for an era of good governance

What I'd like to do with this diary is suggest a theme for Democrats, liberals, progressives and all reform-minded Americans this fall. In order to introduce this theme, I'd like to offer one insight into the state of American politics today.

We need to understand that the mid-term elections of 2006, the politics of the off-year of 2007 and the Presidential Year election cycle of 2008 are, in essence, rolled into one. What this compressed two-year time frame in American politics represents, in my view, is a battle for governance.

Simply put, the two political parties, whatever their ideological differences, are locked in a battle to determine who can claim and maintain the mantle of "good governance."

In my view, the party that succeeds at defining itself as embodying a reform agenda...the party that persuades the American public that they represent "clean and well-run government" will win this battle and emerge to control majorities in the Federal Government and State Houses regardless of ideology.

In essence, we are moving into an era that is beyond ideology in American politics.

This means one thing:

The party that wins and maintains control of government in the next two election cycles will be the one that persuades the American public that it can be trusted with governing. In order to successfully persuade the public of this, of course, one must understand this reality and act on it.

Governmental reform and the promise of good governance, not ideology, is what will win elections in the electoral battlefield of 2006 and 2008. This has very definite implications for Democratic Party strategy this fall and moving forward. Let me explain:


It would be quite understandable for Democrats to assume that the mid-term elections of 2006 represent a "natural turning point" in the American political cycle and a rejection of GOP conservative governance.

The Republican Party has, more or less, controlled all three branches of the Federal Government since the 2000 Presidential election. GOP dominance of State politics, including the success of GOP candidates in the American South, West and parts of the Midwest seems to have reached a high water mark. State Congressional redistricting intended to lock in a solid GOP majority in the House of Representatives has been taken about as far as it can go.  The same can be said for GOP gains in the United States Senate. According to this view, in American politics what goes up, must come down: hence Democrats can expect to benefit in 2006 and 2008 from a high-tide in Republican Party dominance of our political system.

That assumption, however, carries with it a view point that is dangerously off the mark and misplaced. In my view, it represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the American electorate and the public mood.

Let me put it in crude, but immediately understandable terms.  Roughly speaking, the Republican Congressional landslide of 1994 seemed to represent a complete and total rejection of Democratic "liberal-based" governance. In 1994, the GOP had 'a perfect storm' of failed executive-branch policies, congressional corruption and scandals, and a failure on the part of Congress to enact legislation on a core issue of the day, Health Care; in the public's mind, we had "a corrupt, ineffective" Congress.

It doesn't take a political genius to see that 2006 represents the possibility of a similar turning point. In the GOP Congress of 2006, we have all three of the conditions that led to the Democrats overwhelming defeat in 1994: executive branch failures, corruption and scandals, and a failure to successfully pass legislation on the self-defined central issue of the day, this time, Social Security. If the Democrats do make significant gains this fall, or even win back one or both houses of Congress, one could assume that a rejection of the GOP majority in 2006 would imply a similar rejection of "conservative-based" governance.

That assumption, however, would be wrong.

In fact, it would be enormously foolish to make the same false assumption that the GOP made about the public's rejection of the "liberal agenda" in 1994 about the "conservative agenda" in 2006. A rejection of one party's misrule does not imply an endorsement of the ideology of the other. Further, legislative defeat does not imply a rejection of the defeated party's ideology so much as it implies a rejection of poor governance.

Let me make a political observation that should be immediately obvious to anyone paying attention to both the election cycle of 2006 and 2008: the second Democrats make gains in the 2006 elections...and we will...a wave of GOP contenders for the 2008 presidential nomination will take up the mantle of "good governance" and "reform" from within the Republican Party and make hay with it.

In fact, 2008 GOP Presidential contenders will be ideally-positioned to:

  • run as "reform/good government" candidates

  • run against "failed overly-conservative" GOP policies

  • run against the threat of the dominance of "liberal-based" policies from a potential or actual Democratic majority in Congress

Whether it's Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney or Lamar Alexander, it will be the natural political position for a GOP 2008 candidate to run a "reform-minded,""post-ideological" campaign for president starting the day after the 2006 mid-terms close.

What does this mean for Democrats?

First, Democrats running for office against GOP incumbents in 2006 need to make this election about good governance and reform.

It is enormously tempting to make this election explicitly about a liberal critique of failed conservative policies. That would, however, repeat the exact same mistake the Republicans made following their victory in 1994.

In 1994, the GOP promised a Contract with America that they never delivered. (Why they chose not to do so is a mystery; it represents a colossal political blunder.) The GOP failed to deliver on reform and good governance because they falsely assumed that the public voted the Democrats out of their Congressional majority because Democrats were "liberal." Not true.

In 1994 the American public remained, as they have for the entire post-Viet Nam era, torn between the promise of aspects of the "liberal agenda" and the perceived values and  traditions of the "conservative mindset." 

In fact, what the American public hungers for from its legislators and politicians to this day is a "post-ideological" stance that creates the framework for an era of good governance. That "dream" is the exact same motivation that led partisans on the GOP side to support John McCain in 2000 and supporters to rise up behind Howard Dean on the Democratic side in 2004. Reform and good governance are the only burning insurgent causes of the day that can "break out" of the ideological ghetto of the right or the left. It would be wise to pay attention to that fact.

In this light, the party that claims the mantle of reform, the party that takes clean and open government seriously and delivers on that promise is the party that will, de facto, advance its agenda and ultimately emerge with a legislative majority. That victory will not be ideological. As we have seen in both the Clinton era and the Bush Presidency, where either party has advanced its most clearly ideological legislation, that legislation has crashed in defeat.

The task at hand, then, for every Democrat running in 2006 is to frame this election as about good governance and reform and back that frame up with action.

There is not a single issue where opposition to GOP policies cannot be framed in exactly that manner. From the war in Iraq, to GOP fiscal mismanagement, to developing an effective and scientifically-forward policy on stem-cell research: the question Americans are asking of their potential legislators is NOT "What is your ideology?" but, instead, "How will you show leadership?"

Americans hunger for legislative solutions. The public hungers for a "new kind of leadership" and understands that ideological deadlock has stymied progress. Large swaths of the American public mistrust, and rightly so, the "ideological motivations" of either side.

The challenge for Democrats in the election of 2006 is to preempt the inevitable GOP strategy for 2007/2008 by making this election a referendum on leadership, on reform and on good governance. In effect, Democrats have to "give up" some easy hits on conservative policies and agendas in order to take the ball and run with it on reform. We need to embody good government in word and deed.

Our strategy MUST allow us to run with a consistent theme in both the 2006 and 2008 cycles. If you take nothing from this essay, please take this warning: we Democrats will either define the reform playing field in 2006 or it will be defined for us in 2007.

Now, what does this mean for the Democratic critique of conservative GOP policy and, specifically, our netroots efforts as progressives to advance our cause?

I have written extensively about the failed conservative policies of the GOP. As hard as it is for me to say this, I think it is critical that Democrats understand that our opposition to the ideology of the GOP is nowhere near as persuasive to the American public at large as our criticisms of their failures in governance.

In fact, the sooner Democrats understand that what the American public wants is a "post-ideological" political era of "good governance"...the more effective we will be in advancing those aspects of our agenda that do have broad support. In effect, the best hope for truly and lastingly advancing a progressive agenda is to convincingly marry that agenda to the cause of clean, well-managed government and reform.  (Nothing hurt Bill Clinton and Al Gore more than their vulnerability to criticism on this front.)

We Democrats, in particular those of us in heavily Democratic regions and districts, must understand this reality to its core. We will not advance our progressive agenda one foot if we do not take the lead in advancing clean government, effective management and reform. In fact, the perception that our cities and heavily-Democratic districts are poorly-run and ineffective is a weak link in advancing every aspect of the Democratic ideological agenda. It hurts us in every single region of the country. And, yes, as an urban Democrat and lifelong resident of one or another of our nation's big cities, I can say that this lack of emphasis on good governance does not just hurt us politically; the sad fact is that whether it's in our schools, our retirement homes or our hurts our people. And that reality is infinitely worse.

I take up this argument today not to "bury the progressive agenda." Not in the least.  In fact, I am convinced that when Democrats persuasively back up a rhetoric of good governance with real action and meaningful "post-ideological" reform that the American public will decisively swing to support those aspects of our agenda that they have always most all of it.

In a sense, I am advocating a stance similar to that old TV commercial for a major investment firm. "We Democrats need to make political gains the old-fashioned way; we need to EARN THEM."

We stand, in October of 2006, on the threshold of significant and lasting gains in a nation-wide election for the first time in a generation. It is up to us to define this moment going forward. I urge Democratic activists and candidates to seize this insight about reform, good governance and ideology and apply it nation-wide.

The outcome of this two-year period will define our nation's history in so many ways. The mantle of reform and good governance is ours to seize. To do so, we must understand this moment in history and, unlike the GOP in 1994, we will have to back our words up with action. That is our task and our challenge.

Tags: 2006 elections, 2008 elections (all tags)



Re: for an era of good governance

k/o -- I think you are on to something important here. A lot of Dem pols I have worked for have not been models of efficacy once in office. As a matter of fact, I've sometimes found myself thinking that we could have done better.

In part we are dealing here with the reality that the characteristics that make a person a strong candidate are not the same ones that make for success in office. Being a candidate takes hard work, willingness and ability to charm all-comers, and a nearly meglomanical conviction that one deserves the office sought. Serving in a legislature requires the ability to understand and shape policy options, work with colleagues, and assemble majorities out of egotistical co-workers. Serving in an executive position requires real management skills. The skill all these roles require is fundraising.

It is extremely rare to find strong candidate qualities in someone with good governance skills. In both parties, the candidate types currently trump the governance types. This is a genuine problem for our democracy. It arose less when politics was the domain of elites -- some of these old boys could afford to be less good candidates and they were raised to lead (however badly.)

So I'm all for good governance -- but I do wonder how we attract persons who can practice it. We, the people, need to reward the needed skills more than we have.

by janinsanfran 2006-10-01 07:04PM | 0 recs
Re: for an era of good governance

With all due respect, k/o, I think this misses the boat.

Not that I'm against good governance. And not that it isn't important for liberals, above all others, to evoke a commitment to making government work better, be more representative and as efficient as possible.

But "good governance" as a central message, by itself, is a proven political loser. Ask Mike Dukakis ("it's not about ideology, it's about competence"). Ask Francine Busby how well her "culture of corruption" issue worked.

It's aiming for the head when we need to be aiming for the gut -- just like the Republicans do. Everyone's for good governance, but what are you going to do with it once you get it? What are your values? What do you believe in? It's got to go beyond just making the trains run on time.

Sure, let's seize the mantle of reform. But that doesn't obviate the need to spell out what we are going to do with it when we get it.

by tgeraghty 2006-10-01 08:51PM | 0 recs
let me put it a different way

What I'm saying is that people, on some level, don't give a shit about WHAT your ideology is, so long as you provide the kind of leadership they can "live with."

That explains George Bush and it explains GOP victories in the Senate in 2004.  It also explains why John McCain is still a folk hero, no matter what he does or says and why John Kerry isn't. Folks have been more comfortable, up to this point, with GOP leadership. That's just a hard fact.

I'm a progressive dude. No one will mistake me for a conservative.  Hell, I can't even hide my opinions all that well. But I do make a point of talking to a lot of people who disagree with me.

I can get most folks to agree with our Democratic agenda (ie. our ideology), that's the EASY part, but what I can't get them to do all that readily is to get them to support, or, in other words, change their perceptions, of Democrats.  That's the hard part...changing the perception of what the American public thinks of us.

I think your reference to Dukakis and "failed politics" is an easy trap to fall into here.  Too easy.  What is the difference between what I'm advancing here, ie. what you are comparing to Dukakis, and the Howard Dean campaign?  Not that much.  (However, I would still argue with the fact that Dean made opposition to the war too much of a smug moral conclusion and not a principled stand about a failed policy and failed leadership.) Hell, for a Wellstone progressive like me to come this far towards the Dean "post-ideology" position is a big deal!

Here's my bottom line: Democrats have to understand that how we communicate and how we are perceived are HUGE LIABILITIES.  I mean, let's get real, Karl Rove isn't that smart; we Democrats have HUGE problems with public perception that WE got ourselves into over decades.

It is clear as day to me that the 2008 GOP candidates will reinvent their party the second the 2006 election is over with and that they will have an easier time doing so than the Democrats. We need to be ready for that.

Across the blogs I see absolutely no recognition of this.  On Dailykos there was a hugely successful diary yesterday written from the point of view that it's okay to make fun of how rank and file Republicans talk and dress.  Um, it isn't.  And that kind of attitude is EXACTLY why we are so fucked when it comes to the problem of party perception with everyday Americans.

Folks believe the WORST about us. Folks have a very hard time believing that the Democrats, personally, aren't going to steal their life savings and bankrupt the country and make fun of their dress and accents while doing so, even though that's what they are getting from the GOP today...minus the personal opprobrium.

Think of it this way, I'm not saying make the central message of the Democratic party that we are competent, I'm saying make the central message that we Democrats "GET IT"...that we understand that Americans think that we are a party of ideological, corrupt, party-loyal liberals who are beholden to special interets and "constituency groups" and don't share the desire of the American public for a "post-ideological" era of good governance where legislators do what's right and put party second.

That's, however, what people think of us.  Our job is to effectively communicate that we GET THAT fact and that we are committed to running government in the way that the American people want to see it run.

If we can do that, THEY TRULY DON'T CARE ALL THAT MUCH exactly how liberal we are or aren't.

Folks just don't want to turn their government over to a bunch of ideological blowhards, that's all.  And, quite frankly, they see us as just as corrupt and partisan as the GOP. That's clear to me.

If you have a better way to COMMUNICATE that message and defeat that misperception to everyday Americans, do let me know.  I don't see much of it anywhere on the blogs.

by kid oakland 2006-10-01 09:47PM | 0 recs
Re: let me put it a different way

I'm saying make the central message that we Democrats "GET IT"...that we understand that Americans think that we are a party of ideological, corrupt, party-loyal liberals who are beholden to special interets and "constituency groups" and don't share the desire of the American public for a "post-ideological" era of good governance where legislators do what's right and put party second

Yeah, that sounds like a great message: "Hey America, we're losers!"

Geez, k/o , haven't you figured out by now that this kind of whiny navel-gazing is exactly what people hate about us in the first place? Fuck, that's what assholes like Evan Bayh and Barack Obama are saying every goddamn day!

I really can't believe I'm hearing this from you.

by tgeraghty 2006-10-01 10:26PM | 0 recs
Well for starters

I would not call Evan Bayh or Barack Obama "assholes" and I don't think either of them deserves that. It's ironic that in response to a post about the message we send with our rhetoric-as-usual that you call two of our Senators "assholes." What message does that send?

Second, you're seriously calling this piece "whiny, navel gazing"?  Is that what you take away from this essay? I just don't see that in this post in the least. I'm sorry.

I mean, the message isn't, "America, we're losers." That's a distortion and a misrepresentation. The message is "America, we get it. We're listening. We hear you." And that message is predicated on actually listening. We have to be committed to giving Americans the governance they deserve. We have to put the people first. Let's not make the same mistakes the GOP did following 1994 and 2000. It's not about us; it's about the voters.

One of the myths surfing the blogs is that the country will elect Democrats and support our programs if we just enunciate our values clearly enough. (ie. if we amp up the one-way communication.)

That's just simply not true, it doesn't cut it. And, frankly, that's been the character of most of our political campaigns whether run by consultant or not. One way communication simply reinforces some very powerful misperceptions folks have about us as a party. As Chris said, when folks hear us saying, "Here's the new winning strategy"...all they hear is: "Democrats don't believe in anything."

The entire point of my piece is that I anticipate that Democrats will have a great deal of success this election season.  I am arguing that we should make that success mean something that cements the position of our party with the American public: that makes a new day, that overcomes some stubborn misperceptions folks have about us...and they do.

To accomplish that, we have to break out of the "ideology" box, we have to break out of one-way communication, we have to actually listen to the public and take them where they are at.  That doesn't mean we renounce our ideology, far from it.

But it does mean that we have to convey a commitment a new kind of politics.

I stand by the point of my essay.  The GOP is poised to enunciate a politics of good governance and reform the day after the 2006 elections. The public will be very receptive to that theme.  We know, as Democrats, that our policies best meet the needs of the American public.  We know that we are the reform party.

Our job is to communicate that.  That is what politics is about: communication.

How we are understood is MORE important than what we say.  

That's my main point here.  We Democrats need to understand that, to our bones.

by kid oakland 2006-10-02 12:08AM | 0 recs
Re: Well for starters

They are assholes when they try to score cheap political points by going on about how Democrats have to "get values" or "get tough on defense" or whatever, without actually spelling out how they intend to address the problem.

I'm all for two-way communication, participatory democracy and good governance too. I think it should be part of our message and I've said so in the past.

At the risk of becoming repetitive, I just think the approach outlined here is too accepting of right-wing stereotypes. If people really think we are as bad as all that, in large part it's because we haven't been pushing back hard enough against the conservative propoganda.

I've been listening to politicians give this "we hear you" stuff since Walter Mondale in '84, and it just makes us look weak.

by tgeraghty 2006-10-02 07:13AM | 0 recs
Re: Well for starters

Mondale's Acceptance Speech, 1984

. . . So tonight, I want to say something to those of you across our country who voted for Mr. Reagan - Republicans, Independents, and yes, some Democrats: I heard you. And our party heard you.

After we lost we didn't tell the American people that they were wrong. Instead, we began asking you what our mistakes had been. . . .

So, tonight we come to you with a new realism: Ready for the future, and recapturing the best in our tradition. . . .

Look at our platform. There are no defense cuts that weaken our security; no business taxes that weaken our economy; no laundry lists that raid our Treasury. . . .

Worked pretty well for him, didn't it?

by tgeraghty 2006-10-02 07:46AM | 0 recs
celebrating dismissing Democrats

as assholes and characterizing Mondale and Dukakis as "losers" seems to work fine for you.  You seem to have some vested interest in misreading my points and slamming me.  That's too bad, because, as you note, there is real common ground here if we could get to it.

Neither of those attitudes, however, are helpful or reflective of my piece.  Your attitude seems to be, "Hey, I'll misread k/o and tee off on him by interpreting his approach as being straight out of the Mondale and Dukakis playbook."  

If you ask me, you're the one accepting the implicit message that Democrats are weak. (Attacking Bayh and Obama, trotting out Mondale and Dukakis as bogeymen). I'm not.

Take a careful look at what I'm saying.  I'm saying that voters are more sympathetic to our IDEAS than to US. (We should have some common ground on that point.) I'm saying that voters have misperceptions about us that have been caused, not by GOP spin alone, but by our own failures at communication, our own failures to understand how we've been misunderstood, and, quite frankly, the repeated insistence by liberals and progressives that "eating our own" the way you do above is acceptable.

What message does that send to the public?  Could it be that watching Democrats attack Mondale, Dukakis and now Bayh and Obama left a distinct impression with the public?  

No amount of Lakoffian "framing" will fix this situation. And as far as I can see, that's all you're really offering here. How is a "insert strong Democratic message" approach fundamentally different than "consultant-fed message politics?"  All you're talking about is a change in the words we use. While I agree that would be an improvement over the last ten years and Clintonian triangulation, it will not be sufficient, imo, in the 2007 political environment where the two political parties are locked in a battle to "close the deal" with the American public in a battle for governance.

I'm talking about transforming the playing field; I'm talking about winning that battle.  And I'm saying that if we don't seize that playing field, it will be done to us. The longer we ignore that reality and play into the perception that our party: a) is not committed to governmental reform and b) indulges liberal attitudes at the expense of "everyday Americans"...the more perilous the 2007/8 political environment will be.  My message is not all that different from Howard Dean's original approach...I just think it needs to be tailored to lessons learned about how Americans hear us.  I bet Howard would agree that he learned some lessons on that in 2003 and 2004.

Our candidates can use all the key words you outline, but that is not how they will be heard...whether that's fair or not.  Our job is  to make whatever upcoming victories we win this fall mean something simple and clear to the American public.  I think claiming a victory over "conservative ideology" is premature.  Forging the promise of a Democratically-led era of "good governance" is better.  It's a win-win and an opportunity that comes along rarely in American politics: the chance to define a theme for a "freshman" class in Congress.    

I'm talking about a transformative approach to Democratic politics...about changing our words and our deeds. What I'm saying has NOTHING to do with your attempt to compare my analysis to Mondale and Dukakis...whose campaigns, btw, were running against the tide of American politics...not in the  "open playing field" we face in the 2006-08 environment.

Think this diary wins us any friends or helps defy misperceptions and stereotypes about liberal Democrats?

That's a large part of the current "netroots attitude."  And, quite frankly, it sucks.  That's what we're running into the 2006 elections with: every stereotypical attitude one could put on liberals with a cherry on the top.

How does your viewpoint combat that?  How does it play into that weakness?

I think those are relevant questions.  I also think there is broad common ground for reform-minded Democrats, and I include both of us here, to work together on this project.

Personally, I don't think you understand what I'm getting at.  Maybe that's because I've expressed it poorly...or maybe it's because I'm using terminology that triggers too many "old mindsets"...I don't know.

I do know that celebrating calling our Senators "assholes" is a bad sign.  It sends a clear message.  I reject it.

Let's move on from that.  I'm not advancing the rhetoric of Mondale or Dukakis or Clinton or Kerry .

I am interested in marrying the approach of Paul Wellstone and Howard Dean...and backing it up with action.  We could do much worse.

by kid oakland 2006-10-02 11:29AM | 0 recs
Re: celebrating dismissing Democrats

Ok, now you're putting words in my mouth. I only said that the approach taken by the Mondale '84 and Dukakis '88 campaign were not effective, and contributed significantly to their electoral losses (well, for Mondale the size of the loss. I still think '88 was a winnable election for Dukakis with the right approach).

And I don't have any problem criticizing our own people like Bayh or Obama when they do things that I think are counterproductive for liberal politics. You seem to be obsessed with my use of the word "asshole," but I think it's deserved with respect to some of their recent statements.

There's a post up at TPM Cafe today that I think suggests a better way to address the governance issue in a way that really helps us long-term, by explicitly linking bad governance to conservative ideology, not by being non- or anti-ideological.

Anti-ideology itself seems to be an ideology that has infected too many Democratic politicans and elite thinkers. I think most people appreciate politicians who they see as being grounded in a  clear set of values or a consistent world-view, rather than just being opportunistic.

by tgeraghty 2006-10-03 11:26AM | 0 recs
Re: let me put it a different way

A better way to communicate . . .

I'd start with a liberal version of this:

Language: A Key Mechanism of Control

. . . one of the key points in the GOPAC tapes is that "language matters. . . . as a key mechanism of control used by a majority party . . .

. . . you could have a significant impact on your campaign and the way you communicate . . . That is why we have created this list of words and phrases. . . . to use in writing literature and mail, in preparing speeches, and in producing electronic media.

The words and phrases are powerful. Read them. Memorize as many as possible. And remember that like any tool, these words will not help if they are not used.

. . . we have attempted to keep it small enough to be readily useful yet large enough to be broadly functional. The list is divided into two sections: Optimistic Positive Governing words and phrases to help describe your vision for the future of your community (your message) and Contrasting words to help you clearly define the policies and record of your opponent and the Democratic party.

Optimistic Positive Governing Words

active(ly), activist, building, candid(ly), care(ing), challenge . . .

Contrasting Words

abuse of power, anti- (issue): flag, family, child, jobs, betray, bizarre, bosses . . .

Basically, the message is "we're great and they suck." Which, in our case, has the significant benefit of also being true.

Not, "We know we suck but we've changed now. No, really we have!" What could be more pathetic than that?

How about:


hope, unity, honest, trustworthy, honorable, principled, courageous, patriotic, faithful, dedicated, committed, dependable, openness, tolerant, reasonable, wisdom, commonsense, long-term, farsighted, forward, progressive, advance, create, creative, build up, preserve, protect, defend, the people, the middle class, the poor, working people, prudent, saving, investment, security, community, compassion, capable, equality, fairness, freedom, education, popular, internationalism, common good, middle class, fair trade, smart growth, commonsense internationalism, rule of law, open, democratic government


fear. division, deceitful, corrupt, immoral, opportunistic, cowardly, treacherous, disloyal, unreliable, secrecy, intolerant, closed-minded, arbitrary, irresponsibility, recklessness, out of control, short-term, shortsighted, backward, regressive, decline, destroy, destructive, tear down, decay, abuse, predatory, harass the privileged, the comfortable,the well-off, wasteful, squandering, speculation, insecurity, selfishness, callousness, hard-heartedness, incompetent, inequality, unfairness, injustice
domination, tyranny, indoctrination, elitist, imperialism, selfish special interests, affluent elites, unconstrained corporate power, unchecked environmental destruction, reckless imperialism, abuse of power, unaccountable, corrupt, secret, arbitrary authority

The narratives almost suggest themselves. Use the words, combine them into broader themes that contrast our approach to politics, the economy, and society with theirs. Combine the themes into a narrative or series of narratives that is basically "we're great, they suck." Lather, rinse, repeat. Over and over again.

Screw this "we finally understand what losers we are" garbage. People don't want that. They want strength, self-confidence, and people who are secure about who they are and their values. That's what Republicans project, and we don't.

I remember somebody asking Cary Grant about how he became the epitome of elegant self-confidence. His answer: "I started acting like the person I wanted to become, and eventually I became that person."

So, what kind of person do you want to become? What kind of party do we want to become? Then start acting like it.

by tgeraghty 2006-10-01 10:49PM | 0 recs
Very interesting comment

I'd only add that it seems that you are taking my statements about misperceptions many Americans have about the Democrats as my own critique.

That's just not true and mischaracterizes my entire argument.

I don't think I agree with the persuasiveness of everything that you've expressed above.  But I think there's a lot more room for common ground here than the previous comment.

I agree that we need a politics of contrast. I would include that contrast to include a commitment to good governance and two-way communication.

by kid oakland 2006-10-02 12:15AM | 0 recs
Re: Very interesting comment

I don't think it is your argument. I do think, however, that making this argument reinforces conservative stereotypes about us. That's my beef with this approach.

by tgeraghty 2006-10-02 07:04AM | 0 recs
we have to talk about it

and address it.

Maybe that's a point we can agree on.  What you are critiqueing in current and previous Democratic leadership is an attempt to "paste over" this misperception. In effect you are saying that Mondale, Dukakis, Obama are conceding the store right out of the gate.

Pretty clearly, you'd rather have a "fighting Democrat" approach.

I'm all for that "fighting" and "proud" Democrat approach.  I also think, however, that ingoring or minimizing deep-seated public misperceptions about our party is a grave mistake...and one we can ill-afford.

We won't change this "perception gap" with words alone.  We have to take a transformative approach to our party that conveys both our commitment to reforming the Democratic party and our commitment to a new way of doing politics that works for the American people. We have a huge opportunity to do this in 2006-2008.  

This approach has to include room for Democrats of all ideologies. We send a powerful message if we can do that: publicly and visibly work together...side by side.

Like I said, if we can do that we will find that Americans are not as "picky" about ideology as they've bene made out to be.

Folks want a winning team. We have to give them one. To do that we have to work together.  I'm saying that I'm more and more game to do so.

by kid oakland 2006-10-02 11:41AM | 0 recs


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