Where To Go Next
I have read a good deal of the accounts of what happened last Tuesday and why, ranging from the conventional wisdom espoused in numerous places that Democrats got swamped by the ďmoral valuesĒ wave, through the spectrum that we lost the moderate voter this time around who have been with us in the past, all the way to the left side of the spectrum where the argument appears to be that we failed once again to run on our economic populism base and lost because we tried too much to be Republican-lite.
While I donít want to diminish the fact that Rove engineered a targeted effort through the churches and other means to increase GOP registrations from likely populations to the tune of 3.5 million new voters, and then got them to the polls, it is also true that the moral values impact may be overstated. I think there is some truth to the suspicion that this new moral values conventional wisdom just happens to be the reason-de-jour for the media, stoked along by Rove as a way to plant the message that the Left is spiritually out of touch with what the GOP defines as Mainstream America. Rove sees a need to do this because it puts the Left in a defensive position, arguing against something that may not even be true, going into the 2006 elections. I admit that it is true that Democratic Party hasnít focused enough on what the middle of the country feels and wants, and should never again cede a national campaign to a battleground states-only campaign. But the more I look at various polls, aside from the effectiveness of the Rovian GOP turnout efforts between 2000 and 2004, I think a major part of the reason why we lost is simply that the Democrats were running the first post-9/11 election and failed to match up a economic populism message with an effective discussion of values and how to make our country safer.
I think the best thing that the Democrats can do is go right at Roveís conventional wisdom (CW) about the moral values voters. First, the message that Democrats need to hammer over and over again will be to ram Roveís CW down his throat. Every day for the next four years, and especially starting now and heading into the 2006 midterms, Democrats need to point out over and over again that the White House and the GOP has been taken over by the evangelical right, and it is this community that is running this country. The truth is that Rove has let a Genie out of the bottle that he canít control anymore, as the evangelicals with Roveís prodding and targeting ran downfield faster than Rove and now expect payback from the White House. As such, the environment is perfectly set to argue that the evangelical community is now in control of the GOP, the White House, and the country. This is the first step towards what I suggest the Democrats do, which is to position ourselves to broaden our tent to target a population soon to be looking for a new home: GOP moderates.
If there was ever a time for the Democrats to make a concerted effort to reach out to moderates on issues of common interest, like political reform, fiscal discipline, tax fairness, environmental/labor/consumer protection, civil rights, and yes tolerance, now is that time. We can be assured that there will be ample opportunities with this president to show moderates that Bush is already out of touch with voters, will overreach and claim a mandate that doesnít exist, with devastating effect, especially with the courts and the environment.
Bush won because he not only got a bump of conservative voters through the direct appeal to the evangelical base of the party, but because he claimed more Hispanics and white married women this time around than in 2000, largely through the appeals based on faith, security, and trust. But as I said Bush is now dealing with an evangelical base that now expects its payback, which can be politically harmful to the president when he actually tries to deliver what they want. I propose that in dealing with this base, Democrats need to point out to these voters that they share much less in common with Jesus than they claim. I donít expect Democrats to peel away many of these voters with this truth-telling, but I think it is important that we hold these voters accountable in the media for their divergence from the true teachings of Jesus. We need to do this, and also call the Catholic Church on the carpet, as a step in not only stomping out Roveís emerging CW before it takes too much hold and smugness, but also so that moderates will feel safe distancing themselves from the GOPís right wing. And once that happens, the party will be better positioned to appeal once again to the Hispanics and white working women on issues of security, economics, true values, and our families and communities. For example, we should be asking the Hispanics and white married women, many of whom are mothers, how comfortable they feel that the rightwing extremists they just elected will soon be moving to lessen environmental protection and thereby threatening the health of their children and families.
I am not advocating that the party swing sharply left here and leave the middle vulnerable to false appeals from Rove in 2006 once again. We must grab the opportunity that Rove has stumbled into by immediately building a center-left coalition. Democrats need to point out where the right wing is obscuring votersí true economic interests with talk about values, leadership, security, and trust, and how these seemingly feel-good appeals by a rightwing corporate minority of the country are nothing more than attempts to grab and hold power while doing nothing to make the everyday lives of our people and their community better. We must challenge the "moral values" voters on their faith, and to build a message that weaves reform, security, and community values with economic opportunity, public interest, and fairness.
It is time for the Democrats to be comfortable talking about why God wouldnít have endorsed much of the GOPís platform this year or Bush's record. And yes, the messenger is just as important as the message, so the party needs to not only think about who will be leading the charge with this message between now and 2006, but also what type of candidates need to be pushed front and center as plausible contenders in 2008 (such as Mark Warner of Virginia, Mike Easley of North Carolina, and Evan Bayh of Indiana). The Democrats need to vocally re-assert through the right spokespersons that unlike the modern GOP the party will not throw people and Main Street overboard in a rush towards an intolerant corporate and evangelical state that has little in common with God or the values that this country was founded on.
Let Rove talk smugly all he wants about his victory and the wave of voters he has unleashed, who will soon own him and his president. Let us work now on outmaneuvering him by reconnecting with the economically disadvantaged, Main Street, moderates, and our communities through an appeal based on shared interests. We can enlarge our tent by making it clear how you can be for a strong nation, secure and clean communities, economic opportunity for individuals and small businesses, shared basic values, reform of our political processes, and a better life for all of our citizens. Let us focus our efforts on what such an appeal would look like.