Monday, February 14, 2005

Time for an honest assessment

Last year a lot of Democrats and progressives put a lot of energy into defeating Dubya and electing a Democrat. Somehow we believed that if a Democrat was elected President that a lot of the negative aspects of where the country has been headed would be stopped and turned around. I was as guilty of this thinking as the next guy, but in hindsight these thoughts appear quite naïve.

As I look back I realize that we have been very narrowly focused as a party. We looked at the presidential race as a long sprint, that could be won by trying very hard, focussing a large amount of energy in one area over a relatively short period of time. The Republicans, though definitely interested in winning the presidency, have for quite some time viewed the overall political landscape as a multi-fronted war zone. They have been preparing the various battlefields for their type of war for a long period of time. Slowly but surely they have won most of the State Assemblies in the US, both Houses of Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Presidency. In 2004 they expanded their lead in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

There are only two reasons why this should be the case; 1) their ideas are better and their programs are better for the average voter; and/or 2) their marketing and strategy for winning is better including getting their message out (even if most of their marketing messages are lies).

I may be deluding myself, but I don’t believe that the message coming from the Republican Party and their ideas are better than the Democrats. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that their ability to market their message and to convince people to vote against their own demonstrable self-interest is amazingly effective. Of course fear is the prime tool that the Republicans use to motivate the public – that and patriotism. Fear is the great motivator behind attacking Iraq, the Department of Homeland Security, the Patriot Act, and most recently behind the push to change/eviscerate Social Security (“It will be bankrupt by 2042”). Patriotism is trotted out to use as a shield from their critics. (“How can you criticize the President when we are at war? Do you hate America? Our troops are in Iraq dying for you.”)

Anyway, we as Democrats have to start taking the long view. Moreover we have to stop the fratricide that is endemic in this party. We have to start getting local again. We have to win the students over again. We have to win the suburban moms and dads over again. It is not all about who picks the next Supreme Court.

For some reason, Progressives and Democrats have not been able grasp the concept of compromising some of their ideals to pursue a winning strategy. I try to be as open minded and embracing as possible on civil liberty and social justice issues. However, gay marriage is not a winning issue. It is also not an issue made for prime time. The Democratic Party cannot continue to allow fringe (but important) elements of our Party to hijack the Party's message to forward their own goal. If single issue groups want to have the support of the party as a whole they need to get on the train and get in line. Sometimes things can't happen now - even if you want them to.

Democrats and progressives have gotten addicted to judicial fiats. We have won so many important battles by taking the issue to court and having a bold jurist or panel of jurists make a sweeping decision that changes the playing field (think Brown vs. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade, etc.). We need the public, though, and we are losing them.

We better be in this for the long haul or we might as well give up right now.