Matt Stoller today highlights a passage from a Politicalwire piece that shows what I mean:
A content analysis of 42 television advertisements over the last month from Democratic congressional candidates shows little mention of their own party. Less than one-quarter (10) of the ads mentioned the affiliation of the candidate, and eight of those were by candidates running in Democratic primaries.
This isn't limited to television ads, and it's not limited to refusals simply to mention party labels. For instance, as I have noted, presidential candidates like Sen. Evan Bayh (D) have given speeches regurgitating RNC talking points about Democrats and national security - a real tragedy especially at a time when Democrats have such a terrific opportunity to redefine the national security debate in this country. Similarly, in analyzing the new book coming out by DLC chief Bruce Reed and DLC Rep. Rahm Emanuel, Chris Bowers proves how these high-profile Democrats go out of their way to reinforce negative, right-wing stereotypes about their own party:
"In just a few paragraphs, Reed and Emanuel manage to reinforce virtually every anti-Democratic narrative in existence. We have no new ideas, we don't stand for anything, we are equally to blame for polarized politics, we have been taken over by the angry left, conservatism is the only good ideology, Democrats won't do any better, our predecessors expanded government too much, and maverick John McCain is the only hope for unifying this country. And so our national image as a party is completely destroyed."
Living out here in Montana has been refreshing for a number of reasons, one of which is that Democratic lawmakers are proud to be Democrats. For example, Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) hasn't sat on the political capital that he's built up as one of the most popular governors in America - he's used it to help brand his party, traveling to all parts of the state building support for the Democratic agenda. He doesn't try to appease extremist Republican legislators - he goes after them. He doesn't engage in screw-your-own-party, Joe Lieberman-style bipartisanship - he muscles GOP legislators so as to get enough votes to pass Democratic legislation. Sure, Schweitzer ran with a Republican runningmate - but no one who has watched him and Democratic lawmakers like Jon Tester would claim with a straight face that Democrats in Montana have done anything other than proudly trumpet their party.
And that gets to the critical point: Schweitzer and Montana Democrats understand that politics is not just about individual candidates - it is about long-term movements that sustain over the years. Reinforcing a real definition behind the Democratic Party label (and one that is distinct from the GOP label) is an integral part of building that movement, because it allows others to run for office under a banner that evokes a positive meaning in voters mind.
The flip side is also true. "If you pretend like you aren't a Democrat or that your opponent is just a bad politician instead of a bad Republican politician, voters will think you are ashamed of who you are," writes Stoller. "It's not about being a proud Democrat, it's about not being a tool, and voters don't like tools." Put another way, when you try to take the Democratic Party out of the Democratic Party, you insult voters' intelligence, hurt the party's long-term prospects, and generally look like an idiot.