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A Graduation Report: Democrats Need to Sharpen Up

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Message Bernard Weiner
Last weekend, I was visiting my old Washington State stomping grounds -- I lived and taught in Bellingham back in the day -- to witness the graduation of my nephew from The Evergreen State College in Olympia.

Therein lies a tale, and not a hopeful one for Democrats in November and in 2008.

For the Democrats to win the upcoming midterm election, and the presidential election two years later, they must be, and must openly and consistently demonstrate that they are, street smart and
aggressively on point with their base and able to draw as well from the middle (Red Dawg Democrats, disaffected traditional and moderate Republicans, Independents, Libertarians, et al.).

But if Democratic Governor Chris Gregoire's commencement address to Evergreen's 2006 graduating class is any example of oppositional smarts, the GOP has little reason to worry about the upcoming
elections.(Note: They sure do have plenty of other reasons to worry.)

Washingtonians told me that Gregoire is a centrist/liberal Democrat who is making good appointments and leading the state reasonably well. With those assets in her favor, here was a perfect opportunity for this sitting governor to make some friends and influence people. There were roughly several thousand graduates and perhaps three or four times that many family members there to celebrate with their diploma-earning students. As a politician, you salivate at being able to address such a
potentially friendly, captive audience.

What a blown opportunity.


A competent advance team, speechwriter and governor would have known that Evergreen is the most progressive of all of Washington's state colleges, and would have tailored the commencement speech to that audience.

Istead, Gov. Gregoire's team outfitted her with a Republican-lite speech on the glories of globalization. She had been delivering this same address at a number of other college commencements that same week, and it came across as what it was: a generic speech (and a not very well-written one at that), a one-size-fits-all address that would have
been more appropriate for a gathering of business types, or, at the very least, for a more conservative college in Eastern Washington.

And so for a half hour, the Evergreen audience sat on their hands, listening to political platitudes in this somewhat boring paean to theopportunities offered by globalization. The governor dully read her
generic prose as prepared, seemingly oblivious to whom she was speaking. This despite Evergreen's lib/rad reputation and despite the protest organized against her appearance by a vocal group of activist
students; about 50, wearing protest t-shirts, turned their backs on her during her address, while others unfurled banners against her welfare policies, or heckled her from trees near the stage.

Her desultory, DLC-like speech could just as well have been broadcast on a large TV monitor from a remote location. That's how removed it was from the reality of the thousands of visitors and graduates sitting in the sun (and occasional drizzle) in the Evergreen quad.


Am I suggesting that Gregoire shouldn't have spoken on that topic? Probably would have been a politically wise idea, but if she really wanted to speak about globalization, the governor and a savvy speechwriter would have recognized that some concession to her audience and to the complexity of that issue might have been appropriate.

After all, she was speaking in a bastion of anti-globalization, and that activism demanded that she offer some acknowledgment of the issues
raised by those opposing free-market globalization on environmental and human-rights grounds.(Evergreen is a school devoted to environmental education, and an intelligent Democratic advance person would have
known that and alerted the speechwriter accordingly.)

How often will similar scenarios be repeated around the country in the next five months and during the run-up to the 2008 election? Incompetent planning, inappropriate speeches, political gaffes, dull
deliveries -- do the Democrats really want to remain a party in permanent exile from the reins of national power?

The Republicans may be badly riven by issues such as adventuring warsabroad, humongous deficits and a languid economy at home, aligning America with torture and the suppression of civil and human rights, massive government spying on U.S. citizens, etc. etc. But, under the tutelage of Herr Rove, they know how to run a campaign, illegal and unethical though some of their campaign tactics might be.

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Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked for two decades as a writer-editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (more...)
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