June 12, 2006


Always the Party of What-Went-Wrong (Dan Balz, June 11, 2006, Washington Post)

Democrats are experienced at assembling learned conferences to debate their future (while spending most of their time looking longingly at their past). They are experts at commissioning papers analyzing their weaknesses. ("Why we can't win with______." Fill in the blank with "white men," "married women," "rural voters," "people of faith," "more Latinos," "the middle class," or whatever group is considered the party's latest demographic debacle.)

Democrats also have a minute understanding of the fault lines in their own coalition (hawks vs. doves; free traders vs. globalization skeptics; establishment vs. netroots) and the competing arguments for winning (base vs. swing; maximize strengths vs. neutralize weaknesses). They even know whom to blame (the last candidate for president; all consultants; the nasty and dishonorable Republicans; voters who ignore their self interest; Howard Dean; Rahm Emanuel).

In 1985, shortly after Ronald Reagan's reelection landslide, House Democrats retreated to the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia to lick their wounds. Richard A. Gephardt, then the leader of the House Democratic caucus, told reporters that weekend, "We're not soul-searching and we're not in the wilderness and we're not without ideas." Ten years later, when he had to hand over the gavel to newly sworn-in Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), none of the above was true.

At that meeting, Democrats heard from adviser-to-multiple-presidents David Gergen and motivational psychologist Ira Weinstein. Weinstein told the Democrats they had to learn from Reagan's success the importance of developing a product and packaging it. "Reagan was sold as a unified product brilliantly," he told them.

Twenty years later, even before losing to President Bush in 2004, Democrats were turning to Berkeley scholar and linguist George Lakoff for similar packaging advice; he offered them such concepts as "frames," "framing" and "branding" in their wars with the Republicans. "If you're a Democrat, you want to really change the frame," Lakoff told the liberal Web site AlterNet.org. "The problem is that there is no existing frame out there. You have to create it."

Not all such advice is welcome or accepted. Weinstein's appearance led to hoots of derision (privately, of course) from many House Democrats at the Greenbrier retreat. Lakoff has detractors, too, who see his prescriptions as peripheral to more fundamental problems that affect the attitudes of ordinary Americans toward the Democratic Party.

Bill Clinton understood the basic lesson of Reaganism, as hiring David Gergen amply demonstrated: to be successful Democrats need to at least appear to be Republicans.

Democrats to roll out action plan: Program on domestic issues part of strategy to retake House (Marc Sandalow, June 12, 2006, SF Chronicle)

Democrats will introduce a domestic agenda for the 2006 campaign this week, confident that their opportunity to pick up seats is the best in a generation, yet divided over how much an agenda will matter.

The Democratic program will consist of bread-and-butter priorities: increasing the minimum wage, cutting costs of prescription drugs, reducing interest rates on student loans, rolling back subsidies for oil companies, and pay-as-you-go budgeting, according to party officials.

Party strategists hope the timing will contrast favorably with the Republicans' recent push on social legislation such as constitutional bans on gay marriage and flag burning.

Classic--the Democrats oppose those positions shared by 60%+ of the American people but then pimp for marginal items that discrete parts of their coalition of interest groups want and then wonder why they don't win national elections.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 12, 2006 6:17 AM

Cutting subsidies for oil companies (assuming they exist) sounds like a 60+ plank right now.

Posted by: Bruno at June 12, 2006 10:11 AM

Raising gas prices gets 60%?

Posted by: oj at June 12, 2006 10:18 AM

"voters who ignore their self interest"

Dem motto: "We must stamp out altruism!"

Posted by: Bob Hawkins at June 12, 2006 12:22 PM

"Dem motto: 'We must stamp out altruism!'"

The Objectivists would love the slogan, but it would still be a rather tough sell...

Posted by: Ed Driscoll at June 12, 2006 1:08 PM

The "voters who ignore their self interest" meme is from Thomas Franks (most recently, at least.) Bertolt Brecht could not be reached for comment.

Posted by: joe shropshire at June 12, 2006 3:03 PM


Posted by: joe shropshire at June 12, 2006 3:12 PM