Sunday, November 07, 2004

Moving Ahead

Bill Clinton understands exactly why John Kerry wasn’t elected. In a speech to the Urban Land Institute at the New York Hilton, he describes what is wrong with his party.

Clinton attributed Kerry's loss to the Democrats' failure to combat how they were portrayed by Republicans to small-town America.

"If we let people believe that our party doesn't believe in faith and family, doesn't believe in work and freedom, that's our fault," he said.

Via the New York Post
To move ourselves forward and counter the poison that has become associated with the label “Liberal” we need to remind people daily of what is important for this country in real terms that mean something to them in terms that impact their daily lives. We cannot afford to allow the conservative right to control the dialogue. We need to become the party that recognizes ordinary people and what they contribute to society, who do what they're supposed to be doing. We need to become the party that is recognized as the one who protects them from those who don't appreciate their efforts. The Democratic Party needs to be associated with making their lives easier and more rewarding and not the party that continually makes their struggle harder.
Nearly 60 million people voted for George W. Bush because they think he represents their values and that John Kerry, Democrats and you don't. If we can convince them that they are deceived and prove them wrong we’ll be the majority party again.
We need to start talking about the truly important issues that impact Americans daily. These are the pocketbook issues. Remember Bill Clinton's commitment to help people who "work hard and play by the rules"? We need to explain the progressive/Democratic positions on taxes and labor as moral issues not simply economic ones. Higher minimum wages are not a tax on small business but proper rewards for hard work. The estate tax helps wealthy people get wealthier without any work—it’s free and on the backs of those who are working hard everyday. The average American needs to understand in their gut, instinctively, that relaxing oversight of corporations allows them to evade taxes, deceive small investors, and raid pension funds—all without any work.
We need to borrow a phrase from Robert Heinlein, “TANSTAAFL”- “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch”. We need to remind the average American that if America is going to be a success for everyone, then everyone has to work hard to make it so. Just like all the average households in America there are bills to be paid that won’t wait. Everyone in the house has a responsibility to pull a share of the work commensurate with their ability to do so that is also balanced fairly with the reward received. The gap between the wealthy and the poor in this country is approaching that of a third world country. We need to constantly reinforce the fact that the wealthy in this country, by virtue of being able to participate in the country, have a proportional responsibility to the rest of the country.
The minute we start talking this way we are going to be accused of waging class warfare. Here there is the danger of letting the right frame the issue in their terms. It is warfare, but it is a culture war not class warfare. It is war between the people in this country who are working hard, obeying the laws and paying a disproportionate share of the taxes against those who getting wealthier day by day with an unfair share of the tax burden. This is a war between those millions of Americans with no healthcare and those with no cares whatsoever. It is a war against the fat cats in the Hummers by those working two minimum wage jobs that are still below the poverty line. It is a war against the multimillion dollar a year CEO who is moving good paying jobs overseas. We must frame the debate as a culture war between the people and institutions that are taking full advantage and more of our great country and those that are carrying the bulk of the load and yet are slipping further and further behind.
There has been much discussion of the vast impact of the evangelical vote during this election. Yes, there were a lot of religious people voting but this is only a problem if we let it be. Most of these religious voters are Jane and Joe America. They are socially conservative blue-collar workers that don't actually understand the true impact of a free market. They believe in the value of hard work and a fair wage. The Conservative right has framed the free market as consistent with the Judeo-Christian work ethic. They have defined rampant capitalism as good for the everyday citizen. We need to show them how the unbridled free market and un-tempered capitalism betrays the work ethic and pushes everybody but the owners down. We have let the conservatives frame us as an enemy of the free market and now we need to take this ball and run with it by making sure Joe and Jane America understand what the free market means to them.
Republicans have painted the Democrats as weak, we aren’t convincing as toughs. We need to reverse this perception by formulating a tough policy on terrorism while at the same time defining ourselves as the party with a clear concept of right and wrong. We need to convince voters that we are tough enough to do the job. We need to avoid politically convenient rhetoric and call tyrants for what they are, oil or no oil and do our best, every time, to defend the little guy against the bully. We need to convince America that we will be tough when our good sense and desire for peaceful solutions fail.
We need to believe in this message and use it continually. At every opportunity, when a Republican accuses you of failing to protect us from terrorists, you need to point out that they’re the ones who have gotten us distracted in Iraq, leaving us virtually helpless against the real terrorists. Remind the Bush supporters that 9/11 happened on his watch, even after he was warned. When a Republican accuses you of class warfare you need to point out that his party is one that is creating huge deficits and burdening society for years to come. This is a burden that is to be borne by the working classes not by the rich. When a Republican accuses you of being unpatriotic remind him of who is shedding the blood in Iraq. Remind the Republicans that when they betray troops through poor planning and false reasons for war it is the working class that will carry the load. Remind the Republicans that cutting taxes for the rich while at war and already in deficit is fiscally stupid and that our children will bear the burden. These should be the Democratic issues and we should be relentless in reciting them. Remind Bush supporters that the soldiers from poor families are dying while fat cat corporations skim millions from the war. This message needs to be consistent if it is going to resonate and if it is to resonate it should always have a harmonic message and underlying theme. The message always has to resonate with responsibility.
The favorite Democratic issues like energy independence, health care, education, the environment, and the deficit can be amplified into a very powerful theme if they are brought together within a unifying message. Take responsibility for your community and your fellow man, make sure he has a fair chance to make it. Take responsibility and clean up your mess and care for the environment. Take responsibility and take care for your children and make sure all children are cared for. Be responsible and live within your means don’t spend what you don’t have. All of the overriding issues can be related to responsibility. Bush talks about an “ownership” society so let’s take that and run with it. Let’s make sure that he and his “own” what they have created.
Finally we need to talk about a messenger. John Kerry, in spite of having many great qualities, was missing one key ingredient. He had the unfortunate luck of being born into a wealthy northern family. This was not a differentiator from Bush. The Republican machine had spent years creating the fake cowboy, common guy image for Bush. Ignore the fact that in reality he is spoiled rich kid and a born failure. The propaganda connected him to the common man. Currently, there is only one Democrat that fills the bill as a standard bearer and who understands this message naturally -- John Edwards. He doesn’t have to pretend he is a child of the common man – he is one. He naturally frames every issue with responsibility and values. He argued during the presidential primaries that Republicans were favoring unearned wealth over work. He grew up with the reality of haves and have nots. He can legitimately point to how Republican tax policies are favoring the wealthy and hurting the working man. He can point to the stagnant minimum wage and, with conviction, show how it is hurting this country. I know it is early to begin to discuss 2008 but it is not too early to begin to lay the tracks to a change in leadership.

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