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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Report Warns Democrats Not to Tilt Too Far Left.

From The Washington Post:

The liberals' hope that Democrats can win back the presidency by drawing sharp ideological contrasts and energizing the partisan base is a fantasy that could cripple the party's efforts to return to power, according to a new study by two prominent Democratic analysts.

In the latest shot in a long-running war over the party's direction -- an argument turned more passionate after Democrat John F. Kerry's loss to President Bush last year -- two intellectuals who have been aligned with former president Bill Clinton warn that the only way back to victory is down the center.

Democrats must "admit that they cannot simply grow themselves out of their electoral dilemmas," wrote William A. Galston and Elaine C. Kamarck, in a report released yesterday. "The groups that were supposed to constitute the new Democratic majority in 2004 simply failed to materialize in sufficient number to overcome the right-center coalition of the Republican Party."

Since Kerry's defeat, some Democrats have urged that the party adopt a political strategy more like one pursued by Bush and his senior adviser, Karl Rove -- which emphasized robust turnout of the party base rather than relentless, Clinton-style tending to "swing voters."

But Galston and Kamarck, both of whom served in the Clinton White House, said there are simply not enough left-leaning voters to make this a workable strategy. In one of their more potentially controversial findings, the authors argue that the rising numbers and influence of well-educated, socially liberal voters in the Democratic Party are pulling the party further from most Americans.

On defense and social issues, "liberals espouse views diverging not only from those of other Democrats, but from Americans as a whole. To the extent that liberals now constitute both the largest bloc within the Democratic coalition and the public face of the party, Democratic candidates for national office will be running uphill."

Galston and Kamarck -- whose work was sponsored by Third Way, a group working with Senate Democrats on centrist policy ideas -- are critical of three other core liberal arguments:

· They warn against overreliance on a strategy of solving political problems by "reframing" the language by which they present their ideas, as advocated by linguist George Lakoff of the University of California at Berkeley: "The best rhetoric will fail if the public rejects the substance of a candidate's agenda or entertains doubts about his integrity."

· They say liberals who count on rising numbers of Hispanic voters fail to recognize the growing strength of the GOP among Hispanics, as well as the growing weakness of Democrats with white Catholics and married women.

· They contend that Democrats who hope the party's relative advantages on health care and education can vault them back to power "fail the test of political reality in the post-9/11 world." Security issues have become "threshold" questions for many voters, and cultural issues have become "a prism of candidates' individual character and family life," Galston and Kamarck argue.

Their basic thesis is that the number of solidly conservative Republican voters is substantially larger that the reliably Democratic liberal voter base. To win, the argument goes, Democrats must make much larger inroads among moderates than the GOP.

Galston, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, and Kamarck, a lecturer at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, in 1989 wrote the influential paper, "The Politics of Evasion," which helped set the stage for Clinton's presidential bid and the prominent role of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. In some ways, the report released yesterday showed how difficult the debate is to resolve.

Their recommendations are much less specific than their detailed analysis of the difficulties facing the Democratic Party.

They suggest that Democratic presidential candidates replicate Clinton's tactics in 1992, when he broke with the party's liberal base by approving the execution of a semi-retarded prisoner, by challenging liberal icon Jesse L. Jackson and by calling for an end to welfare "as we know it."

3 Comments:

Blogger Mae said...

i strongly agree that the "reframing of the issue" stance is simple minded and unworkable.

11:09 AM  
Blogger Sid Cottingham said...

The study warns against overreliance on this, and does not call it simple minded and completely unworkable. To quote: "They warn against overreliance on a strategy of solving political problems by "reframing" the language by which they present their ideas, as advocated by linguist George Lakoff of the University of California at Berkeley."

11:33 AM  
Blogger RightDemocrat said...

The Third Way shows why Democrats need to move to the center on social and national security issues, but it will done with the Moveonner Left and the Deaniacs yelling, kicking and screaming. The Daily Kos keeps pushing the idea that Democrats should follow Lincoln's strategy in the election of 1860. Perhaps, they want a Civil War between red and blue states. It just doesn't make any sense for Democrats to just scream louder. The Moveonner Left nut cases have given me a renewed appreciation of the Democratic Leadership Council although I still disagree with their advocacy of free trade. Given the insanity of the Kos crowd, it is easy to look at the "New Democrat" era of the Clinton Administration with nostaglia. A more careful and objective look at that time will show it was filled with not only accomplishment but also missed opportunities and failure. We need a Democratic nominee in 2008 that can appeal to the center, but a somewhat different approach than Bill Clinton took while campaigning and in office.
I think almost anyone would agree that the Clintons are very shrewd politically. While I have never been a big fan of Bill Clinton (if only Sam Nunn had been our nominee instead in 1992 !), he was certainly more in touch with mainstream America than the many failed Democratic nominees that we have seen in the past thirty five years. It should be kept in mind that Clinton did not win a popular vote majority in either Presidential election and was basically a product of Ross Perot's strong independent-Reform Party candidacies. As you recall, Perot pulled 19% of the national vote in 1992 and 8% in 1996. Even Perot's weaker eight percent showing the second time around was quite strong for a third party campaign and pulled many more votes away from Republicans than Democrats. Furthermore, Democrats lost control of Congress in 1994 and never regained a majority in either house under Clinton. The ideal Democratic nominee-President would have been a Bill Clinton with character and more populist on economics and somewhat more conservative on social issues than the 42nd President.
Clinton's decision to raise taxes on upper bracket taxpayers in 1993 helped to return our nation to a balanced budget although the tax incease was obviously unpopular in some circles. The family medical leave legislation passed at Clinton's urging was not only good public policy, but also great politics. Clinton's support of welfare reform helped Democrats by reducing the perception that we support "welfare cheats." The fact that Clinton had signed death warrants as Arkansas Governor and was willing to criticize the hateful lyrics of "gansta" rappers (if only on the campaign trail in 1992) helped to put Democrats more in the Middle American cultural mainstream. If Bill Clinton had been able to keep his pants zipped with the staff and taken a more populist approach to approach to economics, I think he would have left office with great public respect and personal popularity that would have likely benefited his party for at least a generation.
Clinton's support of NAFTA and GAAT in the long run hurt low and middle income workers and alienated working class voters from the Democratic Party. Campaign contributions from the rich angry at the tax increase and insurance companies concerns about a national health care program not doubt helped fill the campaign coffers of Republicans to win Congressional control in 1994, but I do think the alienation of working class voters over NAFTA and culutral issues was a major factor in the Republican sweep of that year. Republicans had made gains under Nixon and Reagan in winning working class white voters at the Presidential level using cultural issues and Cold War concerns, but many of these voters had returned to support Clinton in 1992. The enthusiastic backing of NAFTA by Clinton-Gore basically told these blue collar voters to get lost and they started voting Republican at the Congressional level and below based upon the social issues.
While Clinton's framing of abortion as something that should be "safe,legal and rare" was preferable to the strident language of many pro-choice advocates, he did little to build bridges to pro-life voters. In fact, it was the Clinton campaign that was behind the snub of Bob Casey at the 1992 convention and pro-life Democrats felt increasingly alientated during Clinton's tenure which included a veto on late term abortion bans. Clinton's strong support of the assualt weapons ban in 1994 mobilized pro-gun rights voters aginst the Democratic Party - many of these voters are working class white males - a group that we were starting to win back in 1992. If Clinton had insisted on environmental and labor standards in trade agreements, taken a more incremental approach to health care (starting with health insurance coverage for every child in America), stayed away from gun control and done more publicly to seek a true middle ground on abortion, avoided stepping in the "gays in the military" controversy in the early days of his administration and exercised greater discretion in his personal conduct, I think we might have a Democratic majority in Congress and a quite different political environment across the nation today.

7:50 PM  

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