Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Democrats need to start speaking from their hearts

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In the space of three short months the political landscape has dramatically shifted. The Republican Party and specifically members of the Bush Administration have been fundamentally re-branded as weak, incompetent, corrupt, or divided. And yet, nobody should be in any doubt that this wasn’t achieved as a result of a re-invigorated Democratic voice. This second term slump, punctuated by historically high disapproval ratings for the President and Republican controlled Congress has transpired via the President’s poor leadership during the Katrina crisis, the speculation leading up to the indictment of VP Chief of Staff I. Lewis Libby, the failed nomination of Harriet Miers, and the continued post war violence in Iraq. As Democrats we still have a long way to go.

We have to find our voice and do it fast. But, not within the context of the partisan battle in Congress, or critiquing this Administration, or exposing the hypocrisy of Republicans as so many do well online… but within a new context...the context of our values, talking about what we stand for and why this offers hope in the possibility change. Hope that can’t be reduced to a two dimensional Republican smear campaign, or mischaracterized by attacks branding us extreme.

Democrats are fighting with their heads, and doing it well, analyzing, exposing, and contradicting the mistakes of their opponents. But a vote cast in any election is rarely a rational calculation... it isn’t a process of reasoning or logical deduction... It’s something you feel, an instinctive proclivity, a resonance of values… that’s what won elections for Bill Clinton in 1992, and Jimmy Carter in 1976, and a lack of emotional resonance is why Al Gore and John Kerry lost in 2000 and 2004 respectively.

What really unites us as Democrats isn’t our hatred of Republicans... it’s our love of liberty, and belief in social justice. It's our desire for fairness for everyone, and an aspiration for dignity as well as strength in the way that we deal with the rest of the world. What unites us as Democrats isn’t outmoded social models of massive government spending, or 80% levels of taxation for the successful, or passivity in the face of growing threats from abroad. What unites us as Democrats is that we’re not afraid to boldly believe and dream for the betterment of our society and the human race as our most prized principle. Poverty at home or abroad isn’t a necessary fact of life for us, the ills of society are our challenges to confront.

This desire can easily be characterized as unrealistic, and individual responsibility at home or African gov't corruption or UN bureaucracy abroad can easily be proffered as an excuse to justify our inaction… but in spite of what the right says about our unrealistic promises, our goal as Democrats isn't to eradicate poverty or hardship or war singing to John Lennon's "Imagine," smoking dope around the camp fire. It is merely to be better today than we were yesterday… to progress... to be cogniscent, always, that free-markets and the American dream alone don’t equate to ubiquitous opportunity for all miraculously by themselves. As Democrats we believe that the deficiencies of the market, and our failings as people, are our responsibility, and that's what engenders us with meaning, day in and day out, informed by a sense of all of us in this together, not competing with each other like a pack of animals for what scraps fall from on high from the very richest, and most successful.

Yeah, we want a more peaceful world.
Yeah, we want a more just society.
Yeah, we want less discrimination and even more opportunity for everybody, and then, after that, even more opportunity, and even more and even more.
Yeah, we want all of our schools to be wonderful conduits for the growth of our children’s minds... and yeah we want to pay our teachers really well.
Yeah, we don’t think it’s ok that 40 million people don’t have health insurance.
Yeah, we think it's unacceptable that a child born into illness is punished by the failures of his or her parents or the failures of society.
And yeah, just like Roosevelt said during WW2, we hate war. We don’t feel prideful about killing, even when it’s necessary. But we’ll fight harder and longer for our freedom and the freedom of others around the world because what we understand is that freedom isn’t an abstract ideal. We love freedom because we're willing to do something about it, not just grant a tax cut and wait for our economic theory to work miracles. We understand freedom because we recognize it isn’t a blanket that covers fortunate nations in perpetuity, guaranteed by military might… it is the imperfect reality of free individuals, their rights protected by law, working together so all of us can be better.

These are our values. We’re not progressives because we believe in a specific policy. We’re progressives because we don’t settle for the status quo, or conserving the past like the Republican Party. We're progressives because we strive to be better today than we were yesterday.

And while the right argues that our values are flighty and don’t correlate into good governance because we want to spend too much money and threaten the fiscal stability of the nation, by contrast what are they doing with their historic monopoly on power? Massive growth in non-defence discretionary spending not seen since the days that Lyndon Johnson was President... turning a surplus into record deficits... taking the national debt to 7.9 trillion dollars. What exact measure of responsible governance do they apply to our values when they burden our future with debt, and throw the surplus away like another lies just around the corner if only we keep cutting taxes over and over again, no matter the cost of the war on terror, or the Iraq war, or the cost of their irresponsible spending.

Its okay Democrats... it really is. We needn’t run away from what we believe in anymore. We don't have to hide from our ideals or ambitions. Clinton’s legacy is that we prize fiscal discipline, we are credible and taken seriously in the matters of economic governance because we earned that right in the 1990's and the Republican's have driven it home via their incompetence since the turn of 2001.

As 2006 looms, and 2008 after that, we need to start expressing our values to the American people. That's what they're searching for right now as an alternative to this Administration, and the dire mess Republicans have created in Congress. And while we shouldn't go around making unrealistic promises, we shouldn't give up on the notion of promise. Because promise and progress and hope is what defines our party.

Democrats need to start speaking from the heart.

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Enigma said...

It scares me that so many people vote on "values" instead of the integrity of the people that represent their "values" and I think something must be done to change that before democrats can attain the ability to speak from the heart. The heart of those that do speak is spun & twisted by media operatives such as Pat Robertson, Bill O'Reilly, etcetera.

Graham said...

You're right, but I don't think Dems have been articulating their values as passionately as they might. Also, I think too many people responded to "values" being high up the list of voting reasons in 04 by thinking we need to convert our values into Republican values... I disagree, I just think we need to be reminded of our values, letting that permeate our message as a party... the things we all have in common, why we all care about certain causes, and why we believe in what we believe. Unfortunately, the lack of eloquent leaders has cost us dearly. Maybe Hillary will get it, I don't know. The only one out there that fits that mold is Obama, but he's too young and inexperienced.

Thanks for the comment Enigma :).

Lisa said...

This is a beautifully written post. I'm jealous of it. :P You should write their speeches. I'm not sure how much the current Democratic party reflects your lofty vision of it. If the Dems listened to you, they would be a lot better off politically. I'm not sure that they will be as competent in the execution of that strategy as you hope that they will.

Of course tax cuts should be paired with spending cuts. This administration has (so far) failed to do much to implement spending cuts, and they should be criticized harshly for that. But excessive spending is the fault of both parties. I would be very interested to hear the argument for why the government under the Democrats would be more fiscally responsible. I would also like to know what they would do to ensure that the current social program spending allocations wouldn't be wasted or swallowed up in bureaucracy.

(Which is not to argue that bureaucracy is very effective under either party's watch...but that's a totally separate argument)

Maybe the Democrats are starting to get your point here. Finally the Democrats showed a little spine yesterday with the stunt they pulled in the Senate. Good for them. If they want to have this argument about pre-war intelligence, let's have it. Let's get all the facts on the table. They might not get the result they wanted to out of that investigation. But it's a step toward being more vocal on issues that matter to them.

Graham said...

That's very sweet Lisa. Yeah, dream job = political speech writer :).

I thought this post of yours was totally beautiful, and it made me jealous, so I guess we're even then :). I agree with you about the Senate Dems, but not, however, after just checking your blog, about Mr Alito. Grrrr ;). I gotta' sneaking suspicion we will do battle over him soon.

Lisa said...

I look forward to that fierce battle. :P When you become sufficiently prepared for it, we shall see who wins. Challenge accepted.

Graham said...

I've already started a strict plan of preparation for this battle, Lisa, so get ready. I can also hear Rocky music in my head as I think about it, but that might just be cause I'm weird and stuff.


Lisa said...

Yes. I'm convinced you are weird. :P

Alice: In Wonderland or Not said...

I agree the post is beautifully written and quite lofty. We want all of those things but a plan needs to be laid out as to how we get them and which ones come first. The American people need to see tat the problems of the increasing socioeconomic divide due to the disparity in education is going to be addressed , they need to know that the issue of health care and pensions falling by the wayside is going to be addressed. They need to know that the democrats do not believe that it is always in our best interest to have a court never legislates from the bench.
People were voting on values last time because the Democratic Party had no real plan, or platform they took the republican platform and softened it and made it theirs. Baruk would be the most obvious hard line straight back to the root Democrat if looking at it that way but that is most likely not going to happen. I'm not even sure about Hilary I have heard too much to be able to say I could back her.

Does it have to be Rocky Music?

Graham said...

Hey Alice,

I think the idea was to step aside from specific policies and reconnect with Democratic values. I think as a party we've substantiated our proposals for some time, Clinton, Gore, Kerry, were nothing if not intellectuals, credible on policy. But, what's probably been lost is a sense of Democratic values that unite people, beyond our shared dislike for Republicans... and I think politics is emotional, the entire success of George W. Bush proves that.

Barak, I agree is too young. One day maybe. Hillary has been winning me over as of late. But, she would polarize the nation further, when maybe with another candidate might unite it.

On a side note, some recent poll figures from CBS:

Bush Approval: Approve = 35%, Disapprove = 57%
Clinton, 11/1997: Approve = 57%, Disapprove = 31%
Reagan, 11/1985: = Approve 65%, Disapprove = 26%

It's okay though because he has an 8 point lead on Nixon during Watergate:

Nixon, Gallup Poll, 11/1973 = Approve = 27%, Disapprove = 63%

Jeeeezzz. That's really bad. You can't even call someone that divisive a lame duck. It gets worse:

Before the war, when talking about weapons in Iraq, Bush Administration was...

Telling all/most of what they knew = 32%
Hiding important elements = 38%
Mostly lying about weapons = 26%

Only 32% think they were telling the truth. And yet, they don't feel obligated to make any concerted campaign to be more accountable, or answer any questions. My Democratic hat aside, this is just bad politics period. It's like everyone in the WH is running around with their hands over their ears saying to the American people, "nah, nah, nah-nah-nah... we can't hear you."

Have you heard or read about the CIA Lead Investigation?

A lot = 27%
Some = 37%
Not much/none = 36%

How important to the nation is the CIA leak matter?

Great importance = 51%
Some importance = 35%
Little/no importance = 12%

M A F said...

The Democrats need to overcome the inherent difficulties that arise between the DLC and the DNC. The Republicans benefit greatly from this split.

G_in_AL said...

The Republican Party and specifically members of the Bush Administration have been fundamentally re-branded as weak, incompetent, corrupt, or divided. And yet, nobody should be in any doubt that this wasn’t achieved as a result of a re-invigorated Democratic voice.

I agree, but at what cost? At what point does “re-branding” a political party become too costly to a nation’s world image? Make no mistake, our image has been tarnished, and a good part of the blame resides on partisan Democrat attacks, compairing us to things like Pol-Pot, Gulags, and Hitler.

Democrats are fighting with their heads, and doing it well, analyzing, exposing, and contradicting the mistakes of their opponents.

While some would instead use words like “exagerating, fabricating, stretching, and mis-directing”. Again, the truth is only the truth if you don’t have to manipulate it, or leave anything out.

And while the right argues that our values are flighty and don’t correlate into good governance because we want to spend too much money and threaten the fiscal stability of the nation

It’s never been the values, but the intolerant forcing of a social agenda that America does not want. When you fail at the ballot box, using the judiciary is not a viable option in our form of goveernment. But this is exactly what the liberal American Left has been doing for almost 30 years.

What really unites us as Democrats…
The problem is, most democrats in leadership positions are not looking for these noble causes as a unifying force to bring the party together. They have become beholden to limited perspective special interest groups that have corrupted the party’s original intentions.

I appreciate your views, and would be overjoyed should a Democrat alternative present him/herself if they shared these views.

Graham said...

Hey Mac,

I agree we have to reconcile our differences as a party, but we did that okay during the last primary campaign and hopefully our differences won't be too biterly fought in the next.

Hey G,

Welcome to my blog. I don't think that type of re-branding resonates... comparing all Republicans to Nazis, or calling them all racist, or stupid, ala Howard Dean, only damages us in the long term. I think these new notions of the current Administration, and Republican controlled congress are much more substantive.

I don't think Democrats have exagerrated the fact that non-defense discretionary spending has grown at a faster pace than under any President since Lyndon Johnson. I don't think Democrats have exagerrated that very little post war planning was seriously explored in the lead up to the Iraq war, and consequently dire mistakes have been made. I don't think Democrats have exagerrated the defecits, or the national debt, or the possibility of inflation, rising healthcare costs, and everything else... I don't think Democrats exagerrated the absence of leadership from Bush in the aftermath of Katrina when the American people looked to him to make sense of the carnage...

... you know what I mean? You can't blame Democrats for the political position the President is in.

A social agenda? How do you quantify a social agenda? In its cost, in its imposistion on our liberty... I just think its untenable to make these criticisms of Democrats when Republicans have the White House, and Congress and are spending more than Dems ever would have if either Gore or Kerry won in 2000 or 2004. It's absolutely unparalelled the growth in spending since 2001. A huge proportion of the jobs the country has gained since 6.1% unemployment under Bush has been because of gov't spending.

And yet you're offended by the Democratic social agenda of wanting to make sure every child has access to excellent healthcare... how can you say this compromises liberty if you don't ask: what do Republican's have to show for all their spending?

I totally agree. Democrats are too egotistically wounded by the right, and busy fighting back to realize that the American people are like a child in a home of feuding parents feeling ignored. The American people want to be spoken to again... and yet Republicans and Democrats just want to shout at each other. This is very sad indeed.

Thanks for your comment G. And your kind words :).

Augustus-Reed said...

Lots of people said JFK was young & inexperienced. Sometime they're the great ones....

Graham said...

So true, Augustus, but I don't see anyone with the eloquence and greatness of JFK out there. Obama isn't that great a thinker. I think in the 50's serving your country, even in politics, was still contextualized within war, and great struggle. Maybe that brought better people to the fore, I don't know, because in terms of the individuals of today I can think of very few who inspire me, or really inspire the nation. That's why I like Evan Bayh, because he does unite and appeal to a large section of people... he just does it very, very, quietly. Maybe someone else will emerge.

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Chris said...

Hey Graham, great post.

I so agree with Lisa and wished the Dems would follow your lead.

I have to throw my two cents in and only add to the speaking with their hearts theme; I think the Dems also need to find a new voice(s); or a new brain per se.

I think we need new faces. Howard Dean doesn't motivate me to do anything but yell back at the TV. John Kerry puts me to sleep. Al Gore is maybe finally starting to wake up, but he still doesn't have it. I long for the day when a fresh moderate leaning Democrat can stand toe to toe against the crazy neocons.

If Bush is anything, he is a leader for his base. I'm not part of his base, but for those he represents, he motivates them to do almost anything for him. Maybe Gov. Mark Warner from Virginia is that person? He's got my vote.

Lisa said...

Wow. There's someone else who agrees with me on this blog. That may never happen again, if Graham has anything to say about it. :P

I might as well quit while I'm ahead here. Seriously, thanks, MJ.

I shall return the favor and agree with almost everything MJ said,except for the part about Bush and his relationship with his base. I'm not sure Bush is representing his base right now, or representing it very well anyway. I think that the values true conservatives support are different from what the President has been doing. The fact that he nominated two strong, qualified candidates who would appear to be ideologically similar to a conservative view of the Supreme Court is a good sign for conservatives. The fact that so far he has not vetoed legislation, reduced spending, or done anything significant about border security is something that conservatives will rightly criticize him for, and they have, although not to the extent Graham would like them to. ;)

Bush is unpopular right now, no matter what poll you look at. If I were advising candidates right now, I'm not sure that I would make any campaign stops with the President.

Anyway...just my two cents.

Chris said...

And just to add to Lisa's excellent critique: Bush has actually nominated three candidates to the Supreme Court :-)

My question to the president and the neocons, well I suppose to conservatives, what makes Miers a better nominee and a more qualified pick than Alito?

Lisa said...

I stand by my original statement...TWO strong candidates. :) Miers was not a better nominee and/or a more qualified pick than Alito. That's why it was a mistake to nominate her. Of course there were ideology questions we had with her as well as the concerns we had about qualifications/experience. But the first minus the second doesn't add up to a nominee that would be confirmed. Acknowledge this and move on with the more scary conservative pick...that's my view. :)

Graham said...

Thanks for your comments guys. I couldn't agree with you more MJ about the need for credible voices in our party with good political judgment, which Howard Dean certainly lacks. Everytime I see him laying into the Administration I know that 60% of the watching electorate are throwing something at the TV... 90% if its FOX.

Personally, I'm looking for eloquence as well as these other attributes. Somebody needs to be able to express what we stand for... somebody has to paint a bigger picture otherwise they won't have anything to withstand the inevitable smear campaign like Kerry. I can't think of an argument that Kerry didn't win at the last election, but by the time the right were done with him you wouldn't have trusted him with your piggy bank let alone your taxes.

Unfortunately I don't think cloning Billy is allowed :(.

As for candidates, I checked out Warner on your suggestion. I think the problem with VA is that every Governor they have is a potential Presidential nominee because they only serve one term and they get lots of bi-partisan support. George Allen right now is the Republican front runner, who I think is Warner's predecessor... and while he's got a nice smile, + is quite photogenic when I see him compared to Ronald Reagan I have to scratch my head. I just don't see it.

To be honest, I didn't like Warner from what I saw. I think he's leaden, doesn't really encapsulate a message, doesn't really have any verve or vitality... but he's certainly very well liked by the people in his state which has to say something. I'm all for a Governor though, as opposed to the usual list of Senators.

For me right now the choice is between Evan Bayh and Hillary, but I have a lot of misgivings with both of them. Hillary is really fired up. If you check out some of her most recent speeches on C-span she argues with an intelligence, and tenacity which I can see dominating the election discourse if she wins the Democratic nomination. I wouldn't want to have to argue in a dogfight with Hillary every day, and neither will Republicans. You can already tell that she intimidates the far right... there's even a grudging respect. But, she's divisive. She doesn't choose her words carefully and she isn't afraid to say what she really thinks about her opponents. She's also exhibited poor political judgment in the past, like lifting up the copy of the NYPost that said "They Knew." Something like that, like Kerry talking about Cheney's gay daughter, will kill a Presidential bid in a second.

This is an opportunity to win the White House and win it for a substantial period of time. Lets face it, Republican, or Democrat whoever the next President is s/he'll have an easy time. All they will have to do is turn up and they'll have displayed more expertise than the current Administration. I wish there was someone who had Hillary's energy, and name recognition coming from the center. Evan Bayh's strengths are that he's a moderate, he's got more integrity and consistency than any other candidate in the field, he was the Governor of Indiana... but unfortunately he has zero charisma.

Definate no's for me are: Edwards (awful VP candidate, crap debate, crap convention speech), Feingold and Clark.