With prominent GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff entering into a plea agreement yesterday that could embroil significant numbers of Republican Congressmen in scandal (plus Bush’s anemic poll numbers), the national Democratic Party seems poised for a rebound in 2006. However, this also seemed to be the case with a revved-up Democratic base in 2004, yet we all know how that turned out.
If you’ve read my Political Persuasion page, you know that I’m a self-identified Republican (although I’m of the libertarian stripe as opposed to the book burning stripe). Thus, you might wonder why I’m about to provide advice to the national Democratic Party. Here’s why: I believe that there is a “Third Way” in politics – one that combines free market principles and smaller government with progressive social ideas. The political party that truly gets there first will get my vote.
What’s amazing to me is that Bill Clinton created an incredibly successful game plan for Democrats to win by moving to the center in the 1990s, yet the current Howard Dean-led Democratic regime has completely thrown it out the window in order to be a loud liberal counterweight to George W. Bush’s neocon administration. As shown in the 2004 election, that’s a great way to get a really passionate 49% of the vote, but a bad way to win elections. Thus, here’s how the Democrats can win in 2006 and beyond by breaking back open the Clinton playbook:
1) Remember the Soccer Moms – Some K Street minion decided at the beginning of 2004 that the hot swing voter group for the year would be “NASCAR Dads.” This guy (obviously a male – a woman wouldn’t be so oblivious to the obvious) must have thought NASCAR fans were the American equivalent of sophisticated upscale European Formula One racing fans. If he had taken five minutes to watch a NASCAR race on television, much less attend one, he would have realized that the only group of people more likely to vote Republican than NASCAR Dads is the membership of the Kansas State Board of Education. Thus, John Kerry could have avoided wasting a whole lot of time and money on a segment of the population that would never vote for him.
Amazingly, the Democrats forgot about the group that propelled Clinton to two landslide victories: Soccer Moms. These are women who are typically pro-choice but want to protect their own school-age children while living an affluent lifestyle in the suburbs. This profile makes Soccer Moms possibly the last large group of swing voters in the country. Why was Clinton able to attract this group so well? He combined a sense of social responsibility while avoiding the standard Democratic rich bashing – remember that Soccer Moms are an affluent group. The so-called gender gap is more of a problem for Democrats than Republicans right now since the Republican Party’s advantage with men is larger than the Democratic Party’s advantage with women. Democrats cannot afford to ignore the Soccer Moms if they want any chance to win.
2) Don’t Bash Corporations – The stock market used to be reserved exclusively for the upper echelon of society. However, a seismic change occurred in the 1980s and 1990s – regular folks started putting money in the stock market. At this point, the majority of American households have money invested in Wall Street. When do stock prices go up? That’s pretty easy – when corporations are profitable.
Thus, if the majority of American households obtain an economic benefit when corporations are profitable since they own stock of said corporations, it makes little sense to bash those companies for making money. If people think they’re going to lose money if you’re in office, they have a clear and tangible incentive to vote for your opponent. Clinton understood this and avoided the usual Democratic rhetoric. In contrast, Al Gore and John Kerry resorted to populist rhetoric about “Benedict Arnold corporations” and, not surprisingly, ended up losing.
3) Stand Up to the Labor Unions and Promote Free Trade – It seemed like Clinton and Al Gore were making great progress with getting the Democratic Party to stand up to the labor unions and impressing upon the importance of understanding fundamental economic principles that people should have learned in high school. As much as I might have had problems with the Clinton-Gore administration, I give them immense credit for taking a stance against the Democratic labor union machine and getting NAFTA passed. The opening up of trade across North America propelled the U.S. to unprecedented prosperity in the 1990s.
Since then, however, the Democrats have slid backwards on the free trade issue in order to keep their union base happy. They have resorted to emotional populist arguments about how certain American jobs will be transferred overseas while losing sight of the fact that a protectionist economy will shut down the future job growth of the country in information age tehcnologies. Even though labor unions have historically done a good job of turning out the vote, they are also shrinking in numbers. At the same time, the general public has an increasingly negative view of labor unions. It is bad economics and bad politics for the Democrats to continue to tow the line of this special interest group.
4) Avoid the Blood in the Water – The Jack Abramoff plea bargain, the indictments of Tom Delay and VP Chief of Staff Scooter Libby, Karl Rove’s big mouth and the Plame/CIA leak investigation… Republicans are embroiled in scandal everywhere you turn and Democrats are understandably licking their chops. Of course, this looks a lot like 1998 with the shoe on the other party’s foot, when the Whitewater investigation was at its zenith and Bill Clinton was caught with a cigar he didn’t smoke.
The important thing to remember is that outside of the Beltway, no one really cares about how corrupt politicians are because everyone believes that all politicians are corrupt in the first place. The Republicans foamed at the mouth for years about the shady dealings of the Democrats while Clinton focused on growing the economy and using our military to bring about regime change in Kosovo. By the end of 1999, Clinton was more popular than ever and Republicans were avoiding Newt Gingrinch like the plague. Today, Democrats are foaming at the mouth about the shady dealings of the Republicans while Bush is focusing on growing the economy and using our military to bring about regime change in the Middle East. If the Democrats forget about the real issues facing this country and just blabber on about scandals few people care about or understand, which party is going to be better off by the end of 2006? This brings me to the final and most important point…
5) Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow – It’s ironic that for all of his bumbling policy speeches, George W. Bush was able to master “the vision thing” that his father thought was irrelevant in 1992. As a result, it was the underachieving son that was able to win two terms as President instead of the more accomplished father.
Bill Clinton, who soundly defeated Dubya’s father, was great at “the vision thing.” He conveyed that there was a sense of purpose to the presidency and that there would be a better tomorrow for the country. In contrast, the Democratic Party of today has completely conceded the vision ground to Dubyah and the Republicans. Even if you can’t stand the Republicans, you have a pretty clear picture of where they stand as a party on the economy, national defense, and taxes, which happen to be the issues that voters care about the most.
The Democrats, though, are split on Iraq. They are split on the level of taxation in this country. They are split on the Patriot Act. They are split on free trade. So, instead of trying to convey clear positions on the issues that Americans really care about the most (as opposed to issues infused with religious fervor such as abortion, which are low on the list for the average voter – anyone who tells you “values” voters won the election for Bush in 2004 is a crock since Republicans are the ones divided on those issues, not Democrats), they have rallied around the Dubyah bogeyman for the past 6 years. The Democrats spent the entire first term complaining about hanging chads in Florida and how a right-leaning Supreme Court “highjacked” the election. After getting beaten fairly in 2004, the Democrats have turned their attention to accusing the Bush administration of promoting bad intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction in the days leading up to the start of the current war in Iraq and focusing on the aforementioned inside-the-Beltway scandals.
Bad intelligence on WMDs would be an important issue… if this were March 2003. This isn’t to gloss over the Bush administration’s use of possibly sketchy intelligence. However, the point here is that the Democrats have not once presented any viable alternative vision to what America ought to do in Iraq. For all the times that John Kerry stated that he “had a plan” for this or that, the only issue that he clearly differed from Dubya on last year was that he wanted to raise taxes on the top 1% of American income earners. If the only discernible difference from your opponent is that you want raise taxes (even if it would supposedly be only on the rich), you’re going to lose.
As much as a large proportion of the population hates Dubya, the inability of the Democrats to articulate a coherent vision in terms of the economy and national defense will continue to be the party’s Achilles’ heel. The Democrats found out last year that Bush-bashing with little else will get them 49% of the vote. They had better start getting some ideas instead of harping on the past if they actually want to win elections. Bill Clinton knew this, which is why he’s the only Democrat since FDR to win two terms in office. The Democrats would be well advised to follow the steps of the one winner they’ve had over the past sixty years.