Building Democrats

I’ve been thinking a lot about the forthcoming election, which I think will go badly for the Democrats. Given that we’ll be looking at a rebuilding season, I thought I’d outline some of what I’ll be looking for as a consumer of liberal policies, as well as links to the related stuff I’ve written about these things in the recent past.

Looking through them, a few points keep coming up.

The future ought to be better than the past; there’s a reason why we’re the ‘progressive’ party. There are major changes coming in the world, as technology and transportation cause economies and cultures to intermingle, and provide unprecedented opportunity to those who have had none. We ought to be finding ways to manage the impacts of it, and help steer it toward a desirable (rather than “Snow Crash” like) future state. But we need to embrace the future, not recoil from it.
Just because the cultures are intermingling doesn’t mean we shouldn’t value and cherish ours. We’re noth the source of evil in the world, Noam Chomsky and Chris Hedges notwithstanding.

Given that what differentiates our side (Democrats) from the other side (GOP) ought to be the attention we pay to the welfare of the bottom 20% in wealth, income, and power, (we both ought to be concerned with the general welfare of society) perhaps we could lose the obnoxious elitism??

Practically, I suggest a few policy directions here, here, here and here, but in general I’ll suggest three guiding principles:

1) Scale matters. Rather than One Big Solution to problems, let’s work on policies that promote small, organically growing policies that directly impact the people targeted and put down roots. Not Le Corbusier, crabgrass.

2) Hypocrisy shows. When your welfare policy is set at AFSCME conferences or at private homes in the Malibu Colony, and your corporate governance policies are set by trial lawyers, it’s hard to get taken seriously. If you have investors (what I call the current class of political donors) make damn sure that your policies don’t tilt stupidly in their favor.(Hollywood, Democrats, DMCA)

3) Get out of the fishbowl. The political and media elites of this country live lives that are pretty well disconnected from those of their consumers. Find a way to break out. Bob Graham found one way; find others.

Most of all, don’t spend time focus-grouping clusters of policies; figure out something we can believe in – an attractive, articulate vision of what America and the world ought to be and a set of policies that offer a reasonable change of moving us toward that vision.

When Detroit builds good cars, people buy them. All the focus-group testing, marketing budgets, and binders full of sales spiffs won’t move them if they are just crappy cars.

So if you want my advice; it’s simple. Build good policies. Be trustworthy. Figure out why you’re a Democrat and make it stick.

I’m a Democrat because I believe that government policies ought to tilted in favor of my assistant – the single mom making $22,000 a year in Los Angeles – rather me, or than the investor whose portfolio only grew 2% last year (and yes, spare me, I know that our well-being is all connected. But how about some trickle-up policies for a change?).

Why are you a Democrat?

UPDATE: Roger Simon has some thoughts on that question.

15 thoughts on “Building Democrats”

  1. …”we are the progressive party”…
    You’ve lost me here – you mean as opposed to Republicans? This needs more than a little justification.

  2. I’m not (a Democrat). I doubt I would be a part of any party that thinks the government should elevate any one above anyone else. As long as the Democrats look for equality of results, they will have a problem.

  3. It is time for Democrats to decide what they are for and campaign on that basis. Focusing on bashing the opponents, especially popular presidents like Clinton and Bush, is losing politics.

    However, the biggest share of the votes are in the broad middleclass, not the bottom 20%. Catering to the bottom 20% is as losing a strategy as catering to the upper 5%.

  4. AL’s number (1) suggestion is, for me, the most important thing for Democrats to pursue and promote. In terms of economics, it’s about getting the best deal for average working-class people no matter what the circumstances are. If that means some tax cuts, ok, and if not, that’s ok too. The GOP seems to have gotten a lot more ideological in the past 10 years or so, what with the “tax cuts forever” mantra that they’ve all adopted. It’s not like tax cuts are ever going to be seriously unpopular, but can they really convince a majority of the people that this is the solution to all economic problems, forever?

    The (1) suggestion makes sense for foreign policy, too. War with Iraq, yes, but for the purposes of enforcing international norms about punishing agression and WMD proliferation, not because of vague scare-mongering about “pre-emption” that alienates our reliable allies (like Britain) just about as much as it alienates our uh, less reliable ones, like France and Germany.

  5. You’ve described a little of why many of us are no longer Democrats. Independent seems like such a cop out, but the Dems stopped representing me long before I gave up on them.

    As a veteran of inside the beltway life, I’m offended at the blind faith the party has in government solutions. Having seen and dealt daily with the waste and ineptitude of most of the federal bureaucracy makes me cringe at the thought of any new government programs eating up tax dollars and producing none of the desired results.

  6. It seems to me that Democrats (and liberals) are no longer “progressive” in any meaningful sense of the word. Rather, they are reactionaries. Consider:
    1) The reflexive negative attitude toward science and technology (viz, GM crops)
    2) The obsessive focus on race and gender as the primary components of human identity
    3) The concern for protecting existing institutions (viz the public schools), regardless of how disfunctional these institutions may have become.
    4) The high level of concern for their individual status, and the strong need to differentiate themselves from the “common sort” (the awful bourgeoisie).

    Progressives? Actually, they are Tories…

  7. would you please email me an article I read: “Why aren’t liberals interested in the outside world?”

    I think it was May 12, 2003.

    I want to show it to my daughter, as I thought it a fair and balanced article.

  8. Democrats have a “reflexive negative attitude toward science and technology”? WTF? When was the last time (if ever) that any prominent Democratic politician made any issue at all out of GM crops? And how was the hi-tech industry doing under the Clinton administration?

  9. Haggai…”prominent” Demo politicians are probably avoiding making an issue out of GM crops because of political considerations; however, among the ideological left, GM crops are certainly a big issue. These are the people who increasingly seem to set the direction of the Demo party, even if their more extreme ideas take a while to make it into the mainstream.

    I don’t think the successes of the “tech” industry during the Clinton administration had to much to do with any Clinton policies. Rather, they had to do with (a) the fact that certain technologies (such as WWW) had reached the point where they could be commercialized, and (b) large numbers of entrepreneurs were willing to step up to the bar and do so.

    It’s true that Al Gore used to give speeches about a “national information infrastructure,” but as near as I can tell, what he had in mind was something much more centralized than the Internet turned out to be…more along the lines of the fantasies which cable and media companies were enjoying during the early ’90s..

  10. I guess we’re talking about somewhat different things with the ideological left and the Democratic party. What basis is there for your contention that the extreme left is setting the tone in the Dem. party? If anything, the party has shifted to the right on several major issues in the past decade. The far left certainly wasn’t in favor of welfare reform, and they’re definitely not in favor of the smaller tax cuts that the top Democrats have been proposing since Gore’s 2000 campaign.

    A lot more Democrats in Congress supported this Iraq war as opposed to the first one, where the large majority of them voted no. That might not exactly be an indication of anti-war sentiment waning in the party, but it’s certainly evidence against any gain in it. And even if the tech industry would have boomed even with different govt. policies during the ’90s, there’s nothing whatsoever in the Dem. party’s record over the past decade to indicate any gain in anti-science or technology sentiment. What basis is there for the belief that anti-GM crop policies will ever become an issue for Democratic leaders?

    If you want to bash the anti-war, anti-trade Luddite left, you’ll get little or no argument from me. But vague assertions about how those types “increasingly seem to set the direction of the Demo party” are devoid of evidence and divorced from reality.

  11. I think the “anti-war, anti-trade Luddite left” has been the most prominent voice on the left, not because they dominate the Dems but because they go out on the street and block traffic. Or vomit on the street as protest. They are simply the loudest. They’ve been losing the ideological battle in the Democratic Party for some time. Imo this is why the Green Party developed (well also because of their naivete about the political system). Their ideas don’t sell in the US because they are so fringe and most people with common sense see the ridiculousness of so many of their arguments. I’ve begun thinking of the American Far Left as being pretty much the European Left.

  12. Tom,

    This was a Michael Totten article, and it spawned a lot of debate in the blogosphere. It was also carried in the Wall Street Journal. So, not sure which WoC.NET article you mean.

    Posts related to it/linking to it included (in reverse chronological order):

    * The Decent Thing

    * Decency & Political Discourse

    * The Battle Over Liberalism

    * Liberal Builders, Conservative Defenders & Political Debate

  13. I’m not a Democrat. Actually, I’m a recovering uber-right-winger who’s mind was opnened in College.

    Both Democrats and Republicans have their ideologues and extremists. Both have members that go against the standard mantra, like Lincoln Chafee and Zell Miller.

    Both parties also change over time. In 1860, up until the 1920s, the Republicans were the liberal party and the Democrats were the conservative party. Of ocurse that wasn’t true in every case.

    My grandfather was born in 1907 in Brooklyn, and like any good Irish Catholic, he grew up as a Democrat. In 1959, he became Chief of Internal Security for the Attorney General, and in a pragmatic move, became an Independent, which allowed him to keep his job through both administrations. Towards the end of his life, he reamined an Independent, but leaned more and more to the Republican side.

    People change and parties change. In fact, the very definitions of liberal and conservative are not what they were 300 years ago.

    I myself used to be overly partisan, and I still maintain certain sentiments of favoritism; Gene Taylor and David Vitter both went to my HS so I will support them regardless. Of course, I agree with Taylor and Vitter, so that is easy, but that preferences more speaks of Catholic high schools in New Orleans than partisan politics.

    I was quick to regsiter as a Republican when I turned 18, and it can be family tradition to choose a party. My father and his father were both Republicans. In fact, my grandfather was a Republican in the South back in the 40s, long before the GOP had a shot anywhere in the South, except for East Tennessee.

    I have gotten upset with my party time and again, and I tend to be more Libertarian than Conservative these days. I also have people on both sides of the spectrum I like. Mac the War Liberal and Michael Totten are two of my favorite blogs. I also enjoy Andrew Sullivan’s daily dish, and the writings of Christopher Hitchens.

  14. if the Dems want to win in 04, or 08, then they will need to push an agressive campaign against intellectual property laws. Of course, then all their donors will abandon them, so I guess they’re screwed. Bush has the advantage in that he never even pretended to be on the side of the common man.

    This is unfortunate in the long run for the very business that bough Bush in the first place. The first large nation to remove all restrictions on intellectual property will prosper like no other. They will even overcome the negative effects of the other business-run governments which are so hostile to such ideas.

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