In 2004, the hand wringing was constant and it was difficult to watch. It was difficult to watch because the reason we lost became painfully clear. Somehow over the last 30 years, Democrats stopped being authentic.
We stopped being the party of the people, and only for the people. The public came to view us as "the Government Party" that was more interested in being part of government than in connecting with regular people. We stopped sharing our personal beliefs and only shared our policy proposals. We stopped giving people a reason to trust us and voters began to doubt our convictions. And we stopped believing that giving voters a sense of who we are and where we come from was a critical part of communicating. It never stopped being important to voters, but somehow it stopped being important to Democrats.
If Democrats are not in sync with what is important to voters, then how can we be authentichow can we regain their trust?
It sounds so fundamental because it is.
Elections are not won based on issue checklists; they are won by candidatesreal people. Candidates who are parents and trying to spend more time with their kids, not just policy experts on the deficit. Candidates who cannot sit down and watch a ballgame with their kids because of the racy drug ads and the violence, not just experts on tax policies for the middle class. Candidates who pray when their parents get sick, not just experts on health care. Candidates who worry about their neighbor down the street fighting in a war, not just another politician with a plan to win it.
But we can change this. We can revive authenticity in the Democratic Party. We can do this by first understanding how we reached this point, and second by recognizing and emulating authentic candidates we already have.
Democrats did not wander into the desert overnight. But if we want to find the way out, then we need to look at our footprints. It took time for this problem to build. We werent authentic one moment and then just policy experts the next. And we didnt always believe that voters just wanted to hear about our policy ideas.
Our troubles actually stem from something very positive about Democrats. We believe that government is good. We believe that with the right ideas we can change peoples lives and the country for the better. Government is about policies, issues, solving problems, and responsible leadership. It is a trait I hope never leaves the core of our party because we have seen what the corrupt opposite has done to Washington and the world today. Unfortunately, we wear the label of the Government Party. Even though we are out of power in every house in Washington, we are viewed as "the Washington Party."
As responsible stewards of government, Democrats believed voters viewed their political debate through a prism of issues and policies. Republicans understood that voters viewed these decisions in terms of people: themselves and the candidates. That is why Republicans highlight personal qualities: who they are, where they come from, and what their core convictions are.
These different approaches to the electorate can be seen in the two parties' leadership and presidential campaigns over the past 30 years, beginning in the 1970s. George McGovern talked about the war and issues. How many in America at that time knew that his father was a minister?
President Carter was the peanut farmer in 1976. But in four short years, he went from being a regular guy to an expert on malaise. It was President Reagan who people knew best in the 1980s. He came from a small town. He rode a horse. He was a real guy. But Vice President Mondale had the kind of family President Reagan talked about. The Mondales were close and deeply connected to one another. His father was a minister, too. But America only saw Vice President Mondale as the government and policy guy.
In 1988, former Governor Dukakis was another family man. His parents were immigrants and symbolized the American story. He was a devoted father and stood by his wife in troubled times. And yet it was the picture in the tank and his cold response to that terrible debate question about what he would do if someone raped his wife that defined him.
In 2000, anyone who collected a dollar for every time someone said Gore doesnt look comfortable in his own skin has a nice house by the beach. In 2004, Senator Kerry had a great plan; he just failed to show he had conviction and core principles as a person. And America chose President Busha very polarizing figure. It was okay that they disagreed with him on most ideas - he had conviction and they understood him as a person.