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Memo to Democrats

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By JimiH3ndrix
November 7, 2002

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What an election, huh! Obviously, Democrats have some serious soul-searching to do. They need to consider why American voters largely dismissed them last night as irrelevant. Below are 10 initial thoughts--some strictly political, others more substantial--for Democrats to consider during the next two years... and beyond It is of necessity preliminary, and inspired by Goofyhoofy's contribution earlier today. I would enjoy any feedback.
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10. Graciously congratulate your Republican opponents who handed your hats to you last night. Americans hate a sore-loser.

9. Come to grips with the fact that Bill Clinton is not your party's leader or elder statesman: he is a discredited former President, closer to Richard Nixon than Ronald Reagan. The smaller the roll Clinton plays in the future, the better it is politically for the Democratic party. To the extent this election was a personal referendum, I view it as a referendum against Bill Clinton. You can stick a fork in his era, because it's done.

8. In that vein, immediately fire with extreme prejudice Terry McAuliffe, Clinton's hand-picked choice to run the DNC. You should have unloaded this cretinous bozo when the $20 million WorldCom thing came out, and he is past-due for departure.

7. Challenge Daschle and Gephardt for their leadership positions. I think this is very important. Both these guys have spent the last year trying to triangulate and tailor their message--and by extension, the Democratic message--for a possible 2004 Presidential run. Their personal aspirations have ill-served an opposition party. In the same way that Gingrich was challenged within his own ranks after 1998, a few young and old congressional Democrats should immediately step forward and say, "These guys have got to go." Significantly, even if such challenges prove unsuccessful and both Daschle and Gephardt retain their minority leadership positions, the public bloody-nosed delivered would help temper the selfish politics both have pursued. It would also allow for a real combat of ideas within the party... which has been sorely lacking since 2000.

6. STAND FOR SOMETHING! The most irritating part of this past year--beside the Wellstone rally--has been the timidity that Democrats of all stripes have shown. Hedge-hedge-hedge: they've hedged everything... at a time when some heady issues are underway (e.g., fiscal policy, the war, threats to civil liberties, social safety nets). It began with the capitulative cave-in on President Bush's tax proposal. Democrats got badly rolled on this, in part because they appear to have lost the courage of their convictions. Carnahan voted for it and so did Cleland: sure didn't secure their re-elections. The beauty of Wellstone, and the reason I believe he would have won reelection, is that whether or not he was "right" or "wrong" on an issue, you understood that he wrestled with issues and came to his own conclusions, which he could defend convincingly with conviction. That earned the respect not only of his opponents, but also independents. When was the last time you heard Gephardt or Daschle speak their hearts? Democrats should not come away from yesterday thinking that more money alone would have secured the election. Instead, they must stand for something, even at the risk of alienating some and being wrong. Wellstone had the courage to be wrong on issues. Americans will forgive mistakes, but not cowardice.

5. Suggest solutions more than simply identify problems. The effort to pin the current economic turbulence on Bush was an absurd case in point... especially when a number of congressional Democrats supported his fiscal priorities (as opposed to Clinton's first budget which passed without a single vote from a Senate Republican). If you caught McAuliffe on the Talking Head show this past weekend, you would have heard him invoke the term "squander" a dozen times with regard to Bush and the vanishing budget surpluses. But he really didn't offer any solutions to the "problem" of deficits. Democrats need to think harder about solutions to real-world problems.

4. Work closely with Democratic governors to seek solutions. Why anyone would run for Governor anywhere at this point is totally beyond me. Unless we get a robust economic turnaround quickly--and I for one do not believe we will--state finances are going to continue to be a god-forsaken mess. Republicans in Congress may be tempted, both by politics and ideological temperament, to hang the states financially out to dry. Congressional democrats should work closely with newly elected Democratic governors to identify problems within states that need urgent attention, suggest solutions, and to publicize those issues at every chance from their position of opposition in Washington. They should seek to bring to the national political stage the problems that states are about to suffer.

3. Oppose Republican efforts to characterize the past two elections cycles as constituting a "mandate," especially with regard to judicial appointments. This is arguably the most costly loss to the party. The Republican-controlled Senate stymied Clinton's effort to appoint federal judges, and the Democrat-controlled Senate stymied Bush's effort. That log-jam was burst last night. In my mind, this is the most important long-term consequence of last night. Instinctively, Democrats will focus on the anti-abortion credentials of judicial candidates. They aren't going to win that battle, which has enjoyed diminishing salience during the past two decades, and I would encourage them to downplay it in favor of issues of civil liberties, which Attorney General John "Just Trust Us" Ashcroft appears prepared to trample under foot. This should be the focus of their opposition at judicial hearings: it has the added benefit of bloodying the nose and exposing the treachery of a possible Vice Presidential replacement for Dick Cheney. And at various opportunities when the Republicans inevitably overreach, Democrats must remind everyone that the Republicans enjoy no mandate: politically, this remains a closely divided country. And Americans love their freedoms. Support individual freedoms, not stale "choice."

2. With regard to foreign policy, insist that the world will be a better place tomorrow. If you find yourself in a Border's bookstore someday, go read the chapter on Wilson and American foreign policy in Kissinger's tome, Diplomacy. He makes the argument--persuasively, in my opinion--that Americans by temperament and history will not support pure power politics on the global stage. While we insist on a strong defense, Kissinger argues that Americans dilute realpolitik with a strong dose of principled idealism. In this regard, the Cold War was about containment, deterrence and mutually assured destruction; but it was equally about assuring that the ideological system of economic and political freedom triumphed over its alternative. In this regard, the Bush administration has cornered the market on realpolitik, but they have not put forward a vision of how America will improve the world. Put differently, Ronald Reagan invoked the image of America as "the shining city on the hill"; Bush has offered nothing equivalent. This affords an opening to Democrats to stress that both the world, and our national security, are served by strongly promoting our political principles. For example, insist on political reform in the Middle East right now: insist on the expansion of democratic processes and institutions from Bahrain (which just held elections this past weekend) to the rest of the Arab world. Invoke the idealism of our Founders, who held "these truths to be self-evident." Democrats cannot politically beat Republicans on winning the war; but they might be able to do so on winning the peace.

1. Purchase flashlights and lots of batteries: you Democrats may find yourselves wandering in the woods for a while, especially if you continue to offer more of the same.

An independently registered friend of divided government,

Jimi


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