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.
If Democrats are not in sync with what is important to voters, then how can we be authentic --how can we regain their trust?
Voters choose a candidate more and more based on who that person is, not just what they say they will do. It is a gut reaction based on how a candidate presents him or herself. Do they only talk about their 10 point plan on education or do they also share how hard it is to spend time with their kids? Trust is a two-way street: in our personal lives and in politics. If people trust that you respect them and are honest, then they will support you even if they disagree with you on certain issues.
It sounds so fundamental because it is.
Democrats keep presenting half of a candidate. We fail to present our personal side and that it is why so many voters fail to see us as real, grounded, and in touch with their lives.
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 weren 't authentic one moment and then just policy experts the next. And we didn 't 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 people 's 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 1970 's. George McGovern talked about the war and issues. How many in America at that time knew that his father was a minister?
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 doesn 't 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 Bush --a very polarizing figure. It was okay that they disagreed with him on most ideas - he had conviction and they understood him as a person.