Tactics and Substance in U.S. Elections GoogleNews: congressional.election

February 14, 2004

by J

What the Dems Need to Understand

Another brilliant post from NYCO about what the Democrats need to understand about Dean supporters. Brilliant, brilliant. I'm quoting most of it, because I believe NYCO wants the ideas to spread... Emphases are mine.
Democrats are extremely discontented with the excesses of the Bush Administration and are very eager to get tyranny out of the halls of Washington, but they should have a care that they study carefully the character of this campaign that they wish to absorb into themselves -- this campaign which they are impatient to take down (indeed, some within the party have striven very hard to take it down) and put on some memorial shelf, before they even fully understand what it is.

In the mass of political analysis over the ground which the Dean campaign has gone over, there are some essentials about what has happened which are "hiding in plain sight" - things which the media never picked up on, or never explored, and they are things which (as a Democrat) I would not want to see the Democratic Party blow off either. It's my hope that while their eyes are still open - even while Dean's campaign still continues at the moment - that Democrats will see things in Dean they haven't noticed before. And that those who wish to stand against the Bush Administration will form a response to the Dean campaign, not a reaction, not a strategy.

Rather than pondering plans to win Dean supporters and their money to the Democratic general election cause, I would invite Democrats to come down to the level of the average Dean supporter and see things from the ground that we stand on.

First of all, we seek strength we can rely on. Political neophytes that we are, we know when we look at a politician whether or not he is powerful, whether or not he is capable of taking a strong stand. We may not understand who is who in the DNC or DLC or NDN, but we instinctively understand someone who speaks with authority, and this trumps politics as usual. And we know that someone who stands with strength and speaks with authority is someone who tends to inspire great loyalty in some and an almost unreasonable hatred in others. Weak leaders (even ones who are despots) do not inspire active fear or dislike; they inspire apathy. Howard Dean has said, correctly, that you cannot beat George Bush by trying to be a poor copy of him. Bush has held a country in his thrall because he is the most experienced at projecting an image of strength. This is a game that Democrats cannot win. They can only win by really being genuinely strong and authoritative. How will Democrats now respond to this truth (an old one, but recently uncovered)? Discover this response, and discover the secret of our support.

We have a longing for sincerity and authenticity. Whether it comes in the form of stinging and true and impolitic criticisms of fellow party members who have done erroneous things and have not made an account of it; or whether it comes in the form of an appeal for support, we can now recognize when a candidate puts his whole self into his speech. With other politicians, we have had to make many more allowances, or have had to take time to "parse" the words. For many of us, in our lifetimes there has been no other model, but that has now changed. Dean's candidacy has, in a way, destroyed the ground on which typical Democrats have always relied; many Americans no longer take it for granted that men of national influence in the country must treat with the truth delicately, or not at all. What response can other Democrats offer to this? Discover this response, and discover the secret of our generosity.

We are looking for community. Not a facile, cliched, false "homey community" kind of intimacy; we can get that in a family, or a bar or a church; but we seek it in the context of our relationship with our elected officials and political process. I need not go into all of the ways that Howard Dean and his campaign have stood up for this, and opened eyes everywhere to the enduring value of this. I need not go into a big long dissertation on leadership and governance (since I know this doesn't particularly interest people during campaign season, but should). The response of other Democrats to this will be perhaps the most important thing they ever attempt to do for the remainder of 2004. It is imperative that that a proper response be discovered if they hope to get a response from us.

We are seeking originality. This is something that is actually tied to deep Democratic tradition; it is not merely innovation or new technology or process that earns our loyalty. There is really nothing Howard Dean has said to the Democratic Party or the American people, which has not been already said over and over again in our party's glorious past full of achievement and struggle. Civil and human rights, race, health care, a more morally sound foreign policy: Howard Dean does not own these ideas. They belong to all of us. But Dean's illustrations of these issues have often been expressed with striking originality and insight that cuts across traditional notions of political left, right and center. At a time when it was felt that every way of saying these things had already been thought of, and a deep partisan exhaustion had settled over the country, no one in the Party articulated the important questions of our day the way he has -- and his articulations (such as about race, or the Confederate flag comment) often have aroused controversy, even as others have aroused admiration (civil unions as a civil right). What response can other Democrats offer to this? Discover this response, and discover what it means to get us on your side.

We are looking for specifics. This is mistaken for "raw confrontation," but that is not what we want. We are looking to hear great and exacting arguments on the important questions of our day; we are looking for head-to-head debate; we are looking for real choices that can be expressed through two people face to face, between potential leaders who have clear-cut opinions expressed with forcefulness and backed with conviction. This is a quality which Howard Dean should not be particularly remarkable for, were it not that our other prominent Democrats have such a sad demonstrated deficiency in this area. During his career in Vermont, Dean accomplished many things, but he specifically fought for two things: balanced budgets and health care. These were his specifics, and they lend his candidacy the power of his convictions. In his presidential campaign, Dean has focused on all of the issues broadly concerning this country, but he specifically zeroed in on the Iraq war. What can Democrats offer in response to these specifics? If they find one, they may yet find us.

We are looking for a long and broad understanding of our mission as standardbearers of important ideals and a better way of life. This is mistaken for "the vision thing," but that is not the real heart of it. Any politician worth his salt can come up with an overarching national vision platform that harks back to the glorious days of FDR and JFK, aptly expressed with the help of a few speechwriters and some native charm. The sad reality is that we have been sold many great Inaugural speeches which have only amounted to continuing salvos in a war of rhetoric with the Other Party, none of which uplift the eyes to the realities of the 21st century. Howard Dean has gone beyond merely talking about exporting democracy to other countries, and has talked about the need to create a middle class in other countries. And the elephant in the room here at home, of course, is that we fail to broadly understand the destiny of our children (much less future generations) as long as we dance around the difficult subject of balanced budgets and tax cuts. Do Democrats have a response to this, or do they prefer a reactive, narrow focus on the here and now? If they have a response, we may respond to them.

We are looking for a party with open borders. We are no longer looking for a reasonable facsimile. Just as we insist that gay Americans are not third-class citizens of America, we insist that they are not second-class citizens of our party. Having heard of a politician and leader who once wore a bullet proof vest as a result of helping to gain civil rights for gay Americans, and having seen him not back down from boldly affirming their rights during a presidential campaign, this vision of our party cannot now be erased out of our eyes. If Democrats can respond to this immutable fact, they might receive the reply they are looking for.

We "Dean Democrats" are now looking for all of these things, and many other things besides, which I'd write about if I had more time this morning. And if I have more time later, I may write more.

But the overriding message I wish to convey, is that things have changed forever. The thing is done. And the Democratic Party cannot harness it as one would capture some sort of "energy" - they can only respond to this change.

I am only laying out the facts on the ground. Everyone seems to be wondering about what ought to be done about the Dean supporters, so I thought I would help. And quite honestly, the rest of the Democratic Party ought to be thankful that Howard Dean himself is still in this race, because his being actually still politically "present" buys the Democratic Party (or some candidate or other) more precious time to examine the real facts of what is going on their ranks on the ground - a reality not always expressed in votes.

I am writing this as a friendly and hopeful outreach to my Democratic Party, in the hopes that they really do want to go further into this election with open eyes as to what is really going on, and are intelligent and brave enough to formulate and carry out an informed response to new political realities, as opposed to an ignorant reaction, so that they can get what they need to go up against Bush.
Just brilliant. Will they listen? I doubt it, but NYCO's laid it out nice and clear. No excuses, now. Let's see if this party stands for anything at all, anymore.

The DNC blog is wishing people a Happy Valentine's Day and wondering how to win back the White House. Here is NYCO's Valentine to the DNC. Will they listen?
Posted by J at February 14, 2004 2:32 PM

The comment is well put, and Democrats should heed it. But as I said at a local Dean meet-up two weeks ago, Howard Dean didn't come out of nowhere with his emphasis on authenticity, community, and original and creative policy and strategy. He built on the foundation articulated by the late Paul Wellstone, and much of his support nationally comes from people who miss Wellstone's presence and vision and are angry that he is no longer with us. We appreciate Dean's reaffirmation of and willingness to represent, as Wellstone put it, "the democratic wing of the Democratic Party." Dean also went beyond Wellstone in his use of the Internet to create community and give ordinary people a place and a voice, and his record of balanced budgets and health care accessibility in Vermont gave him credibility as an executive.

Even if he doesn't receive the nomination, I hope Dean continues to speak out for those of us tired of politicians looking out for themselves, going through the motions, failing to speak the truth that is so obvious to the rest of us. We have lost one leader who could have been an inspiration; let's not have another fade away.

Posted by: Lyn at February 14, 2004 7:16 PM

Howard Dean didn't come out of nowhere with his emphasis on authenticity, community, and original and creative policy and strategy.

Yes, and NYCO acknowledges that in her post by saying: "There is really nothing Howard Dean has said to the Democratic Party or the American people, which has not been already said over and over again in our party's glorious past full of achievement and struggle."

I read Wellstone's book over Christmas and I got the sense that there was very little in there that he and Dean would not agree on. It all sounded very familiar to me after listening to Dean for months.

I have no idea what Dean's going to do after the nomination process. But I and many others will be watching. It would be a real shame if the party regulars chase him back to Vermont and chase hundreds of thousands of newly-interested almost-Democrats away from the party. That does seem to be their plan so far, though.

Posted by: J at February 15, 2004 8:22 AM

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