Tactics and Substance in the 2004 Elections GoogleNews: Howard Dean

March 3, 2004

by J

The Timid Strategy - Cut It Out

Of the three official Democratic party blogs (DNC, DCCC,DSCC), I like the DSCC's the best so far. Although, they need to work on the design some -- no reason to have such a skinny column for the content, for example. Use the entire width of the page -- liquid html is good. Aside from UI issues, they seem the most clueful so far of the three. All are making a good effort though.

Anyway, on to tactics and substance. I think there's a problem with the DSCC's approach to the Senate races this year. And I think this is symptomatic of a larger problem within the party. Consider this post from Paul Tewes, the DSCC political director:
With that said, it is my hope that this site is a sincere attempt to connect the DSCC, its Senators and its candidates with this community. It is my hope that we hear you, respect you and inform you. That is our responsibility to the people who make this party great. We take it seriously.

In the coming weeks and months, I will share our honest thoughts about our candidates and our races. I invite you to be a part of them.

We are in a "Fight for 51." Can we get there? Yes. Will it be easy? No. Can we get there without you and your passion and commitment? Never.
Ok. Nice words, but my problem is with the "Fight for 51." Why, oh why, oh why, do Democrats always set their sights so low? Do Republicans go around publicly talking about how they want to win the bare minimum they need to survive? I don't think so. (In fact, Republicans instead like to equate Democrats with terrorists and suggest that Osama wants Kerry to win, but I'm not suggesting the Democrats become as vile as the Republicans in that respect.) I think the Democrats need to be bolder. You don't want 51 seats. You want a filibuster-proof majority! I mean, don't you want a filibuster-proof majority? So, set that as the goal. Fire people up. Why leave yourself no margin of error? Why be so timid?

We see it in the Presidential race as well. My candidate wanted to run a 50-state campaign. But from most Democrats we hear lots of strategizing about getting 271 electoral votes. (Kerry's already written off the south -- a strategy that makes my blood run cold.) I don't think that's the way to win. It causes too much hedging and threading of needles. This is the worst President this country has seen in decades. Congress is not working in the interests of the people. The economy stinks, we're in a war on three fronts (Iraq, Afghanistan, "terror") and the Democrats, instead of making a bold and persuasive case that substantive change is needed, are happy, from the beginning, to settle for the crumb of a tiny majority. I think that sets the wrong tone. To be trite: play offense, not defense.

Now, obviously, resources are a factor, and strategic decisions will have to be made about how to allocate resources. Fine. But have the original call be for what you really want -- a filibuster-proof majority -- and see who answers it. The Republicans aren't shy about shouting about the damage they want to do to our country. Why are the Democrats so timid in their goal-setting?

You say "fight for 51" and I immediately think -- oh, they're not interested in seeing what kind of headway they can make against my Senator, so I'll just ignore this aspect of the elections this year. Set a bigger goal, involve everyone in the fight, and see what happens. There's little cost to having a bigger, more inclusive vision, and you wouldn't even be lying! (Assuming that you do want a filibuster-proof majority.)

Lead! Give us all something to fight for.

Posted by J at March 3, 2004 05:42 AM

With all due respect, I think a filibuster-proof majority is just about unattainable in November in the Senate. Here's why: only 34 Senators are even up for reelection! I don't know how many are Republicans, but if it is 50%, then only 17 of their 50 some odd is it even possible to replace, and some of those are in republican die-hard states of the West.

The House is something that could swing all the way back with solid campaigning, a great message, and some luck. But the founding fathers made it such that no such quick changes are in store for the Senate.

Posted by: Shooter in AZ at March 3, 2004 07:24 AM

Shooter: That's all true. However, aiming for only 51 leaves no margin for error. Screw up just one of your targeted races, and oops! Still a minority.

It's more effective to state the long-term goal, get fired up about implementing it, and make strides toward it in each election (possibly getting further than the 'realists' expect) than to aim for the lowest satisfactory outcome right at the start.

It bespeaks weakness and, as J says, timidity.

Posted by: V at March 3, 2004 07:42 AM

Right on, V & J. This was one of the larger reasons I got out of Democratic campaign politics after 2002. For whatever reason -- and I think some of it is a McAuliffe strategy, though I don't know that -- we Democrats have adopted this asinine "50 plus 1" deal as some kind of political gospel. You know, the Democratic Party I want to belong to is the party that wants to reach out for *every single vote*. Doesn't every single voter deserve that?

And it's why we lose -- and why we lost in 2000, and 2002. I have advocated to candidates that I've worked for to go in to GOP strongholds. Knock on doors. Phone bank those areas. Are you going to be frustrated? Sure. Are you going to have doors slammed in your face? Sure. But what about the margins -- slim though they may be -- that you pull from those areas? It can mean the difference between losing by eight or nine points and winning by three or four.

McAuliffe and Company will tell you that we -- the Dem establishment -- doesn't have the money to do this kind of stuff, going in to enemy territory, as it were. Don't you believe it for a minute. What they'd rather do is spend the money on TV time, and assume that saturates all the districts, GOP or Dem leaning, either way. It's sloppy targeting, and I don't like it. Guess what: nobody else does, either. Political TV ads are a waste of money, especially this time around. It's about the working the grassroots (perhaps we ought to thank Governor Dean for that).

The "50 plus 1" bespeaks something about the message, it connotes a certain unsure-edness, a weakness. "We don't have enough confidence in what we're selling, so we'll just go with the bare minimum."

I was an underachiever as a kid. I didn't do well in school, and I dropped out of college, only to put myself through at night over the course of 11 years before I got my degree. I was a late bloomer. I was always behind most of the other kids. Usually just below average. You know. Enough to get by.
But the dirty little not-so-secret secret was that "enough to get by" wasn't really enough. I could've done so much more. And should've. It takes a lot of effort though, and it takes a certain confidence. A confidence I wish I'd had as a youth that I, only now, am making up for. A confidence I wish my party had now. There's no time to make up for it.

Posted by: Benjamin at March 3, 2004 10:26 AM

Please see Paul Tewes response at FromTheRoots.org:


Posted by: seth at March 4, 2004 11:40 AM

Seth -- yes, we have posted a link to Paul's response already.

It's on our front page right now and here is the direct link.

Posted by: J at March 4, 2004 01:16 PM

Recommended Reading:

The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity: A Diplomat's Memoir
The Politics of Truth... A Diplomat's Memoir

Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush
Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush

Against All Enemies by Richard Clarke
Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror

LIES by Al Franken
Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right

The Great Unraveling
The Great Unraveling

The Great Big Book of Tomorrow
The Great Big Book of Tomorrow

Clinton Wars
The Clinton Wars

Blinded by the Right
Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative

Waging Modern War: Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Future of Combat

Subject to Debate: Sense and Dissents on Women, Politics, and Culture

Living History

The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton

John Adams

Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace

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