Advice for the Democrats: Wake Up! Take Stock! Learn from past mistakes and vow not to repeat them. Learn from the successes of the opposition, and adapt them, not slavishly, but creatively. Apply "political judo:" identify the strengths of the opposition, and use them to advantage. Take the offensive, and never yield it!
In "generic polls," the Democratic Party enjoys a commanding lead over the Republicans.
Small wonder. After six years of uncritically repeating the Bushevik lies, the mainstream news media is losing its credibility, as it is losing its audience. At last, Bushenomics is beginning to weigh heavily upon the 95-plus percent of the population that are its victims. The median family income is in its fifth year of retreat, millions of homes are being foreclosed, forty million of our citizens are without health care, and millions more are one serious family illness away from financial ruin. Meanwhile, the GOP Congress, (with the shameful support of many Democrats), has removed personal bankruptcy protection.
The public is awakening to the fact that the Iraq war is a catastrophe, launched and sustained by Bush's and Cheney's lies. That same public, a majority of which once bought the Bushevik lies that Saddam was involved in the 9/11 attacks and had huge stocks of WMD's, is now solidly opposed to the Iraq war.
The conspiracy of silence regarding the theft of the last two presidential elections – a conspiracy sustained by the mainstream media, law enforcement, and even the victimized Democratic Party – is beginning to unravel.
And so, among the Democrats and their supporters, and even in the media, there is less talk of "if" the Democrats win the next election, and more talk of "when" they win. Confidence is breaking out among the progressives, followed by its bastard child, complacency, as a Democratic sweep in 2008 appears to be inevitable.
And it would be, if the usual twentieth century rules applied: honest and verifiable elections, a diverse and vigilant media, constitutional guarantees intact, and each contending party willing and prepared to concede defeat in the national election.
Under those conditions, my rough and intuitive guess would be that the Democrats would have a 90% chance of retaking the White House and gaining formidable majorities in both houses of Congress.
But twentieth century conditions do not apply. Because they don't, and because the Democrats refuse to recognize and adapt to this fact, choosing instead to play by the old, non-operative rules, the next President will likely be a Republican. If the Democrats persist in their folly, I'd set the odds of another Republican in the White House at about four-to-one. As for the Congress, it could go either way, but whichever party wins, the majorities will be close. And, as the current Democratic Congress is making all too clear today, if the Democrats maintain control of Congress, this should be of little consequence to the succeeding GOP "unitary executive." Acts of Congress deemed inconvenient to the President will either be vetoed, or, failing that, nullified by "signing statements," and laws that the President cannot persuade the Congress to pass will be issued as Executive Orders.
Just as they are today.
For if the Democratic Congress refuses now to act to reclaim its Constitutionally separate powers, what reason is there to believe that it will do so if the next President is a Republican?
The Republican advantages are well-known. The GOP will draw upon a bottomless well of corporate financial support that will fund a well-oiled and proven propaganda machine, aided by a compliant corporate media. The campaign will, as before, be carried out without any scruple whatever regarding truth or fairness. Witness the successful smears of Al Gore ("inventing the internet" and "serial liar") and John Kerry ("Swift Boat Veterans for Truth").
The nationwide GOP disenfranchisement campaign continues, despite its recent under-reported disclosure in the media, and the obstructed attempts of the Congressional committees to investigate. Absent determined counter-measures, millions of Democratic voters – blacks, Hispanics, and poor whites – will lose their voting rights in the 2008 election. Who or what it to prevent this? The US Department of Justice? Fagetaboutit! The DOJ, we have learned, is not the protector of citizen voting rights; it is an accomplice to their denial.
Despite the accumulating evidence of GOP election fraud in the preceding four national elections, and the determined resistance of a few state officials such as California's Secretary of State, Debra Bowen, most of the paperless, non-verifiable touch-screen voting machines (manufactured and secretly coded by Republican companies) will be in place in the voting precincts throughout the nation in November, 2008.
The Democratic opportunities are obvious, and neglected. As noted at the outset, a war gone wrong and an economy turning sour are improving the prospects of the Democrats. And hard truths are finally outlasting the recorded and remembered Bushevik lies, to the advantage of the Democrats – "a reality-based community." Amazingly, despite a relentless, two decade media barrage, and a lurch to the right by the Democratic Party, the American public remains progressive. As Eric Alterman reports, "the majority of Americans have actually moved slightly leftward – leaving the center of gravity of the political system [i.e., the major parties] well to the right of the public on issue after issue."
While vote suppression efforts of the GOP are unlikely to be curtailed by George Bush's Department of Justice, the administration of elections is primarily a state and local responsibility, and thus there is hope for remedy and even prosecution at these levels of government. With the public and local law enforcement alerted, the GOP might be somewhat less inclined to finagle the election returns.
Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The Democratic campaign strategy of the past few elections could scarcely have been more damaging if Karl Rove himself had designed it to assure Republican success. There is little evidence so far that the party intends to depart from this proven path of failure. For example:
The Congressional Democrats, even in the majority, are portraying themselves as undisciplined, uncoordinated, intimidated wimps. They are defensive, groggy, and seem to have no identifiably independent policy agenda. Elected with a mandate to end the war in Iraq, they have voted to fund it; elected with a mandate to defend the Constitution, as stipulated by their oaths of office, they have failed in seven months even to restore habeas corpus. Small wonder that public approval of the Congress is well below that of the woefully unpopular President.
Meanwhile, the announced Democratic candidates campaign and debate as if they are more concerned about offending the GOP base and corporate contributors than they are about energizing the majority of voters eager for a radical change in foreign and economic policy, and for a restoration of the United States Constitution.
Strategy as if winning mattered. The Democrats have the resources to win in 2008, and to win big. But only if they scrupulously obey The First Rule of Holes: "If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging!"
So here is this disillusioned Democrat's plea to his wayward party: Wake Up! Take Stock! Find new campaign managers and fire or retire the proven losers. Learn from past mistakes and vow not to repeat them. Learn from the successes of the opposition, and adapt them, not slavishly, but creatively. Apply "political judo:" identify the strengths of the opposition, and use them to advantage. Find and employ some political geniuses, with the imagination and aggressiveness of Karl Rove, but without his ruthlessness. Take the offensive, and never yield it!
"The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise -- with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country." (Abraham Lincoln)
Invest in the media. The GOP and its corporate supporters appreciate full-well the importance of the media, and thus their promotion of right-wing talk and "faux news" has produced lavish dividends. In contrast, Air America Radio, rescued at the last minute by the Green brothers, is still on life support. The McClatchy Newspapers (and its predecessor Knight-Ridder), the only nation-wide print news media to reliably publish accurate and critical reporting prior to and following the Iraq war and occupation, still has no media presence in Washington or New York. Why is this? Small independent progressive magazines such as The Nation, The American Prospect, and The Progressive, have been hit hard by the newly increased and discriminatory postal rates. And the progressive internet websites, "the American Samizdat," are starving for financial support. What must it take to get the Democratic Party establishment to appreciate that without messengers, there is no message?
Answer the GOP lies immediately and decisively. This, I believe, was James Carville's advice in 1992, disastrously ignored by John Kerry in 2004. Kerry and his managers seemed to assume that the swift-boat smear was just too dastardly to dignify with a reply, and that by ignoring it, the smear would "just go away." They overlooked a fundamental rule of campaigning: "an accusation unanswered, is an accusation confirmed." John Kerry had the witnesses and the documents of the Navy Department to decisively refute the smears. Had his campaign responded immediately and massively, the "swift boat veterans" would have been blown out of the water.
Redouble registration efforts – with an army of lawyers at the ready. The Democrats begin the 2008 campaign at a huge disadvantage: millions of votes intended for their candidates may not be counted due to the disenfranchisement campaign designed by Karl Rove and implemented by the departing Alberto Gonzales and his obedient US attorneys. Patrick Leahy and the Senate Judiciary Committee must pursue their investigations relentlessly and thoroughly. Meanwhile, registration campaigns must be carried out nationwide at the state and local level. Prosecution of illegal "cagings" must be carried out.
Pay attention to the marginalized experts. George Lakoff has wisely warned against accepting the conceptual "frames" of the Republicans. Yet the Democrats still fall into the GOP traps by using such terms as "tax relief," and "war on terror." Newt Gingrich and Frank Luntz have openly and brazenly enlisted the English language as a political weapon. Geoffrey Numberg has skillfully exposed these shenanigans and proposed a counter attack. Have the Democratic Party poobahs paid any attention? Not that I have noticed. And Emory University psychologist, Drew Weston counsels the Democrats to deal with the voters' "gut" feelings and to display more passion. While his book, The political brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation has drawn some attention among party bigwigs, it remains to be seen if it will have a lasting result. These are some of the many politically provocative ideas proposed by the Democrats' intelligencia. They should be studied and implemented. If they are not, and if Bob Shrum is re-appointed as a senior campaign advisor, it might be a good idea to check out some property in Belize.
The old maps do not apply. Worse still, these false maps are supplied by the GOP. Old labels have lost their meaning. Self-described "conservatives" aren't. Trashing the Constitution and throwing out proven institutions is not "conservative," it is regressive – and should be referred to as such. The American public, by and large, endorses the liberal agenda, and yet, due to the relentless attacks by the regressive screech-merchants, the public rejects the word "liberal." No matter. Drop the word "liberal" like a soiled garment, and label the agenda "progressive." The public, remember, endorses that agenda, whatever the label. Similarly, "right" and "left" have been so abused that they have lost all meaning. As has the term, "political center," which leads to our final point.
Reject the Myth of the Essential Center. One of the fundamental dogmas of the "GOP-lite" Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) is that the election must be won by appealing to the political "center" – the presumed mass of independent voters "between" the Republican-Right and the Democratic-Left. The Progressives, they further argue, can be taken for granted, since they "have nowhere else to go."
For much of the twentieth century, this dogma was generally true. It was arguably the key to Bill Clinton's success in 1992. (But this was an atypical contest, due to the independent candidacy of Ross Perot, without whom Clinton might well have lost).
However, the dogma of "the essential center" is no longer true. The Democratic and Republican party have moved so close together and to the "right" that few "center" voters remain to be won. In fact, the major parties have moved so far to the right, that the vast majority of "essential" independents are to the "left" of both parties. For example: while two-thirds of the public wants the US to leave Iraq, the congressional Democrats vote funds to continue the war. And while over half of the public wants Cheney impeached, and almost half wants Bush impeached, the House Democrats refuse to put impeachment "on the table." The dismal polling numbers for the Democratic Congress are the result not of a failure of the Democrats to please the alleged "center," but for their failure to respond to the mandates of the progressive majorities that elected them in 2006.
If the DLC and Beltway Democrats persist in their pursuit of the "centrist" votes, the voters on "the left" who sent the Democrats to Congress may decide that voting Democratic is futile and either stay at home in 2008 or defect to a minor party.
And who can blame them?
"Hail to the (Republican) Chief!"
Because the "essential voters" are the progressives, the Democrats must immediately abandon their "me too, but smarter" appeal to (non-existent) "moderate" Republicans and centrist independents. Instead, they must boldly proclaim their differences with the discredited Republicans, and present an unashamed progressive program: tax reform and economic justice, job creation, campaign finance reform, balanced federal budgets, environmental protection, universal health care, enhanced support of public education, renewed investment in scientific research and technological development, a global effort to develop clean energy and to combat global climate change, abandonment of imperialism and a restoration of international law and cooperation, and a restoration of Constitutional rights and liberties.
And still more strategy... I am, most assuredly, not one of those "political geniuses" in short supply and urgently needed by the Democrats. If such geniuses are located, enlisted and put to work by the Democrats, they will surely come up with more and better ideas.
But above all, this much is certain: the current road leads to a probable defeat. It is therefore essential that the Democrats pause, take stock, throw away the old maps, and then proceed in a new direction.
Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. Partridge has taught philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org). His book in progress, "Conscience of a Progressive," can be seen at www.igc.org/gadfly/progressive/^toc.htm .