Thursday, September 08, 2005

How The Democrats Can Win in 2008

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By my estimation there are 1153 days to the 2008 US Election. Three years in which the Democratic Party has a long, difficult journey to traverse in pursuit of electability and the fruition of its dreams for change.

For reasons beyond my comprehension, there is a bullishness and self assuredness amongst Democrats that is completely unjustified. The climate of the late 80's/early 90's... of self reflection and honest analysis... of the DLC and our search to reconnect with the political mainstream.... has been completely absent from our internal discourse. There is an arrogance we exhibit looking ahead to 2008, that all we need to do as Democrats is speak louder, and with greater conviction, as if the American people could not discern for themselves our policy platform in 2004. Do we need a repeat of Dukakis and a third successive Presidential election defeat to finally wake up to ourselves?

For me at least, the memory of Election night 04 still powerfully lingers on...

Those early exit polls showing Kerry winning in Florida and Ohio by a couple of points. Bill Kristol and Mort Kondrake chastising Bush precipitously on Fox News for a lackluster campaign as the Kerry victory consensus began to form. Howard Dean giving a victory interview on MSNBC, praising his former adversary, as word emerged from the Democratic campaign that Kerry was "ahead in the third quarter," and the election was now theirs to lose.

I remember some French dude my ex-girlfriend had an affair with writing her an email saying, "French Television has just announced that Kerry has won Ohio... It's 100% official." Naturally, all was forgiven by me and my cries of "Vi va La France!" boomed loudly from my balcony to bemused passers by. My ex-girlfriend was not impressed.

That was when it all started to go horribly wrong...

Drudge prophetically wrote "Enough of the Exit Polls... let's focus upon the only poll that really counts!" And sure enough, like clockwork, early results from West Virginia and North Carolina indicated the exit polls had significantly under-estimated the Republican turnout across the board. Bill Kristol and Mort Kondrake adeptly shifted gears, and began to laud Bush's Presidential achievements, and a potentially historic second term. In vital voting districts in Ohio and Florida Kerry was doing worse than the results Al Gore recorded in 2000. The press began to speculate that Bush was preparing a very public photo call with his family and campaign staff. Karl Rove, it seemed, had received information that left him assured of George W.'s victory and re-election.

My heart sank and I begun to hate France all over again. John Edwards gave an undignified statement about a recount in Ohio, as Democrats desperately grasped for the ghosts of Florida, hanging chads and voter disenfranchisement. The truth, however, was quite plain this time around. We lost. And it hurt.

I concede that maybe it's too early for Democrats to be focusing upon 2008. Maybe there are more prescient battles to be fought like the future of the Supreme Court, Social Security, stability in the middle-east, and the welfare and future of the war torn and disease ravaged continent of Africa. But, I ask you to consider this:

What do we know for sure about the next 1153 days?

George Bush will be President. That much is certain. We will have a new Supreme Court Chief Justice, and he will be a staunch, if uncontroversial Conservative named John Roberts. John Bolton will, in all likelihood, remain as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. A man who has explicitly stated that no international initiative, anywhere, has legitimacy or purpose without the expressed involvement and approval of the United States. A man who thinks international diplomacy hinders and not helps cooperation amongst nations addressing the world's most pertinent problems like Terrorism, Palestine, Kashmir, Global Warming, and Africa, for example. A man who thinks that multilateralism, as a concept, is not the harbinger of peace and unity, but is instead an outmoded, naïve, unworkable ideal that threatens U.S. International Supremacy and in turn its domestic security.

In the next 1153 days the economic theory of tax less and spend more will be perpetuated. The national debt will be paid down, if at all, by attempts to manufacture rapid economic growth, and in turn increased gov't revenue, through the short term stimulus package that comprises nothing more than dramatic, costly, and all encompassing tax cuts.

It's a risk fueled, ambitious strategy that exacerbates market instability and unpredictability (we call it boom & bust economics in the UK). Correlate this approach to your personal finances for one moment. Imagine if you were in debt that could potentially spiral out of control. Imagine that you had growing expenses and responsibilities that you were committed to like a large mortgage, and your children's education. Imagine if your outgoings, including discretionary items that while valuable, were not 100% essential, continued to exceed your outgoings. Would the remedy be to spend more money, speculate, invest, take chances, upon the purely theoretical notion that this will increase the money you make, eventually covering your expenses and allowing you to pay down your debt? Or would it be wiser to manage your expenses, spend only what you can afford, meet your essential responsibilities, and not expend money (RISKY TAX CUTS!!!) speculatively to raise income when you knew that around the corner a disaster could strike (9/11, KATRINA) that could systematically undermine your ambitions.

What happened to the macro-economic management, "invest and grow" strategy, and fiscal discipline of the 90's, that mitigated debt, and deficits with a stable, planned, secure approach to the nation's finances. Republican's are so fast to absolve the Clinton Administration and Robert Rubin of any responsibility for the economic stewardship during this period, instead celebrating the influence of the Republican controlled Congress, but where are these values of fiscal discipline right now, when they are in complete control of all branches of government? Where is the smart, long sighted planning of the 90's that redressed the huge deficits and national debt incurred by two successive Republican Presidents who both possessed the power to keep the Democratic Congress in check?

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What Clinton said on the campaign trail in 1992 is true in 2005. We are in the grip of a failed economic theory. Trickle down economics is fine, but it doesn't account for the fact that we are in a rapidly changing world and people are being left behind. The era of big government is most certainly over, but the Clinton Administration proved that you can have a lean brand of government activism designed to offset the deficiencies of the free market, invest in struggling communities, invest in entrepreneurship, invest in young people who don't have opportunities, invest in welfare to work schemes, etc.

For Democrats, the answer to the continuing decline of the manufacturing industry, and the impact it has on unemployment can not be to withdraw from international trade agreements and assert a new form of protectionism. The answer is for our politician's to show some imagination, and economic foresight... like Clinton did. An appreciation of global trends and the way in which Western Nations need to evolve. The truth is that American manufacturers will not be able to compete with companies from countries were there is a comparatively cheap labour market. Nothing productive can rectify this. The remedies to the situation need to be long term. As a nation, collectively, we must intervene, and seek to offer retraining for individuals in need of new skills, and incentives for companies to prosper and offer alternative employment opportunities in areas where they do not already exist. This takes time, admittedly... but for once we desperately need politicians selfless enough to plan ten/fifteen years into the future, beyond a four or eight year Presidential term. The truth is that the hollowness, and ideological rigidity of this Administration's economic policy will continue on for the next three years, and the many problems that the market by itself cannot resolve, will remain unresolved... in spite of a group of unoriginal Democrats self-servingly proselytizing nationalistically in stump speeches, town hall meetings and debates about job's being shipped overseas. We have to break this cycle.

In the next 1153 days healthcare will cost more and not less for most Americans.

Child Poverty will go up and not down.

More people will own guns, and more people will own more dangerous guns.

Public school's won't experience any significant improvements, and nobody seems to really mind that they haven't already for the five years that this Administration has been in office.

The nation will remain as bitterly divided as it has been in 2000, and 2004, as this Administration continues to disregard the politics of consensus in favor of a policy tentatively titled by me, "we're right, you're wrong... do it our way, or we'll deride you as obstructionists."

In the next 1153 days very little will be done to begin the long, difficult journey towards a new way of fueling our society.... for the purposes of protecting this earth from the impact of Global Warming, and freeing us from our dependency on foreign oil, + all of the security issues this entails. If Democrats need one centerpiece issue by which they can define themselves as an enigmatic, imaginative force capable of confronting the nation's problems, there is no greater, more pertinent issue than that of "Energy for America in 21st Century." There will be no better time to have the courage to get serious with the American people about Environmental concerns than now, with gas prices spiraling out of control, and the impact of global warming being felt all over the planet. Again... an energy strategy will take time... building a new economy in renewable energies will take time to grow and flourish... yes, the changing world demands that jobs will be lost, but that shouldn't be the basis upon which we avoid confronting our problems until they can no longer be rectified. In the end, if we do nothing, the price we pay will be far dearer.

What I'm basically trying to say is that for the next 1153 days there is virtually nothing that Democrats can do about any of this. I'm sure this will make many of those with an alternative political persuasion to my own very happy indeed :). No matter our focus, objections, recriminations, or frustrations, as Democrats, it doesn't change the fact that unless there are seismic losses for the Republicans in the 2006 mid-terms, nothing we do or say really matters. The truth is that our battle to change the course of America, for at least a large portion of the next 1153 days, is an internal battle, and one we have to fight amongst ourselves.

There are many lessons we need to learn from 2004. Kerry's insincerity hampered him from the moment he won the Democratic nomination. But, we should never mistake the nation's desire for sincerity with conviction for conviction's sake. As I've written extensively in the past, our aim is to directly resonate with the electorate on the issues they are interested in. It is not to descend any further into partisan bickering, and snide slurs against Republicans, and Republican voters, as has been the hallmark of Howard Dean's stewardship as party chairman. Republican's are not all racist, as Dean has stated... and as anyone can discern from perusing my blogroll, they are certainly not all stupid: See NYGirl and Insane Hippie.

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What is the face of the Democratic Party we are projecting? We are not fighting Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Michele Malkin... we are fighting to resonate with the electorate, and address their concerns with our ideas and solutions. We have to stop indulging our bruised egos in response to Ann Coulter and Fox News. We have to stop "fighting back," with offensive, like-minded diatribes, like Mike Malloy on "Air America," saying all Republican's are abnormal people... abnormal people that he doesn't care to talk to. When Howard Dean bellowed in his Presidential stump speech that the U.S. flag wasn't the property of John Ashcroft, or Rush Limbaugh... who was he talking to? The voters across the nation? Is that what is really going to bring them hope of better opportunities, cheaper healthcare, gas prices, and a more stable economy?

And yes, we need to connect with Republican voters at a level that is above and beyond their party affiliations. We have to speak to their minds with engaging ideas substantiated by our impressive record in the 90's, and we have to speak to their hearts with real, sincere compassion and hope... in a way that Kerry failed to do.

In the 1153 days before the 2008 election, we cannot afford to indulge our idealism, or our bruised ego's. We can not simply indulge our animosity at the President, and call him names. We can not define ourselves by the likes of Howard Dean and Russ Feingold who offer solutions to problems like the unworkable, immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq... solutions that under the scrutiny of a General Election will never be taken seriously. We have to choose to be relevant to the majority of Americans. We have to speak to them about a vision for a better tomorrow. We have to speak to their heart and give them something to believe in again in this cynical... cynical age.

The biggest mistake we can make as Democrats would be to afford another Republican President, potentially as right wing and ideologically dogmatic as George Bush, another 1461 days in power after the next election three years from now.

The time for self reflection is now. What choices do we want to offer the electorate as Democrats in 2008?

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