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Jul 26, 2005 9:32 am

Be Ready

In 1994, the Republicans picked up 52 seats in the House of Representatives, the first time in 40 years they held a majority. There was nothing inevitable about this phenomenon, so how did they do it? Although analysts and pundits have discussed this “Republican Revolution” for years, it really boils down to 3 elements:

• The personal leadership and political brilliance of Newt Gingrich
• The Contract with America
• Party unity on the contract

Almost every Republican candidate for office, both incumbent and challenger, literally signed the Contract, allowing Republicans to run a national campaign for the House for the first time in political history (House races have before always been local, with national issues brought in to be tailored to specific districts). Regardless of whether Americans were aware of the Contract or not, it helped Republicans stay on message, and provided a unifying framework for Republicans across the nation.

Today, the shoe is the other foot. Republican excesses and corruption in Congress mirror what they once accused Democrats of, and Democrats are the ones out in the cold. I am not suggesting that the Democrats create their own Contract (that would be too obvious an emulation). However I am suggesting that if the Democrats hope to win in 2006, they are going to have to start acting like a national party rather than a series of independent local candidates. They need a platform to unite them and above all, party unity. Rank-and-file Democrats need to remember that the Presidency is not the only branch of government worth voting for.

In 2006, the Democratic party will have another opportunity to miss an opportunity. They can either continue to hope that disgust over Republican hypocrisy and deception simply “force” the nation into the Democratic camp (which obviously did not work in 2004), OR they can formulate a national platform, outlining their plans for Social Security, Healthcare reform, fiscal responsibility, and above all, national defense.

November ’06 is coming soon and the Democrats should not allow themselves to once again let Republicans define the campaign.

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Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 7/26/2005

You are absolutely right, launching a national campaign with a coherent platform is bound to turn many of the factions within the party away. However, I believe that those who are turned away are not reliable voters to begin with, and what can be gained from such a strategy would compensate for the shortfall.

Democrats do lack the discipline of Republicans, but I wonder if this has less to do with the inherent diversity of the party and more to do with the fact that the Democrats have no national message to unify them. After all, the New Deal and the Great Society were two national efforts that led to a realignment of political loyalties in this country and created some pretty solid partisans. It was around 1968, when Democrats split off into every direction that the party began suffering from too many hands in the pot.

There is a risk, to be sure, and one that might fail. But what is the alternative? The country is turning away from the Democratic party in increasing numbers, and even John Kerry’s impressive showing exaggerates rather than reflects Democratic support throughout the nation, in my opinion. Every election since 1994 testifies to this reality (even the hailed 1998 midterm elections was a relatively minor reprieve).

I think he resonated with the nation when Bush said that people may not agree with him, but at least they know where he stands. Democrats have a proud history of civil rights, education, healthcare, and a competent (if sometimes timid) foreign policy dedicated to human rights and international cooperation. It is time to put it in writing, re-package the message, and unify the party behind it.

Derek Charles Catsam - 7/26/2005

Marc --
While I think your idea of a more coordinated campaign is an important one, it carries with it some baggage that might have long-term consequences, as it has for the GOP (or so we surmise). For one thing, both parties like to fancy themselves as maintaining the idea of the "Big Tent." Pushing a coordinated program into place seems a pretty good way to assure that the party's tent gets smaller, as almost by definition a coordinated message narrows the acceptable range of dialogue. I think as a consequence the GOP is no longer the Big Tent that it once was inasmuch as the party seems pretty factionalized between social/cultural conservatives and moderate ones. I wonder if your program does not bring short-term gain but long-term problems.
Plus, Democrats seem to lack the sort of discipline that Republicans have when it comes to pulling together a message and pushing discipline.
And on top of all of this, I would have to wonder whether or not crafting such a message would not entail having to give a lot up to the base. Right now might not be the time for the Democrats central message to come from a base that seems less concerned than ever with the good domestic issues that i have always felt made liberalism ascendant, and more with a dopey and incoherent view of foreign policy now that the neocons have coopted all of our best material and given it a more masculine and muscular look.