Fat Steve's Blatherings

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Advice For Democrats That Won't Be Taken

      It's been a week since the election, and a lot of Democrats are asking why they lost, and what to do now?  I'm here to tell you.

      My normal response to such questions is silence.  I always think: "Why should I tell you?"  Much better to let the other side make the same dumb mistakes over and over.  But I've decided to make an attempt to explain where you went wrong and what you should do to change.  Partly because I think it's my duty as a patriot (really; sorry to sound pretentious), and partly because I think you'll ignore it.

      1) Lose the attitude.

      A blog from "A Sad American" said the message she got from the Democratic Party was
I don't think you really want my vote. I actively sought out your perspective. I tuned in regularly, for months, to your biggest media project, your serious effort to get your message out: Air America Radio. I listened all day on Good Friday as host after host mocked people like me for believing in Jesus's life, death, and resurrection. I listened as Janeane Garofalo, who was one of my favorite comedians for years, expressed hatred and disgust for Bush voters so vile that I ended my live stream feeling assaulted, as if I'd been vomited on. I listened the night that Mike Malloy told a young Republican to hang up the phone and go open a vein. I listened to pure, unadulterated venom that was so intense I sometimes cut the stream and cried. . . .[Your attitude] is reminiscent of nothing so much as an abusive ex-lover, a crazy and drunken stalker. "I'll make you love me, or you'll regret it, you worthless bitch! Come here and let me beat you over the head and tell you how stupid and worthless you are! Then you'll see it my way!"

      Yup, that's it all right.  Michael Barone, in his book Our Country: the Shaping of America From Roosevelt to Reagan, recalls a famous anecdote about Adlai Stevenson, in which a Stevenson supporter said "All intelligent people are for you," and Stevenson allegedly replied "Yes, but I need a majority."  Barone comments that no one could imagine Franklin Roosevelt making such a remark.  But I can easily imagine E. J. Dionne making it:
Let's be honest: We are aghast at the success of a campaign based on vicious personal attacks, the exploitation of strong religious feelings and an effort to create the appearance of strong leadership that would do Hollywood proud. We are alarmed that so many of our fellow citizens could look the other way and not hold Bush accountable for utter incompetence in Iraq and for untruths spoken in defense of the war. We are amazed that a majority was not concerned about heaping a huge debt burden on our children just to give large tax breaks to the rich.

And we are disgusted that an effort consciously designed to divide the country did exactly that — and won.

Or Jane Smiley:
I grew up in Missouri and most of my family voted for Bush, so I am going to be the one to say it: The election results reflect the decision of the right wing to cultivate and exploit ignorance in the citizenry. I suppose the good news is that 55 million Americans have evaded the ignorance-inducing machine. But 58 million have not. (Well, almost 58 million—my relatives are not ignorant, they are just greedy and full of classic Republican feelings of superiority.)

Or Ezra Klein:
John Kerry -- genetically, demographically, spatially -- simply radiated elite values. And though they're the correct ones, they also provide a clear foil for guys like Rove, who're just begging for an opportunity to play on the fears and prejudices of the American people.

Or Dr. Joseph Zito,Roberta Kimmel Cohn, and Beverly Camhe:
"I'm saddened by what I feel is the obtuseness and shortsightedness of a good part of the country - the heartland," Dr. Joseph said. "This kind of redneck, shoot-from-the-hip mentality and a very concrete interpretation of religion is prevalent in Bush country - in the heartland."

"New Yorkers are more sophisticated and at a level of consciousness where we realize we have to think of globalization, of one mankind, that what's going to injure masses of people is not good for us," he said.

His friend, Ms. Cohn, a native of Wisconsin who deals in art, contended that New Yorkers were not as fooled by Mr. Bush's statements as other Americans might be. "New Yorkers are savvy," she said. "We have street smarts. Whereas people in the Midwest are more influenced by what their friends say."

"They're very 1950's," she said of Midwesterners. "When I go back there, I feel I'm in a time warp." . . .

Ms. Camhe explained the habits and beliefs of those dwelling in the heartland like an anthropologist.

"What's different about New York City is it tends to bring people together and so we can't ignore each others' dreams and values and it creates a much more inclusive consciousness," she said. "When you're in a more isolated environment, you're more susceptible to some ideology that's imposed on you."

Or Garry Wills:
America, the first real democracy in history, was a product of Enlightenment values - critical intelligence, tolerance, respect for evidence, a regard for the secular sciences. Though the founders differed on many things, they shared these values of what was then modernity. They addressed "a candid world," as they wrote in the Declaration of Independence, out of "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind." Respect for evidence seems not to pertain any more, when a poll taken just before the elections showed that 75 percent of Mr. Bush's supporters believe Iraq either worked closely with Al Qaeda or was directly involved in the attacks of 9/11.

Or the always reliable Maureen Dowd:
W.'s presidency rushes backward, stifling possibilities, stirring intolerance, confusing church with state, blowing off the world, replacing science with religion, and facts with faith. We're entering another dark age, more creationist than cutting edge, more premodern than postmodern. Instead of leading America to an exciting new reality, the Bushies cocoon in a scary, paranoid, regressive reality. Their new health care plan will probably be a return to leeches.

America has always had strains of isolationism, nativism, chauvinism, puritanism and religious fanaticism. But most of our leaders, even our devout presidents, have tried to keep these impulses under control. Not this crew. They don't call to our better angels; they summon our nasty devils.

Or the dishonest, hysterical Paul Krugman:
President Bush isn't a conservative. He's a radical - the leader of a coalition that deeply dislikes America as it is. Part of that coalition wants to tear down the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt, eviscerating Social Security and, eventually, Medicare. Another part wants to break down the barriers between church and state. . . .

Democrats are not going to get the support of people whose votes are motivated, above all, by their opposition to abortion and gay rights (and, in the background, opposition to minority rights).

      As long as the attitudes of 51% of the voters leave you aghast, alarmed, amazed, and disgusted, you won't have much chance of getting through to them.

      2)Lose your certainty.

      Oliver Cromwell once wrote, "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken."  Democrats would do well to listen.

      Thomas Frank has recently written a book with the title What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of AmericaDemocrats should consider the possibility that nothing at all is the matter with Kansas.  Instead, they should examine the notion that there is something wrong with them and their ideas.

      Management consultant Tom Peters once gave a lecture on "staying close to the customer."  A businessman asked him how, "What do I do?"  Peters thought a moment and said, 'Get ten customers, take them to dinner, ask them what they think about your business, listen to what they say.'  Good advice.  But most Democrats seem to think the problem is that the voters don't understand their message.  The possibility that the voters understand it, and reject it, and are right never gets considered.

      A good example of all this is the "gay marriage" issue.  This is always presented as the idea that 'gays deserve the same rights as straights.'  The problem with this is that homosexuals have the same rights as heterosexuals.  We all have the right (if we're single, of sound mind, and over the age of consent) to marry one and only one person of the opposite sex.  What the advocates of "gay marriage" want to do is change the definition of marriage, from a relationship between a man and a woman, to a relationship between 'people who love each other.'  Personally, I'd just love to see the annulment proceedings when someone claimed no valid marriage had taken place because X didn't really love Y when X said "I do."  But the serious issue for politics is whether we should extend the label 'marriage' to something that it has never meant, so far as I can tell, in any culture in history.  In order to have a reasoned discussion on this issue, the proponents of "gay marriage" need to listen to those opposed to the idea.  With respect.

      3) Lose the anti-Americans.

      There's nothing that quite demonstrates the liberal cocoon so many Democrats live in as their celebration of 'John Kerry, war hero.'  Kerry told the Democratic Convention he'd defended the United States as a young man.  But he told the Senate that the U.S. should leave Viet Nam forthwith, and that the military was committing war crimes on a daily basis, with the knowledge and consent of the command structure.

      Unfortunately for the Democrats, many of them don't see this as a contradiction.  It is one, though, and most of the public sees it.  A lot of people like Andrew Sullivan, endorsed Kerry in spite of his history, hoping that he'd turned his back on the foreign policy he'd voted for in the Senate.  Others, like "Jane Galt", decided that regardless of his current position, "Kerry's record for the first fifteen years in the senate, before he knew what he needed to say in order to get elected, is not the record of anyone I want within spitting distance of the White House war room."  Add the 'Sullivans' and the 'Galts' together, and you have a big majority.

      So, cross off the list of possible presidential candidates anyone who was an anti-Viet Nam activist, like Kerry; anyone who voted for the Case-Church amendment; anyone who thought Carter's foreign policy was good; anyone who did not support the first Gulf War; anyone who, when asked who his advisors would be, mentions any Defense, disarmament, or State department veteran of the Carter or Clinton presidencies; anyone who supported George McGovern; and most especially, anyone who such swine as Michael Moore or Noam Chomsky haven't condemned as war mongers.

      Remember, in 1944, Democratic party bosses contemplated the forseeable death in office of FDR, and forced Vice President Henry Wallace off the ticket because he was soft on Communism.  In 1946, Harry Truman ran Henry Wallace and his supporters out of the Democratic Party.  They in turn went formed the Progressive Party, and ran Wallace for President.  Wallace lost, Truman won.

      4) Lose the nomination reforms.  In 1968, the Democratic party appointed George McGovern to head a committee to change the way they picked convention delegates.  The result was the capture of the nominating process by 'left wing' activists.  McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis, and Kerry made it through this nominating process, while 'Scoop' Jackson and Joe Lieberman didn't.  But it's precisely the Jacksons and Liebermans the Democratic Party needs to nominate.

      5) Get rid of the stiffs.

      Howard Kurtz recently commented:
There's something to be said for natural politicians. Kerry is the second straight Democratic nominee about whom friends said, he's really a relaxed guy with a sense of humor if you get to know him.

And Roger Simon points out:
3. John Kerry gave a very gracious concession speech Wednesday and he even choked up at one point. When he did, a thought struck me, however: Now he shows some human emotion? In his concession speech? Maybe he should have shown a little human emotion over the last year or so.

4. I have said it before and will say it again: Voters almost always choose the more likeable (or more likeable seeming) candidate for president. This election was no exception.

      The reason people like Dukakis and Kerry and Gore speak so badly is in large part because they won't say what they believe.  The reason they won't say it is because they think it will keep them from getting elected.  And they're right, it will.  But the voters figure out they're being lied to, the Republicans find quotes that make clear the record the Democratic candidate is running from, and the whole effort goes to Hell.

      Kerry was the Democratic nominee because he was thought to be electable while still being 'left' enough for the activists who dominate the primaries and caucuses.  He didn't fool anyone, and nobody else like him will.

      So bring back the machine bosses and the smoke filled rooms.  That way, you'd have a chance of stopping people who can't win from getting on the ticket.

      We can sum these suggestions up as: find out what the majority think about the issues, then find some candidates who think the same way.

      Fortunately for us Republicans, it will be at least another four years before this sinks in.

      Update: If you're a Democrat, here's good advice: just do the exact opposite of Michael Kinsley.  From his lame attempts at humor, to his "I'm more tolerant and less arrogant than you, you moron" attitude, to his dishonest claim that people like him are open to persuasion, you will find everything wrong with the Democrats in a small space.

      As a Republican, I hope "Kinsleyism" continues to be the dominant force in the Democratic Party.



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