Just Above Sunset
January 9, 2005 - What are the poor Democrats to do?

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Just Above Sunset columnist Bob Patterson started all this in his short comment last week - 


Recently, Just Above Sunset has considered the subject of what went wrong in November.  [Editor’s Note: See articles in the Archives above for Volume 2, Number 44, Sunday, November 7, 2004, The Election Issue and Volume 2, Number 45, Sunday, November 14, 2004, Current Events]


How could America believe what Bush was saying?


While the earnest Democrats are studying that question and pondering a precise and accurate reply... things are happening.


George W. Bush is sending Colin Powell and a delegation to Asia to drop off some relief aid.  Oh, yeah, the Florida Governor is an expert on relief efforts so he is going along too.


While the folks ponder the past, Prince Jeb is being sent on his first mission to build his "statesman" image for 2008, but the Democrats are so busy trying to figure out just how the playground rules of name calling work.  George W. said Kerry was a flip-flopper first.  "I said it first!"  Hence, to say Bush flip-flops too violates the rule, but the Democrats would like to continue trying to break down a brick wall using their heads as battering rams.


Meanwhile, Prince Jeb will be described as "looking presidential" by the spin lackeys in the press and Jeb will have begun the journey of a thousand miles with a big newsworthy first step.


The Democrats will be too busy discussing how the voters could have possibly elected the less skillful debater in November of 2004.  Didn't Kerry have the better military record?


Is Jeb's campaign trip (to Asia with Colin) being paid for by the taxpayers?  Wow!  Too bad Hillary wasn't invited along in a show of bipartisan cooperation.


Ask a magician about the concept of "misdirected attention" and how it usually plays a role in many magic tricks.  Then in 2009 when Jeb is being sworn in folks won't have to ask  "Did anyone notice just how Carl Rove was able to build Jeb's image as a 'statesman' even though he is just a Governor with less overseas standing that California's 'Governator.'"


Someone is yelling "Oncoming train!" and the folks who are trying to figure out just how Kerry dropped the ball, will reply "Yes, yes, it does look like rain."


Now, about the subject of just how George W. got folks to "buy it" with his Ali-shuffle with words and promises, I'll be back later with 5,000 words about the possible existential overtone to the Swift Boat Vets for Truth and the most likely way a pragmatist would ask the question.


To be continued….


-          Bob "Keep Your Eye on the Ball" P in crisp cool air of Southern California.


Then reader Douglas Yates (see July 18, 2004 - The Joy of Psychopathology) referred me to an analysis by Nate Koechley - explaining what the problem is with Democrats – and it is this moral values mish-mash -


The first step towards clarity about "moral values" is to distinguish the two very different ways in which this term is typically used: (a) the relative ability of politicians to frame their biographies, their principles, their agendas, and their messages in terms that convey a distinct sense of the values that matter more to them than personal power and ambition; and (b) a set of concerns about "moral issues" which typically touch on various perceived threats to "traditional values," including the nuclear family, parental and social authority, personal responsibility, the strength of faith communities, and in general, the belief in the ability of Americans to perceive and enforce clear standards of "right" and "wrong" behavior.

There is a pretty strong consensus among Democrats today that we need to do something to strengthen the party on the first definition of "moral values." And that's a very good thing. As a coalition party, Democrats have to try harder than the ideologues of the GOP to articulate the values that unite them, even as they sometimes disagree on policy positions or political strategies. And as the party of public sector activism, Democrats inherently have a more complex agenda and message than the ostensibly anti-government Republicans, and have to try harder to avoid the gobblydegook language of government programs and policy nuances.

This should not be a matter of simply wrapping Democratic policy positions in "values language" or, God forbid, "God Talk." What's needed is a re-engineering of Democratic message to place values first, policy goals second, and programmatic ideas third and last. And for those of you who think of the DLC as unprincipled, poll-driven opportunists, I will mention here that we have been conducting values-based message and agenda training for state and local elected officials for seven years, pushing literally hundreds of Democrats, many of whom had no prior relationship with us, and some of whom disliked us going in, into rethinking their basic principles, uniting around values and big policy goals, and then developing an ideas agenda aimed at reflecting those values and implementing those policy goals. In many cases, these Democrats came up with policy positions the DLC would not necessarily agree with, but we didn't care (please note this, Kos, since you consistently claim the DLC is determined to impose some ideological litmus test on the party).

I'm not arguing that there's anything unique about our approach, but Democrats of all stripes should undertake something similar, as a matter of principle and of political survival.


Agreed - Democrats inherently have a more complex agenda and message than the ostensibly anti-government Republicans.  So?


It's not that hard for Democrats to identify with, and reassure, culturally threatened Americans that they live in the same moral universe, and that they are vastly superior to the GOP in their ability to manage change--economic, cultural, and geo-political--in a way that reflects our common values and respects our differences. But we can't do that if we continue to deny or minimize this problem, or pretend that cultural concerns are a fool's substitute for material matters.

The lesson we learned in 2004 is that our obtuseness on "moral values"--in both the senses discussed above--enables a cynical and in many respects immoral GOP to pose as the cultural champion of people they fully intend to betray. And continuing to let them do that is the ultimate, damning judgment on the "moral values" of Democrats.


Well, click on the link and read the whole thing if you’d like.  The major idea is that Democrats should try to convince the other side, with their useful votes, that decency and tolerance are good things.


I’m not sure that is going to work.  The other side is saying they have principles they will not compromise – stuff about Jesus and queer guys living together and the proper role of women and what not - and the material stuff, jobs and education and all the rest, just don’t matter as much.  Better to be jobless with no health insurance and no hope than have those two odd guys, Lars and Spanky, move in together down the street.  They probably speak French too.


There’s no changing minds there.


There is this posted by Jerry Bowles that sums up the problem- 


… Egged on by feckless political leaders with spurious agendas, too many of us have since 9/11 engaged in an orgy of shameless victimhood. What began as a huge terrorist act committed by a small band of mostly Saudi criminals has been transformed into a biblical crusade to drag a reluctant and dangerous Arab world, bombing and beheading, into the 21st century. The gratuitous, feel-good invasion of Iraq has turned into another one of those long national nightmares in which the light at the end of tunnel is simply the headlamp of an oncoming train.

Confronted by inconvenient facts--Iraq was not involved in the terrorist attacks; Iraq had no operational ties to Al Queda or any weapons of mass destruction--les misérables américain retreat to the simple facts of 9/11. Somebody attacked us. They were brown and Arab. At this very moment, there might be little brown Arab men with box cutters hiding under my bed right here in Spittoon, Mississippi. Bomb 'em all, let Allah sort them out.

In this kind of atmosphere, civil liberties and basic human rights too quickly disappear. Suddenly, it is okay to torture suspected "terrorists" and hold people--even Americans--forever without access to judicial hearings. The most fundamental American belief--liberty and justice for all--suddenly becomes negotiable.

”The George Walker Bushes and Rudy Giulianis and Bernard Keriks are only too happy to pimp this irrational fear for political control and monetary gain. Their great weapon is the assurance that much of the American public is fat, brainwashed and intellectually uncurious or lacking in the critical skills for rational analysis. Drugged out on Big Macs and maxed out on Visa cards, desperate for some savior with "moral clarity" to help them regain control of their overdrawn lives by, for example, teaching their kids some respect by making them pray at school and having the FCC decide what they can't watch on TV, and by promising to protect them from monogamous gay couples and little brown men with box cutters, too many Americans are easy prey for the morally unscrupulous.

Ask any hooker; the road to whoredom always begins with false promises or threats, usually made by men who exploit the minds and flesh of the emotionally needy for their own depraved ends.


Cheery, huh?


I can see why many of my friends were for Howard Dean in the last election.


Should the Democrats reduce their message to three points?  These?  1.) Vengeance is NOT security, 2.) Profit is NOT prosperity, and 3.> What Thomas Jefferson called, “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind” is NOT a weakness - It’s strength.


Note bad – and the full text of John McCreery chatting with Howard Dean is here - and it ends with this –

Reflecting on this call, I see a skillful politician at work. But I also see more, a leader who is willing not only to reach out directly and solicit my vote but is also both willing and able to listen and to participate openly and frankly in a conversation with real give and take. I felt energized and empowered in a way that I haven’t for months. This is the kind of leadership we need. Howard has my vote.


Real give and take is so last year.


What should the Democrats do?


And as a by-the-way, Charles Pierce, adds this – on Democratic senator Barbara Boxer at least standing up and saying something was fishy with the Ohio Vote -

Because sometimes it's just good to say "no," simply for the sake of saying it, because doing so lessens your complicity in a comfortable politics in which the destruction of American ideals is more admired for its clever tactics than it is condemned for its lasting damage. This is a government of vandals, and shame on anyone too dumb to realize it, or so ambitious that they'd make peace with it. Shame on any Democratic legislator who didn't line up with Boxer yesterday, especially the ones that gave pretty speeches and voted the other way. Shame on any Democrat who votes to confirm Alberto Gonzales. Shame on any Democrat who attaches himself to any Social Security plan while this administration is in office. This is a time to say no, just for the pure hell of it. Trust me, there's no political price to be paid that you're not already paying, piecemeal, out of your souls.


Oh hell, why not?  Stand for something.  If they ask us to leave?  Fine.


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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