It’s true that the so called “six year itch” gives Democrats an advantage this fall. And it is also true that polls show a generic preference for Democrats by as much as 10 points which should help their party’s House challengers. And no one can argue with the fact that no modern presidency has seen gains in the Senate in a 6th year election.
But as President Reagan noted, “Facts are stubborn things.” And while it might seem that the outcome of the elections is a foregone conclusion, such a view is wrong because Democrats suffer from Ned’s syndrome. You may remember Ned, the guy in the Fed Ex commercial who’s wrong on practically everything. Like Ned, Democrats are heading for a fall because they too are wrong…on America.
Left wing bloggers and Hollywood celebrities are not credible resources for party policy and direction. Michael Moore, Barbara Streisand and Markos Moulitsas do not have a good feel for the pulse of mainstream America. Both the economic and counter-culture orthodoxy advocated by these and other party regulars create a huge electoral headwind hindering the party’s prospects. An agenda made up of hostility to the wealthy, the Boy Scouts, and the pledge of Allegiance, and one which also promotes gay marriage and teenage abortion is not a platform that will yield a governing majority on Election Day. This is true no matter how fervently these policies are promoted or explained. Stop letting these folks position the party so that it embodies the insular views of East or West Coast progressives because that is the perfect recipe for losing.
Race-baiting is a political strategy for the lazy. Perhaps greater than the Democrats’ embrace of a counter-culture worldview alien to most parts of America has been an ever accelerating trend toward political race-baiting. But dividing the public along racial lines is not a policy nor is it a plan. Today however, it is a key election tactic for Democrats. Race baiting has in some races made the party competitive without requiring any announced agenda or use of any political capital. But the fact is that in addition to having no record of success anywhere on the planet, quotas and related gender and race-based schemes are divisive and now serve to generate significant hostility to Democrats by the American electorate. Letting go of this tactic will be difficult but it must be done. Today the costs of racial polarization exceed any benefits to the party and as more Americans recognize this strategy the costs for continuing it will rise.
While high turnout and overstuffed campaign accounts don’t lead to an automatic victory for Democrats, low turnout and limited campaign coffers is a killer. In 2004, Democrats out raised Republicans and delivered to John Kerry the highest number of votes that any Democrat has ever received in American history and yet the party still came up short on election night. Turnout will likely be significantly lower this November and as FEC reports indicate, Democrats are woefully behind their Republican counterparts in fundraising. This double whammy limits the party’s prospects substantially.
Americans never vote against their own interests. Senior Democrats like Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi have convinced themselves that the public agrees with them and yet they are tricked or somehow manipulated by Republicans into voting against their best interests. As Dick Armey would say, “You can’t be this wrong by accident.” Voters always know their own best interests and vote accordingly. Even if party leaders haven’t realized it, most Americans understand that larger and ever more complicated social schemes are unlikely to solve homelessness, poverty and mal-education. A party which offers more of the same will find itself less and less appealing politically.
National Security matters. Democrats have lost 5 out of 7 of the last presidential elections because a sizeable portion of the American electorate simply doesn’t trust Democrats to take national security matters seriously. Here’s a hint, threatening to impeach President Bush for trying to surreptitiously listen to Osama bin Laden’s phone calls is an example of defeatism, not strength. The threat of global terrorism galvanizes the public in a way that few issues can. And a strategy of threatening primary challenges against the few members of your party (like Sen. Lieberman) who support robust national security measures will serve to further marginalize the party. Consider purging from the party those who are instinctively repulsed by the use of America’s military might.
Litigation victories are not political victories. For more than 40 years liberals and elites in the party have succumbed to the temptation of going to the courts to attain political outcomes that they can't achieve in an open and fair political debate. This strategy is remarkably “undemocratic” and has led to an electoral backlash that all but the most willfully blind recognize. But perhaps of far greater consequence is that many Democrats (now having become addicted to this strategy) have forgotten the art of political persuasion. Whereas Republicans have made significant headway in changing public opinion on issues such as partial birth abortion and death tax repeal, Democrats show no similar ability or desire to persuade the public to adopt their views on any of the controversial positions they advocate. Breaking this habit will be difficult. And now that the Court increasingly shows signs that it will no longer be hospitable to imposing the policy preferences of progressive elites (the addition of new members to the Court like Roberts and Alito likely accelerating this trend), being competent at shaping the public’s mind will be a political skill more needed than ever.
In conclusion, the consensus view was wrong in 2002. It was wrong again in 2004. Without a dramatic shift in party policy or an equally dramatic shift in public sentiment, Democrats are in an uphill battle to attain their goals for the foreseeable future. And you know what Ned, this has nothing to do with the party being in disarray or unorganized. It has to do with the party pursuing an agenda that a significant portion of the electorate believes is just plain wrong.