get Serious & Think Big
2. New DNC Chairman Will Tell Us A Lot
3. Turn Away From The Liberal 527 Groups
4. Can’t Be Weak On Crime & National Security
5. Improve Your Image & Take Your Party Back
Even the staunchest of Democrats will admit that their party is currently in disarray. President Bush defeated John Kerry by over 3½ million votes. Republicans, already in the majority in Congress, picked up additional seats in both the Senate and the House of Representatives in last November’s elections. It was not pretty for the Democrats.
Now the party of FDR is trying to figure out how to resurrect itself. Do they move further to the liberal left as Howard Dean, Ted Kennedy and the Hollywood elite would prefer? Or do they move toward the center where you find Senator Joe Lieberman? Powerful forces on both sides are trying to gain control, and it will be very interesting to watch the battle over who becomes the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Perhaps the biggest question is where do the Clintons fit into this picture. Clearly, the Clintons want to retain control over the party, but their guy – Terry McAuliffe – has been a disaster for the Democrats. He’s stepping down even as everyone expects Hillary to make a run for president in 2008. So it’s no surprise that there’s a real battle brewing over who will be the next DNC chairman.
Since the major investment markets are still floundering to find direction, I thought this week would be a good time to get back to one of my favorite topics – politics – which I haven’t written about since before the election. I asked my conservative colleague Spencer Wright – a political junkie if ever there was one – to write me a piece on what it would take for the Democrats to resurrect themselves. Here are his thoughts.
How To Fix The Democratic Party
“This just in: The Democratic Party is a smoldering wreck, a shadow of its former self. It is clear to me, as I hope it is clear to the powers that be in the DNC, that the Democrats are at risk of remaining the political underclass for the next two decades and perhaps more.
At Gary’s request, I will attempt in this article to genuinely point out the Democrats’ problems and what they need to do to fix them and get back on track. Some of you no doubt will ask, “Since you are a conservative, why do you care? Isn’t this good news?” My answer may shock you. Yes, I am a conservative and no, this isn’t good news. America works best when there is real and substantive debate. Very few answers are found solely on the right or solely the left.
The once powerful Democratic Party is clinging to past glories and ignoring present realities. Over the last 160 years the Democratic Party has literally changed the world in some noble and spectacular ways. From the tenacity of Andrew Jackson and James K. Polk, to the courage and steadfastness of FDR and Harry Truman, to the vision of John F. Kennedy, a Democrat can look back with pride. Yet considering the direction in which today’s Democrats seem to be moving, these men may as well have lived a thousand years ago.
Think Big & Get Serious
Former Reagan speechwriter and advisor, Peggy Noonan, recently wrote a column entitled “If I Were a Democrat, Here’s What I Would Do.” I am a big fan of Noonan, and I think she hit the nail on the head with several points in her column. I will summarize some of Noonan’s advice to the Democrats, and offer some of my own in this week’s E-Letter.
The first thing Noonan advises the Democrats to do is “…think big and get serious.” This is absolutely correct. The Democrats are a fractured party with fractured issues. They no longer have any grand over-arching themes and are therefore losing their national identity.
If I were to ask you what the Democrats stand for, many of you might say bigger government and higher taxes. This is the image many Americans have of the Democrats. But these are two issues which simply rub the public the wrong way. As Peggy Noonan suggests, the Democrats have to be bold and think bigger than that if they are to regain power.
Here’s an idea. Why doesn’t the party that created Social Security step forward and propose big ideas to fix it? Stop denying that there is no Social Security crisis looming. You know there is. Stop criticizing President Bush for his ideas until you go bold and suggest some of your own. You do have some ideas, don’t you?
Minority leader Harry Reid should be in the well of the Senate pressing the idea that Democrats created Social Security and Democrats will play a major role in fixing it. Is that so hard? This isn’t caving in to the Republicans or the president. The Dems don’t have to rubberstamp Bush’s ideas. They need to come up with some of their own, big ones at that.
A Fresh New Face At The DNC
In her recent column, Noonan wrote, “No one wants to be head of the Democratic National Committee.” Actually, that’s not true – there are several Democrats who want to head the DNC. The problem is that no one of serious stature wants to be head of the DNC, unless you consider Howard Dean such a person. And some Democrats do, especially those who believe the party must veer to the far left to get back into power.
Don’t allow the vocal liberal minority to steer your party over a cliff. The Clintons’ man, Terry McAuliffe, was a great fundraiser but he was a disaster for the DNC in terms of victories. Howard Dean would be even worse. He lacks McAuliffe’s strengths and multiplies his weaknesses. Howard Dean is a ticket to nowhere. Don’t buy it. You need a new image, one of strength and character. A respected and capable spokesperson goes a long way.
While resisting the far left in your party, you also have to deal with the Clintons. Once again, they are trying to hand pick the next DNC chairman. They want someone at the DNC who will support Hillary in 2008. It has been widely reported that they asked Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff, Erskine Bowles, to take the job. They also reportedly asked Harold Ickies, former Clinton deputy chief of staff, to head the DNC. Apparently, both have declined.
My advice is not to elect Howard Dean. Move beyond the Clinton grasp - you don’t owe them anything. Take a chance on a fresh face. You need someone who can convey your new, bold initiatives with the courage of his/her convictions.
Turn Away From The Ultra-Left 527 Groups
All political parties have special interest groups and single-issue groups that embarrass them at one time or another. In the case of the Democratic Party, these 527 groups are hugely funded, very well organized and are moving ever closer to complete control of the party apparatus. Yet only those on the left fringe of your party endorse these groups. They certainly don’t reflect mainstream American values. You need to stop them. Peggy Noonan writes:
The  Groups – all left-wing outfits from the abortion people to the enviros – didn’t deliver in the last election, and not because they didn’t try. They worked their hearts out. But they had no one to deliver. They had only money. The secret: Nobody likes them. Nobody! No matter how you feel about abortion, no one likes pro-abortion fanatics; no one likes mad scientists who cook environmental data. Or rather only rich and creepy people like them. Stand up to the Groups--make your policies more moderate, more nuanced, less knee-jerk.
Yes, that means you need to move to the center. You can do it confidently and boldly. You don’t need these groups. Most of the liberal 527 groups spew hatred and bile and deceit; they are everything that is wrong with the process. You are better than that. Rise above it and stop pandering to your lowest common denominator.
Dem’s Numbers Are Down & Shrinking
After the last two election cycles, here is where the Democratic Party stands. The Dems hold 202 House seats, 44 Senate seats, and 22 governorships. By comparison, in the 102nd Congress in 1991-93, Democrats held 267 House seats, 56 Senate seats and 32 governorships. They’re down 65 House seats, 12 Senate seats and 10 governorships in a matter of 12 years. Bill Clinton, while he was a popular president, did you no favors.
From a Democrat’s point of view, this is certainly a pathetic state of affairs. But in every defeat there is an opportunity to learn something. You should have learned that the American people don’t like obvious and malicious obstructionism and filibustering. The people of South Dakota sent chief obstructionist Tom Daschle packing.
But did the Democrats get the message? Apparently not. They continue to obstruct every Bush appointment. In the latest instance, Dr. Condoleeza Rice was approved as the next Secretary of State by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a 14-2 vote (with Barbara Boxer and John Kerry voting no). Yet the Democrats have obstructed a full confirmation vote in the Senate. The question is, what do they hope to gain from this repeated public rebuke of the president?
People are sick of the knee-jerk obstructionism, games and the politics for politics sake. But like it or not, this has become a trademark of the Democrats. You need to lose this attitude. Remember by not being petty or vindictive, you are not automatically giving in to your opposition. The American people expect disagreements; the American people want disagreements; but try taking the high ground. When you are in the minority and on the attack, you look small and nervous. A minority becomes a majority by acting like one.
Weak On Crime & National Security
The Democrats are also perceived as weak on crime and terror and national security. In this post-9/11 era, that is the kiss of death all by itself. You need to change this. Try doing it in public view by holding townhall style meetings around the South and Midwest. (You remember where the South is, right?) Talking to regular folks and really listening for a change is important here. Was FDR weak on national security? No. How many times was he re-elected? You need to get this one right. Consider asking Sam Nunn to lead this effort - his credibility here is rock solid.
Protecting our national interests used to be a top priority among Democrats. Prior to 1968, the Democratic Party had a very impressive record in this area. The old saying goes, ‘politics ends at the water’s edge.’ Not any more. Democrats seem to be chomping at the bit to place other nations’ interests ahead of our own. It seems that the conventional thinking in the party in recent years is to weaken the country and subordinate America to the United Nations or the European Union.
How do you fix this? Stop being ashamed of America’s prominence in the world. Accept that America is a force for good and justice. Embrace that idea and try not to hate your own country. Overhaul the party platform to include ‘strong America’ provisions.
Again, this does not mean that you rubber stamp the president’s foreign policies. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with the president about his foreign policy if you don’t like it. Americans understand disagreement, but they do not like obstructionism. Remember that in the end, it’s the president’s head in the historical noose.
Other Tips For The Democrats
Increasingly, it is hard-working, rank and file folks who are leaving your party in droves. Do yourselves a favor: Move inward from the coasts. Don’t think in terms of red versus blue states. Stop referring to the middle two-thirds of the country as “flyover country.” Keep in mind that there are more regular folks than super-left Hollywood elites and ivory tower academics. Check recent election results to confirm this.
The old saying goes, ‘a Democrat never met a tax increase he didn’t like.’ That has to change. We all know taxes are a reality in a modern society, but tax reform is definitely needed. If you don’t agree with the administration’s ideas, propose your own plan and take it to the people. Tell us why your plan is better without attacking the other guy. Don’t just criticize.
Also its time to give up on class warfare – pitting the rich against the poor. The American people know who pays most of the taxes in this country. This strategy has fallen flat for you three times now; you need to lose it. In order to do this, you need to jettison senior policy strategist Bob Schrum, a seven-time loser, from the party apparatus.
Stop playing the race card. Stop scaring seniors. And stop taking these groups for granted. They are starting to turn on you, slowly but surely. You act as though you are entitled to their votes, that you own these voting blocks. That turns people off.
There is also a lack of core values in today’s Democratic Party. At least that is the perception. Make a public display by amending the party platform to include a universal values covenant. Then try to stick to it.
There are always plenty of pitfalls and mistakes to be made in American politics. Neither side gets it all right or has all the answers. But don’t let the Democratic Party continue to get caught up in fringe issues that are far, far out of the mainstream (same sex marriage, for example). Be careful where you lend your national voice. Try speaking for all Americans and not just the fringe groups and the 527s.
Ways To Improve Your Image
There are too many abrasive talking heads on your side. You have a lot of youthful spokespersons with a lot of vigor, which is good. But their lines seem overly rehearsed and beyond their limited political experience. Many of these young people come across as ‘slick’ and as a result, they aren’t being taken seriously. Americans don’t like slick. Bring the adults back.
Show some respect for opposing views while making your case. Stop the name-calling and non-stop attacks. Try to remain above the fray. Don’t be so shrill. Try your best to appear mature, sane and centered on the issues.
You can do this by dropping themes such as the ‘vast right wing conspiracy,’ the ‘Bush is illegitimate’ argument and the Bush/Hitler comparisons. Most people do not buy them. America is not a fascist state, and it never will be. So stop propagating the notion that every last freedom and personal liberty are being subverted by the Republicans.
Above all things, the Democratic Party needs to restore its honor and integrity. You can do this by putting forward stronger candidates who appeal to the whole of America and not its urban centers. Try this: the next time a Congressional pay-hike is in the offing, vote against it, denounce it and filibuster it if need be. Remind everyone that you are doing the work of the people who don’t have the luxury of voting themselves pay raises.
Finally, you’re going to have to leave the Clinton’s in the past. There are too many negatives associated with the Clintons. Yes, Bill could win elections and he is charismatic, but he is a natural at politics. You don’t have any naturals on your bench (neither does the GOP). You don’t want to find this out by nominating Hillary in 2008.
If the Democratic Party is going to once again live up to its history, it has to make some serious and drastic changes. So get serious, think big and make them. If not, you will continue to lose constituents. If not, you are almost certain to lose even more seats in Congress in the 2006 midterm elections.” END QUOTE
Some of my fellow conservative readers may not understand why I would include an article on how the Democrats can get back into power. On the one hand, I am sincere in that I would like to see a more credible political debate on both sides of the aisle, even if I prefer that the Republicans stay in control.
I want the American political system to function without the hate-speech and invective that have become all too common. I do not want to see this country ruled by puppets of the most powerful and very liberal 527 groups. I want the interests of all the people served, not the interests of individual egos or selected voting blocks. I want a return to maturity and civility.
On the other hand, I don’t believe the Democrats will take much of Peggy Noonan’s recent advice or Spencer’s suggestions noted above. To move to the center would mean having their picture taken with John Doe of flyover country, and not George Soros or Barbra Streisand or any of the other celebrities whose only connection to the average American is their dependence upon us as consumers of entertainment. It would also mean that they would have to give up the pompous guise of intellectual superiority over anyone who doesn’t happen to agree with their views.
Ronald Reagan designed a winning campaign, and then an effective two-term presidency, because he connected with the hopes, dreams and values of the average American. The Democrats will never be able to do that as long as they continue to be the party of choice for every far-left cause that intentionally conflicts with these dreams and values.
At the end of the day, if Howard Dean becomes the chairman of the DNC, then we will know that those in control of the party have decided to move to the left. If the Clintons manage to get one of their cronies to head the DNC once again, then we’ll know that the party is going to bet everything on Hillary in 2008. In that case, the party will bob and weave with the latest polls and focus groups, rather than having true leadership.
Neither one of those outcomes would be good for the Democratic Party in my opinion. The DNC vote for chairman is scheduled for February 12.
While this E-Letter has focused on the Democrats, the Republicans have no shortage of their own problems. Maybe that will be the subject of a future E-Letter.
Very best regards,
Gary D. Halbert
Howard Dean may get the DNC job by default.
Will the Dems pick Hillary in 2008?
An interesting read on President Bush’s inaugural address.
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