Let's Learn From The GOP Before We Wage Another Campaign
Following up on Eriposte's fine post below, and another post from Atrios earlier in the week, I want to suggest a first step in how to turn our frustration over the last several elections into positive action. Armchair consultants like me say over and over again that we need to 1) Toughen our spines and fight like hell against the GOP at all times; and 2) add a moral values dynamic to the progressive ideas we want to discuss with voters in order to break through the red state mind set. In order for us to be able to win campaigns against these guys we need to broaden the Democratic gene pool and have people all over the country who know how to do this, instead of just saying over and over again we need to do this. But I'm not sure that there are many people who have taken the time to master what Rove and Luntz et. al have spent the better part of a decade fine-tuning. And even if they did, there is little evidence that such a catalogue of knowledge has been shared with anyone inside the Democratic Beltway, given our last two presidential and the 2002 midterm campaigns.
Maybe before we go any further with any more conferences talking about issues for 2006 and 2008, it is time instead to gather many people together to learn what our opponents already know about:
-tactics and attack campaigns;
-dealing with, and manipulating the media;
-energizing new constituencies; and
-rigging and controlling the elections machinery.
Quite simply, both the Gore and Kerry campaigns, as well as the 2002 midterm effort got caught flat-footed by tactics and strategy that were not a secret given how Rove and his associates have operated in the past, especially if anyone had bothered to read any of the books on Rove done by Slater, et. al. And I can't tell you how much column space we wrote here at The Left Coaster during the last campaign about a Tier One/Tier Two campaign and the Truth Squad concept, stuff that frankly seemed pretty basic to me and yet never got implemented by the senior Kerry braintrust (Shrum/Devine/Cahill), who would have known most of it if they had read any damn books on Rove and how to beat Bush.
Some of our sharper outside-the-beltway Democratic operatives know some of these things already and have used them, such as David Axelrod (Edwards' consultant) and David "Mudcat" Sanders. But unlike the GOP, which has been running workshops and institutes for years on how to wage these type of campaigns and training operatives in their tactics, the Dems as far as I know never do things like this. Instead, we act like it is impure to get down in the gutter and run a bare knuckles campaign and use a Tier One/Tier Two effort to keep your opponent on his heels, and naively think we should run campaigns solely on the strength of our issues, even though as Eriposte's piece below so ably demonstrates we have no clue how to argue and defend those policies and programs in today's media environment.
As a start, I think it is time that we learn how the GOP succeeds and what we can do to be prepared for then trying it again in 2006 and 2008, so that knowledge on how they operate can be mixed with a Carvillian response operation so that Democrats can neuter the GOP advantage for a change. And as an added bonus, the media needs to be trained in this as well, so that they can stop swallowing the GOP diversions and tactics as the usual horse race narrative and start reporting to readers and viewers what is really behind the GOP spin and imaging. I am not suggesting that any GOP operative will come and talk to a group of 100-200 Democratic operatives, bloggers, consultants, and media types on their secrets. But there are those in the Democratic community and amongst the political authors and journalists that have covered Rove and Luntz who already know how these guys have done it, how they did it in 2000, 2002, and 2004 who can talk on certain issues (messaging/framing, constituencies and hot-button issues, attacking the opponent's strength, setting and controlling the agenda, working the media, etc.) and can then train others.
If for example 100-200 people from across the country can learn our opponents' tactics over a week in a conference setting, they can then go back to their districts or their blogs or their newsrooms armed with knowledge that will ensure no more repeats of the last election, as well as ensure that the media looks at things differently. Better yet, these folks will be trained in what to look for, such as any move to place more moral value hot-button issues on state ballots to bring folks from the pews to the polls, or the takeover of a state's election machinery by the far right and election machine vendors, so that both the Democratic community and the media will no longer be surprised by such things flying under the radar screen.
And this is before anyone even talks about the issues themselves.
Knowledge of your enemy is power. Repeating the same mistakes over and over again out of ignorance is stupidity.