Nice Guys (i.e. Democrats) Finish Last
One of the supposed lessons of the 2002 midterm elections was that Democrats had to "get tough" and learn how to "fight back." Certainly, this consensus paved the way for the emergence of Howard Dean. However, I still don't think the Democratic leadership has mastered the art of getting tough. This Mydd post tells the sad story:
The Republican Party, having seen the "right way - wrong way" poll numbers in the negative, as well as low re-elects for a lot of their endangered incumbents, were forced to tear down everything in order to to hold on to power. This was a well-coordinated attack by Bush, the RNC, and the other Republican organizations to drive up the general Democratic Party negatives, as well as each Democratic candidates negatives.
That's a 10:1 ratio in terms of dollars spent in negative advertising of the NRCC over the DCCC.
Seven cycles in a row now, the Democrats in the House have gotten their teeth kicked in by the thugs in the NRCC, and what does the DCCC do? Play nice, and expect that the historical cycles and poll indicators will propel them into the majority. Democrats in the House continue to wait, while the Republicans find ways to beat the polls, make history, and gain more power.
If the Democrats in the House want to regain the majority before the next historical cycle gives them a break in 2012, they will start picking a fight. Not in the halls of Congress, but out in the street, out in the CD's.
I can attest to this maddening timidness. Here in SE Virginia, Democrat David Ashe was going up against Thelma Drake for the Congressional seat being vacated by Ed Schrock after some, er, sordid rumors forced him out. Even though this is a conservative district, I honestly thought Ashe was in great shape: he was a Marine who served in Iraq last year (which is crucial in this military-heavy district), and received the coveted endorsement of the Virginian Pilot. Thelma Drake, meanwhile, was despised by most local Republicans, and had a distinctly unimpressive record in the House of Delegates.
But as soon as the campaign ads started to saturate my TV in the month leading up to the election, I realized that it was all over. Ashe produced warm, fuzzy ads touting his military service in Iraq. Sounds encouraging, right? Well, the Drake campaign launched a blitzkreig of attack ads against Ashe, the very first words were "David Ashe's liberal friends in Washington..." Guess who won?
Anyway, I don't think we can expect Bob Matsui, Nancy Pelosi, or any of the other Democrats in the House to suddenly grow a set of fangs--it's simply not part of their temperament. That's why I'm so excited by the "BlogPac" that Kos and Jerome Armstrong are putting together, along with the efforts of other liberal organizations. In Colorado, Stan Matsunaka came close to defeating hate-monger Marilyn Musgrave, as the NRCC was forced to pump $5 million to save her. How? Let Kos explain:
A Colorado 527 ran a series of ads, in which an actress portraying Musgrave picked the pockets of a corpse in a funeral home, a soldier fighting in Iraq, and a bunch of children. The ads outraged Republicans and far too many Democrats, but they were viciously effective.
Negative ads work. And Democrats will need to stop being afraid to wield them. The moralists in the GOP have no problem with going hard negative. Dems should stop crying when the other side goes negative, and instead make sure to be the FIRST to go negative.
Again, as this example shows, the Democratic Party is far too squeamish to roll up its sleeves and go for the jugular. But we're not. Let's do it.
UPDATE: The incomparable Digby weighs in, responding to a Progress Report survey asking readers what lessons the party should take:
And, nobody recognized that negative, ugly, hateful campaigning was what worked. It seems that we all feel that if we had just reached out and touched people we could have made a difference. We don't "connect," which may be true, but let's face facts --- Bush doesn't "connect" with people's better natures, he "connects" directly to their id. And, I'm afraid that the id trumps finer feelings in many, many people. Yet a large number of these suggestions have to do with sincere appeals to try harder to empathise and relate to those who didn't vote for us. Hey, maybe it'll work. We are the "nurturant parent," after all.