my pissant two cents

Friday, December 03, 2004

paging dr. dean....

democratic governors met in washington, d.c., over the past two days to seize the reins of the democratic party. it seems that the people who are left holding the bag after bush's budget cuts trickle down to state and local governments are trying to get back into the game. unfortunately, they seem to be going about it the wrong way.

according to all the published reports i've seen, they're trying to capture the middle ground, taking back middle-of-the-road voters that have gone republican for most of the past 40 years. this may seem reasonable, and even smart, considering they're trying to take the party away from the virtually republican, pro-business democratic leadership council that has run the party into the ground over the last several years.

michigan governor jennifer granholm says they want a centrist, preferably from a battleground or red state. someone, she says, who can reach out to frustrated republicans and moderates by "speaking the language of values."

however, in light of the apparent failure to take back the white house in november, this does not seem like such a bright idea. look at the arc of the campaign. former vermont governor howard dean was the early front-runner, primarily because he stood four-square opposed to the bush administration's war in iraq and its economic policies at home. the democratic party bosses quickly began their efforts to marginalize him, and were effective beyond their dreams. then the kerry steamroller started up and began to pick up steam, but stalled when kerry began to water down his message in an appeal to centrist voters. he also did not take the challenge when the swift boat liars made their ugly presence known.

it's important to recognize that kerry's popularity surged, to the extent you can say it did, when he was finally able to take the stage with bush at the debates and show his command of the facts and crush bush's asinine rhetoric. after the debates, kerry went back to trying to be everything to everyone, which the people who want to vote for something rightly saw as pandering. in the final days of the campaign, kerry tried to regain the offensive, but it was too little, too late.

bear in mind, also, that the people guiding kerry's campaign at the time were from the old clinton camp. they made their bones by taking a moderate-left, pro-death penalty southern governor, who had tons of street cred, and making him palatable to moderates. this was not exactly a herculean task. but remember also that clinton won a plurality in '92 against bush 1 and perot, and in '96 against the perpetually cranky bob dole.

when the candidates paid attention to and tried to harness people power in 2004, they did well. when they went republican-lite, they lost ground. you don't need to call caltech to figure out this equation.

better than a mealy-mouthed robo-governor, they should get a firebrand, someone who can inspire. howard dean had that, until the d.n.c. cut him off at the knees, and he was a virtual unknown outside of new england. could dean win the presidency in 2008? probably not. he was effectively gutted by the "war whoop" hoopla, which was about the dumbest non-scandal of this campaign or any other.

but he can bring that grassroots authority-- and dare i say street cred?-- to the democratic national committee, and move it towards the democrats' traditional base: working families struggling to get by and quite likely to be in worse shape four years from now, progressive activists in the anti-war and pro-environment movements, and people who aren't comfortable with crypto-fascist theocrats. bush's reckless borrowing and spending make him highly vulnerable on the fiscal conservative front. dean's budget successes in vermont give him the gravitas to win hearts and minds on that score.

many democratic players, including rep. robert matsui (d-ca), say dean lacks the washington clout to lead the party. but recall that the last beltway insider to win the presidency was the first bush, and the one prior to him was richard nixon. but that again speaks to the democrats' lack of vision. why do they expect that good ideas can only come from the party machinery?

the fundamental flaw of the democrats in recent history has been their lack of ideas, their inability to be "about" something. the g.o.p. has laid claim to bellicosity abroad, and "family values" at home. in practical effect, republican policies have meant shoveling money at break-neck speed into the war machine, with two-earner homes, latchkey kids, and households riven by poverty and want, if not merely the mortal terror of them.

what the dems need to do is fight for real family values. you want stay-at-home moms (or dads)? build the economy and workers rights so that families can exist on a single income. you want nuclear families to remain nuclear? remove the economic stresses at the root of the vast majority of domestic strife. you want troubled, violent youth off the streets? make it so their parents aren't too busy working or too exhausted to properly parent.

family values are ultimately economic at their root. democratic values have always been economic. put the two together, for crying out loud. if the democrats can't do that, they are seriously sick at heart.

and a doctor may be just what they need.

side note: i hate to toot my own horn, but let the record reflect that i was on the barry bonds thing long before the story broke. i rule.


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