Friday, December 23, 2005

The Karl Rove Syndrome

It’s not about winning at any cost; it’s about winning with a philosophy that resonates with the American public. There seems to be a lot of Rove envy within the ranks of the Democratic Party that continues to foster the idea that if we only had a tactician like Rove, we could win elections too. While I too believe that political strategy is sorely lacking in Democratic campaigns, what we really are missing is a philosophical thrust, a core of beliefs at the center from which our political rhetoric can flow.

The Republicans have been catapulted into the highest echelons of power because they have been able to sell their brand of Americanism to the public, but the packaging is but a small part of the deal. There is a clear agenda that is driving them, control of the Middle East, privatization of as many government agencies as possible, tax cuts for the rich and unlimited power of corporations without all that pesky government oversight. This is what gets the conservative kids out into the streets to raise money for the Republican Party. This is what opens the floodgates of cash into the GOP coffers and this is what drives Young Republicans on college campuses into right wing think tanks after graduation. What do we offer young liberal thinkers who want to contribute to the cause? Usually nothing more than an Internet petition or an envelope in which to send money to the DCCC.

Markos Moulitsas at the Daily Kos is thankfully gaining some influence within the Democratic Party leadership and his daily tirades telling the Democrats to stop shrinking from a fight and take the GOP on in as direct a way as possible, is a port in the storm for most of us. If they are smart, they will listen, as it may be their last chance to move beyond their current sidelined status. But what Kos is offering is all flash and no substance. His tactics are right on, but there is a huge chunk missing. The policy behind the politics is what will win elections and more importantly what will keep Democrats in power if they are ever able to make it that far.

Where is the liberal economic think tank that has a counter proposal to the draconian policies touted by Grover Norquist’s “Americans For Tax Reform”? Surprisingly, the answer is a long list of organizations all working independently of one another, and not surprisingly are all under funded. The inherent problem with working for social justice is that there are not corporations lining up to bankroll a project that provides no direct benefit to them and in fact will most likely affect them adversely. Striving to give those without the money to buy a place at the table a chance to participate in the process may be a much more worthy cause, but it is one that doesn’t exactly bring in the cash. The fact that there are any non-profits working on developing liberal economic policy is amazing, but the fact that there is not one, sharing the limited resources, is just sad.

One of the best characteristics of the Democratic Party is the diversity of the people who belong to it. Paradoxically, one of the greatest weaknesses of the Democratic Party is its lack of unity. Get two liberals in a room and you will have two very well thought out plans of how the party should proceed. Get two hundred liberals and you get two hundred plans. See the problem? There are plenty of rich liberals, but they are not going to throw money to ten think tanks that will come up with ten competing economic proposals that will in turn be chosen by one of ten candidates. We need to consolidate our resources to come up with one, well thought out, cohesive plan for each of the problems facing our country. Let there be fewer jobs available in these think tanks and then let’s pay them the same wages they would get from Grover Norquist. We should show liberals that we understand the value of what they have to offer. There must be an honest and hard fought debate at the bottom, allowing for the best ideas to rise above the rest. But unless we want to continue to be a fragmented party, we must give these great ideas somewhere to go.

Our current Democratic leaders are floundering around, looking for a message, any message that will help them to take advantage of their current good fortune in Bush’s sagging poll numbers. But any message is not the answer. The best possible message crafted from the best possible policy goals is the only way to win the hearts and minds of the American people. Tell us what you’re going to do for us, then and only then, wrap it up in sparkly paper with a bow on top. We are tired of pretty packages with nothing inside. Liberals are not lacking for good ideas, what we lack is a structure that will harness and hone the ones that we have. Kos has the paper and the bow all ready. All we have to do is fill up the box.


Blogger ollie said...

Very nice post. I read it in the Smirking Chimp.

10:10 AM  
Anonymous Jonathan said...

You make a lot of very good points. The right wing clearly has positioned themselves well. I think it started with Barry Goldwater’s loss to Johnson in the 1964 presidential election. The Democrats had been ascendant for about 30 years at that time and when Goldwater lost the Republicans were very disheartened. But they didn’t hang their heads, throw up their hands, and give up. They figured out that it was all about branding. They knew that if they could convince enough people that the Republicans represented main stream American values better than the Democrats that they could win elections again. The fact that they didn’t then and still don’t today hardly matters.

After Goldwater lost a group of very rich people started the right wing think tanks. That was how it all began. And it was very important. But what really helps them is that they all always speak from the same talking points. And that is accomplished by meeting on a regular basis to decide what those talking points are. My understanding is that every week representatives from certain think tanks get together on Wednesday in a conference room at Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform offices in Washington. I understand that representatives from the media attend as well. And that is the real advantage that the conservatives have over the liberals.

Long term we need to become as successful utilizing the think tanks as they are. And that will take coordination. But that may take a while to accomplish. Near term I wouldn’t discard the idea of fighting dirty like they do. The Republicans look at this as a war and are prepared to do anything to win. No matter how unethical or amoral. Do we take the moral high ground and insist that everything we do is ethical? Even if it means we lose a couple more presidential elections and stay in the minority in both houses of Congress? Do we have that luxury while the right wing is fixing the election process, spying on its citizens, torturing people in secret prisons for years without even charging them with anything and denying them habeas corpus? I’m not convinced that we do. Nor am I certain that it is not already too late.

2:11 PM  
Blogger ollie said...

Jonathan, I understand your frustration. But look at where the Republicans are right now. yes, they have the executive branch and both houses, but they are losing the public's trust very quickly.

Remember that thinking in the short term often yields disaster in the long term.

2:50 PM  
Anonymous Jonathan said...


You bet I’m frustrated. And mad as hell to boot. I was just over at Smirking Chimp reading the posts to the article over there. It seems about evenly split with regards to the “fighting dirty” issue. In the posts that expressed an opinion that is - not all of them did.

If I had my druthers I would choose to fight the good fight. Win elections on merit and soundness of policy position. Even while I wrote my previous comment I was having misgivings about rejecting my doctrine of fair play – even when the other side isn’t.

You mention that the public is losing faith in the Republican party. How true. And there are many scandals still playing out and who knows how many left undiscovered. Will it be enough? The republicans will manufacture something in the lead up to November 2006 to distract the voters from what is truly important. Additionally, I am concerned that the electronic voting might really be fixed. If it is than we would really have to win big in order to eke out a small margin of victory. This last item is what makes me concerned that it might be too late.

5:05 PM  

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