March 6, 2006

"Splits within the party about what it means to be a Democrat."

Adam Nagourney writes about the difficulty Democrats running for Congress are having finding a coherent theme:
These scattershot messages reflect what officials in both parties say are vulnerabilities among Republicans on Capitol Hill, as well as President Bush's weakened political condition in this election year.

But they also reflect splits within the party about what it means to be a Democrat — and what a winning Democratic formula will be — after years in which conservative ideas have dominated the national policy debate and helped win elections.

And they complicate the basic strategy being pursued by Democratic leaders in Washington to capture control of Congress: to turn this election into a national referendum on the party in power, much the way Republicans did against Democrats in 1994.

Interviews with Democratic challengers in contested districts suggest that the party is far from settling on an overarching theme that will work as well in central Connecticut as it does in central Colorado.

And while Democrats have no shortage of criticism to offer, they have so far not introduced a strategy for governing along the lines of the Republican Party's Contract With America, the 1994 initiative that some Democrats hold up as their model for this year's elections.

"It's certainly worth the effort, but it's damned hard to do," Charles O. Jones, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, said of the Democratic effort to emulate the Republicans.

"If you're going to run a national campaign," as the Republicans did in 1994, Dr. Jones said, "it's helpful to have a message, not just 'The other guys don't know what they are doing.' If Democrats are using that strategy, I haven't heard that message yet."...

Democrats pointed out that Republicans did not offer their Contract With America until the final weeks of the 1994 campaign and said that they were planning to offer their own version by summer.
I didn't think much of the Contract With America, and it's fine with me if the parties don't have coherent themes. I felt no dissonance voting for both George Bush and Russ Feingold in 2004. But that's just me. Maybe you like to see these characters more united. I'd rather see smart, good people who think independently. I think it's much harder to convince people that the party needs to take over than that an individual candidate is worthy. And that's very good, it seems to me. In any case, if they've got to coalesce into a theme, I think they are right to wait until they get much closer to the election. We've got 8 months yet.

14 comments:

PatCA said...

Meanwhile, a Democratic challenger to Arnold has come out early with a very expensive TV campaign with the slogan of "he stood up to Arnold!"

That's all. Just...he stood up to Arnold.

stealthlawprof said...

You are correct that independent voters sense no particular dissonance in splitting their vote; that is what makes then independent. You are also correct that it is much more difficult to convince voters that a party (as opposed to a candidate) should win election to a specific office.

The Democratic angst about this appears to reflect a sense that, unless they can convince voters to elect the party as such, they cannot generate enough electoral wins to shift control of Congress. The 1994 scenario fits this perception; the GOP was virtually shut out for over sixty years and only overcame it when it convinced voters that Democrats needed to be turned out because they were Democrats.

Whether that is really the only way to shift control of Congress is debateable, but it is the most recent tactic to work, so they would like to replicate it.

K T Cat said...

The theme they come up with may not be much of a winner. After reading Michael Medved's Right Turns I began to think in terms of campaign volunteers as much as campaign funding.

Campaign volunteers come from the ranks of the obsessively committed. KOS and the like get on the order of 800,000 hits a day. That's a vast cadre of like-minded fanatics who are visiting an echo chamber that reinforces the worst messages the Democrats could try to sell.

If you're a candidate, you need volunteers. How will you get them as a Democrat if you disagree with the rabid hatred and wild conspiracy theories espoused by a mojority of the pool of possible volunteers?

K T Cat said...

By the way, if you didn't know, a mojority is a large group of people with mojo.

Or it could be a misspelling of majority.

Richard Dolan said...

"Maybe you like to see these characters more united. I'd rather see smart, good people who think independently. I think it's much harder to convince people that the party needs to take over than that an individual candidate is worthy. And that's very good, it seems to me."

Since the focus is the upcoming election for Congress, it's hard to disagree with the substance of your comment. "Independence" -- in this case meaning the opposite of "blindlessly partisan" -- would be a welcome attribute for any Representative or Senator to have.

But don't expect it to happen any time soon. Partly the lack of "independence" of Reps and Senators is the result of the increased polarization among the politically active party members of both major parties. After all, that is the group from which candidates usually come. The polarizing effect is even stronger when you bear in mind that candidates for high federal office are generally already officeholders lower down in the political foodchain. Those candidates didn't get elected to state or municipal positions by declining to toe the party line, or disagreeing with positions that key party factions ("special interests" to those who don't agree with them) hold sacred. Can you imagine a candidate anywhere winning the Dem nomination if he comes out against affirmative action or for school vouchers? (I would have added "against Roe v. Wade" to that list but for Casey's candidacy for the Senate in PA, but despite that counterexample, opposing Roe is still quite likely to kill anyone's chances to get the Dem nomination for any contested office.) So it's important not to get carried away with the "independence" theme -- in many ways, it's more eyewash than substance.

The real thrust of the observation that the current crop of Dem candidates have no unified message is that the Dem party as a whole can't figure out where it stands on the war in Iraq, the broader war on terror, how the US should fight that war and, in general, what role the US should try to play on the world stage. Those issues define the critical political dividing line in the electorate today. Individual candidates can take "independent" positions on any of them. But to judge by the conduct of other candidates who ran as "independents," when those folks arrive in Washington after having been elected, they will be expected to toe the partisan party line. That doesn't strike me as something that is good for the Dems (or the equivalent for the Reps), to say nothing of the country as a whole, but I think it is where the political process today is stuck.

AJ Lynch said...

I am a big fan of 12-step like platforms and things like Contract with America that seek to lay out what is important and what a pol or party will try to accomplish.

On the other hand, that may explain why the old "I feel your pain" mojo does not work on me.

And you like intellect so you support Feingold but Reagan/ Carter proved separately it ain't all about how smart you are.

tyrionthedwarf said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
vbspurs said...

I didn't think much of the Contract With America, and it's fine with me if the parties don't have coherent themes.

I agree, although I didn't dislike the Contract with America, or would dislike it if the Democrats came out with their own retooled version, in the forthcoming months.

These kinds of social contracts make look hokey, perhaps even reduce complex issues to better be able to become news sound bites, which will then be readily accepted by "the folks", to use an O'Reillyism.

But surely few can disagree that having clearly, CRISPLY! even, stated agenda, which defines the ethos people are striving for, is no bad thing.

Maybe for a country of 4 million strong like Norway, it might not be necessary, since the polis Socrates was aiming for, is wieldy.

But for an immigrant, individualistic nation like the US is, I think "Contracts" are helpful.

I felt no dissonance voting for both George Bush and Russ Feingold in 2004. But that's just me.

I voted for Kathy Fernandez-Rundle (D) for District Attorney of Miami-Dade County, and obviously, for GWB, so whilst not in the same league as your more important political positions, it is similar in that I too vote for the person, not the Party, if said person is the better candidate, IMHO.

Maybe you like to see these characters more united. I'd rather see smart, good people who think independently.

I once said the very same thing to a professor of mine, in the UK.

He called this way of thinking (basically, me), "Fascist".

And then I parried with,

"If always placing emphasis on the individual is Fascist, then always voting a straight Party ticket is Marxist."

I got no coherent reply worth repeating.

Cheers,
Victoria

Matt said...

The fact that you voted for both Bush and Feingold at least tells me that you are more open minded than most people from both sides of the aisle.

Goatwhacker said...

One reason I liked the Contract with America was that it offered concrete plans that you could evaluate instead of the nebulous pap we usually get from politicians. Most of what passes for policy today is stuff like "We respect the dignity of the the American (fill-in-the-blank)".

Of course the Contract with America is mostly floating at the bottom of the Potomac these days.

Bezuhov said...

Or that she's a liberal, as are both Bush and Feingold, the two best we currently have in public service. Would there were more.

dave said...

I felt no dissonance voting for both George Bush and Russ Feingold in 2004.

But that's just because you're an idiot.

Bezuhov said...

"But that's just because you're an idiot."

Clearly the voice of experience. That, or Dave is twelve. Does your mommy know you're trolling, Dave?

Ann Althouse said...

I don't know if you've noticed Dave very much because he's ususally so bland, but he's someone I've noticed for a long time has consistently posted the most clueless comments. He often writes "huh?" for a comment. Really, the guy can't put 2 and 2 together without assistance. Start noticing him. Really. He's been flying under the radar while more flamboyant antagonists have gotten all the attention. Or don't. It really doesn't matter. And it won't be any fun.