I hadn't planned on this being a series, but as I began to write yesterday's post, I realized I was heading full speed into a novel. That's the biggest reason it ended so abruptly.
What I see when I look at the two major parties in this nation is stultification and obsolescence. Despite Obama's "re-energizing" of the party, attracting youthful voters, the same Democratic party is the underpinning of his entire campaign.
Indeed, his personal campaign runs square up against the centrist policies of the party as a whole.
This scenario has played out once before in this nation, within the past forty years. When the Democrats took a strong stand against racial discrimination and for equal rights, it triggered a series of cataclysms, ending classical American liberalism as we know it.
First, the noble cause of racial equality created a split with what was then the George Wallace wing of the party. You might say this was a good thing, driving out intolerance and driving away injustice, and I'd be hard pressed to disagree.
But look what happens next: After Wallace runs a failed third party campaign in 1968 (getting nearly killed in the process), the Republicans seize on the disaffected southern white working class voters that Wallace attracted.
You know these folks as "Reagan Democrats".
By talking in coded language of "law and order" and raising values issues, the Republicans began to peel away the basic voting bloc of America: middle Americans who, altho liberal in outlook, didn't trust a radical agenda, which was becoming more and more radical in the Democratic party as the anti-war movement began.
The Republicans countered this, masterfully, by scaring people about liberals while at the same time reassuring them that there was someone who was looking out for them, co-opting the values battle while winning elections, and pretty much guaranteeing a hand in government for generations.
Sounds pretty familiar, doesn't it? A party has overstepped their mandate, and disaffected voters are uneasy about where to turn next. This is another challenge Barack Obama faces: reassuring these voters that while he's about the future, he's also not going to take them on a rollercoaster ride.
You'll notice the rationale here for Hillary Clinton's campaign strategy, and it was a smart one and a good one, and nearly garnered her the nomination despite her blunders.
In 2006, the Democrats led by Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer returned the Democrats to legislative control based largely on this strategy of taking disaffected Republicans and "former Reagan Democrats" and putting a friendly face on a slightly more progressive agenda: Jon Tester, Jim Webb, Claire McCaskill, Bob Casey, all ran as conservative-to-moderate Democrats and picked up seats previously held by Republicans.
The sole "pure" liberal to swipe a seat was Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and that seat was held by Mike DeWine, of Coingate fame.
Clearly, the 2008 election should see more and more Democrats come to the fore in the legislative elections, more notably as Representatives, I think, altho a six seat pick up by Democrats in the Senate would not be impossible. Getting a filibuster proof mandate is not likely.
Now, I've written all that to acknowledge the importance of this election in shaping the country going forward, but also as a warning that while change is good, radical change is not good.
We need to elect candidates who will articulate a vision for America in ways that Americans can be comfortable about, which is another reason I felt Obama was a failure as a nominee: he articulates a vision I can see in my head, but not feel in my heart.
Altho his 2004 convention speech was rib-tickling, to be sure, he hasn't followed that with concrete visions, and he speaks abstractly, as if he was a lecturing fellow at Columbia. That's not what Americans respond to. They don't vote with their heads.
They should, because poll after poll after poll says that, in general, they agree with a liberal agenda: healthcare for all, opportunity, fairness, liberty and equality.
If I was running for President, and I'm not, I would skip the usual "I met this family in Podunk" speech about healthcare or gas prices or a clean environment, in favor of talking to people about their own concerns and addressing them.
In short, my theme would be this: We know you're scared. We can help.
The new politics of the 21st Century is going to have to acknowledge the failures of both Republican and Democratic principles (if you can find the latter) and replace them with new ideals to live up to.
Republican "ideals" can be summed up in four words: lower taxes, less government.
Simple, right? Doesn't mean the party lives up to them or anything approaching them, but it's an easy way for people to remember who you are.
What are Democratic principles?
Not so easy to name them, is it?
When Bill Clinton ran in 1992, he used the following theme: "Opportunity. Responsibility. Community."
Not particularly descriptive, but easy to understand and to figure out what the candidate means. The trouble with this theme is everyone is for all those things. How are you different from the other guy?
(Side note: this is why "Yes We Can" is such a horrible campaign slogan. "Yes we can," what, exactly?)
A better paradigm for running for President (or Not) would be to establish from the outset exactly what you mean to do and how it will improve the lives of average Americans. Yesterday I co-opted the phrase "back to the future" as my first paradigm and this would be a pretty good starting point for any campaign I were to run, except, you know, it's already saddled with baggage.
In order to effectively promote a case for election, a case for your administration, you have to help people connect with your core values, your core beliefs, and your core positions.
What makes Democrats' job so much harder is, these are usually muddled beyond belief, forcing successful candidates to run as "not the other guy".
In determining my vision of the future, I would use the following syllogism:
1) People are scared for the immediate future and for their children. They've seen retirement money dry up in the winds of change these past seven years, and a dismantlement of the most cherish programs of FDR's New Deal, programs that heretofore were considered sacrosanct.
2) I/we have the solutions that will combine the best of Republican values (limiting tax hikes and government growth, particularly on the working and middle class, "middle class" having a generous definition here) with the best of Democratic values (opportunity, responsibility, community, for want of a better phrasing).
3) Ergo, we should present these solutions to the people who are scared and let them know they have nothing to fear, but fear itself.
If that sounds familiar, it should. It was basically FDR's campaign strategy in 1932 as well as his slogan.
And that time has come again, to remind Americans that their fellow man/woman is not the enemy, but the rapacity of corporate America, guided, aided, and abetted by the Republican AND Democratic parties (and yes, I lump these so-called "outsiders" Obama and McCain in with them), and that what stands between them and their goals of security and happiness is not abortion rights or gay marriage or flying a Confederate flag over a state capitol, but the interlocking play of money and power.
Their inheritance, our inheritance, the American birthright of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, has been stolen by those whose power allows them to take it, assisted by those whom we elected nominally to protect us.
It is time to reclaim that dream once again. We have woken up, and we are not happy.