"Wil?" the voice on the other end of the telephone line crackled. "Wil, this is Terry McAuliffe!"
"Terry," I replied. "Good to hear from you. Sorry about your boy going down, but it was all preordained you know. George and John decided who would take this one on the chin during the Skull and Bones thumbwrestling championships of 1975. Nothing anyone could do."
"That may be," came the frantic voice of the current leader of the Democratic National Committee. "But we're in trouble. Over the past four years the party has gone down more times than."
"Terry, please," I purred. "Not another Monica Lewinsky joke. They're beneath you."
"Whatever, dude. I need your help. I need you to save the Democratic Party!"
"Terry, for God's sake, be reasonable here. I'm a doctor, not a magician!"
"You're a doctor?"
"Well, uh, no. it's an old Star Trek line. You know, 'Bones McCoy'? He would always say something like."
"Wil, I don't have time for your pop culture tangents. We lost in 2000. We lost in 2002. We lost in 2004. Without your help the Democratic Party is finished!" I could hear the phone slam down in its cradle and realized the conversation was over.
"Interesting," I mused to myself, while gazing about the top-secret Acid Logic fortress of solitude. I did so like a challenge and while the current Democratic Party seemed more unsalvageable than Liza Minelli's latest plastic surgery this was exactly the sort of adversity I thrived on. And it was a topic I'd already been musing on over the course of the past year, from the rise of Howard Dean to Kerry's comeback during the debates. Hurriedly, I began assembling my notes. The next day was a montage of frenzied typing, flurried absinth drinking and deep ruminations, all performed with an inspirational Survivor soundtrack in the background. Finally I arrived with the conclusions I am prepared to share with you now.
But first, in the interest of the journalistic integrity I often make cursory nods to, I should give you a bit of background. While I voted for Kerry, I'm don't consider myself a Democrat - indeed, I've often been critical of the party, especially its more authoritarian incarnations. I've considered myself an independent voter for most of my years, mainly because it makes me sound cool and "mavericky." I tend towards an isolationist military policy, a conservative fiscal policy and a liberal social policy. (I actually think you should be able to marry your dog.) But this distance from the party is exactly why I think my critiques are more compelling than that of a fawning insider who's afraid of really telling it like it is. Like the 90 year old, alcoholic grandfather who always ruins Thanksgiving by screaming and spitting on family members, I've got nothing to lose. (I should also make clear I made my suggestions more so from a strategic viewpoint than simple idealism. I'm philosophically at odds with some of what I advocate here, but am confident such steps would benefit the Dems in the political arena.)
So let's get on with it.
After Kerry lost, I heard a lot of Democrats congratulating Kerry for not following Bill Clinton's advice to support several Southern proposed bans on Gay Marriage. They complimented him for holding to true his principals even if it meant going down in defeat. These were the same Democrats that talked about how they were going to "fight dirty" and do "whatever it takes" to defeat Bush. You can't have it both ways, folks. Gay Marriage won't mean a whole lot if George walks us into a nuke war with North Korea. And you could do a lot worse than taking advice from Bill Clinton, a guy who has a history of actually winning stuff.
Offer a Radical, Pro-science Energy Policy
Your average American has no particular fondness for oil. It's gooey, it's messy and it smells. If you told him he could run his car on old banana peels he'd make the switch. Democrats bemoan oil's affect on our environment, foreign policy and health but rarely swing the message positive. Solar, wind and hydrogen power are becoming more cost efficient and viable on a monthly basis. Technology is making conservation easier and more efficient. If Dems act now, they can "own" this issue. (But move fast - Schwarzenegger is already getting his grubby paws on it.) Granted, you have to tread carefully here - don't over promise, and do acknowledge the scientific realities of alternative sources of energy, but also point out the obvious reality of oil: sooner or later it will run out and something will need to take its place.
Pander, Pander, Pander
Pandering is a good thing as long as you do it strategically. I'm not talking about dishing out endless servings of pork, but making an attempt to connect and show an affinity for certain key constituencies. There are three groups the Dems need to send some serious love vibes to.
- Religious Folk - At the very least, don't allow the impression that The Republicans "own" this group. (Remember a guy named Martin Luthor King? I'm pretty sure he would have voted against Bush.) There's a very viable (albeit, often pro-life) religious left that could use some more face time at the Democratic conventions. If the secularist urbanites in the room (like myself) start to complain about the sudden influx of religion, tell them to shut up - it's for the good of the party.
- The Military - Team up with McCain to craft a bill that a) Increases pay for the military, b) Provides flak jackets, increased armaments and necessary equipment for soldiers at war, c) Name the bill after a soldier who was burned to death in Iraq because he didn't have the materials provided in b, d) How do you pay for it? Tax increase. (Maybe a gas tax?) Find me an American who's going to complain (loudly) about a tax increase to support the troops. e) Keep in mind, it doesn't matter if the Bill fails (unless you're in the military.) You just need to be seen rooting for it.
- The South - Having been born in the 70's, I find it truly amazing the South was ever considered a Democratic stronghold, but that just shows you how bad things have gotten. Being that the South is filled with a) Blacks, b) Hispanics, and c) poor whites - three groups that stand to benefit from Dem policies - this truly is a scar on the Party. I don't know what you have to do to win some Southern states back, but start doing it. (Idea 1 - Don't push for gay marriage, settle for civil unions.) And keep in mind, you don't need the whole populace of one state, just 51%.
Drop the Gun Issue
"Bowling For Columbine" notwithstanding, you've lost this one. At the very least, acknowledge that gun rights should be decided on a state level and it should keep gun nuts off your back. (On a side note, was I the only who considered not voting for Kerry because he went duck hunting?)
Stop Being So Snooty
A lot of Democrats take offense about the accusation that they come across as snide, elistist, self-righteous assholes who turn down their nose at rural and religious folk. Face it: you do. (It's certainly possible that rural conservatives are just as obnoxious, but I spend so little time with those inbred, snake-handling primitives that it's hard for me to say.) This isn't so much a problem with Democratic leadership but the party rank and file who wither away cocktail parties spouting hillbilly jokes (Here's some good ones.) and feigning bemusement at the stupidity of the red states. One has to wonder how many votes for Bush were cast simply because the voter knew it would piss off the mouthy lesbian who runs the local coffee bar or the literature professor from the nearby community college whose editorials in the independent weekly are so dripping with condescension that it practically disintegrates in your lap. Why they could number in
millions, thousands, hundreds! (Here's one for starters.)
Terrorism, Loose Nukes And Other Signs Of The Impending Apocalypse
I think Kerry did pretty well with this one. I didn't really understand what his plan to fight terrorism was, but frankly, I don't understand what Bush's plan is. I'm not sure you can even have a plan. Obviously our intelligence operations are a mess and will take years to get up to speed. That's going to be an ongoing battle.
One area the Dems may need to rethink. The great concern was that middle America voted Bush because they were so afraid of terrorists they couldn't think straight. But I'm not so sure that's true. After all, what are the odds Osama bin Laden is going to drag a nuclear bomb into the middle of Alabama and blow up five people and three hundred cows, when there are far more inviting and symbolic targets like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago (places that voted overwhelmingly for Kerry.) Looking at the responses to the BBC's "Why did you vote for Bush" survey, I was surprised that terrorism wasn't a chief concern. While I think Red Staters do fear terrorism, they fear it in a more intangible sense, the same way Blue Staters "fear" rattlesnakes and mountain lions.
Take Over Iraq
Not the country, but the topic. Democratic Senators and Congressmen should become the patron saints of the Iraqi people. Push for nationalization of Iraqi oil resources (similar to Alaska's oil fund.) Start up drives to send medicine and toys to be distributed by the troops. (Make Wesley Clark the "face" of this program.) Demand that the 18 billion dollars of reconstruction money that's been sitting in limbo gets spent. Visit the country, and often. At best, you'll gain points for being the side that fixed (or tried to fix) George Bush's Iraq war quagmire. At worst you'll help a whole lot of suffering people. (Maybe that should read the other way around - I'll let you decide.)
Is it so crazy to propose that Democratic organizations like MoveOn.org make an effort to simply get Democrats to move into key Red States, tipping the balance of power into their favor? (I hear Akron is nice.) At a minimum Dems could stand to get more familiar with the lives and lifestyles of middle America in order to craft a more appealing national message. We often hear how Americans are dumb because they can't find Iran or Uzbekistan on a map but I've got a confession to make: I'm not sure I could find Kansas on a map. Blue states broadcast the worst of their culture to the Reds via movies and television but are relatively naïve to how they live. ("Should we start watching PAX?" Whoa, let's not get crazy here.)
Conversely, Red State Democrats: Holla at me, now. You're going to have work extra hard to make yourself known and keep your blue-state cousins from spiraling into a state of hair pulling paranoia.
Savor Your Victories
Am I the only one who gets the sense Democrats don't realize when they've won? Democrats pushed through Roe vs Wade, passed Workplace safety laws and sponsored Civil Rights but never seem to give themselves a pat of the back. To hear them tell it, the life of an average Democrat is one of endless worry and crushing disappointment. With that kind of attitude, it's a wonder you've got half the country*.
* Also something to celebrate.
Fight Corporate Porn
Ugh. I'm going completely against my own beliefs on this one. You may recall Ralph Nader's admonition against what he called "corporate porn" during the Janet Jackson scandal. (Leading us to believe Ralph only views good old-fashioned, Mom-and-Pop porn, handcrafted by families who've made porn the same way for generations.) But there's little doubt that "moral values" were a big topic this election, brought on by Howard Stern's umpteenth FCC fine, Janet's escaping boobie and Britney kissing Madonna. As the home base for pursed-lipped feminists and Tipper Gore, the Democratic party can make credible claims about owning this issue.
Eject the Disillusioned
To everyone who said they would move to Canada if Bush won a second term: Please. Go. Hurry. The sooner you're gone the sooner you stop sucking energy from those who plan to stay and fight. Beat it.
And the Winner is.
All this is well and good, but I would be remiss if I didn't offer up a concrete candidate for 2008. May I present Former pro wrestler and the original Governator: Jesse Ventura. With his Operation Truth he's got more anti-war credentials that John Kerry ever had (insomuch as the war will be an issue in '08). He was a popular Governor of Minnesota. His pop cultural recognition as a pro-wrestler and movie star combined with his penchant for straight talk would give him points with rural voters, military voters and the South. Downside: First you have to convince him to become a Democrat. Then you have to deal with the fact that he is, essentially, anti-religion. While that's an opinion I wholeheartedly support, it would be a tough sell to moderate, Middle American voters. Solution: Tell him to keep his mouth and pair him with a religious veep.
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