DO YOU REMEMBER THE FIFTH OF NOVEMBER?
Two weeks later, some thoughts on the November Massacre and what follows:
1. Charlie Cook is right. The Democrats took a bad hit, but this wasn’t a Republican sweep. The undecideds broke the wrong way the last weekend, and the Republicans did a somewhat better job of turning out their base than is typical of an in-party in an off-year. Not the end of the world. Not a signal that basic strategies need to be changed.
2. The New Democrat line is that we need to be more moderate, and kowtow less to, e.g., the teachers’ unions. The Old Democrat line is that we need to be more true to our basic commitments, and kowtow less to various corporate special interests. I think they’re both right about the kowtowing, and both wrong that the correct policies are systematically in some direction labelled “center” or “left.” We ought to be for free trade, which counts as “center,” and for tough environmental laws, which counts as “left” (but for doing them in as much market-simulating fashion as practical, which counts as “center” again). The question is how to get our campaigns paid for without kowtowing, given that we spent all those years in power and never developed the gumption to insist on public financing of campaigns.
2. We got badly outspent. We usually get badly outspent. It was worse this year because Bush was willing and able to devote just about full-time to fundraising all fall. It will be worse from now on because the Republicans control everything at the national level, and will use those advantages to squeeze money from donors and intimidate potential donors to our side. Yes, that’s a felony. No, there’s nothing to be done about it. Since we’re now splitting the over-$100,000-income vote, it ought to be possible to get some substantial money from individuals, which would have the additional advantage of not leaving us in thrall to union and corporate interests. We want half a million people getting $50 a month charged to their credit cards. That would require a DNC chair other than McAuliffe. The best time to do this would have been right after Bush v. Gore, but I don’t think it’s impossible.
3. Bush’s decision to have the debate on war with Iraq in the fall was brilliant. It left the Democrats no good move.
4. How we got screwed on homeland security is harder to figure. Democrats asked for it, Bush resisted it, then Bush went for it as a way to avoid the issue of how the early warnings of 9-11 got missed, then Bush insisted on making the new department a patronage dump and had the Republicans in the Senate filibuster the bill because it didn’t contain that. But the voters were left with the impression that the Democrats were holding it up in defense of union interests.
5. The Fox News-right blogosphere-talk radio capacity to put out Republican spin is simply not matched on the Democratic side. I didn’t even know that John Poindexter — a convicted felon who beat the rap on a technicality — was being put in charge of an office to carry out domestic spying, until the election was over. And then I had to learn it from William Safire. Hard to see what to do about that.
6. Democrats are lousy at “I told you so.” Remember when all the Democrats wanted a civil-service airport screener workforce and the Republicans wanted to keep it in their beloved private sector? Well, we did it the Democratic way and everyone agrees the new folks are much more efficient and much more polite. But was that an issue in the campaign? If so, I must have missed it.
7. Fiscal responsibility ought to be a good issue. “Honest people pay their debts, and honorable countries do the same” is the key line. (Yes, I know that “paying off the debt” is really shorthand for getting ready to pay for the boomers’ retirement; but until we learn to make moral-sounding appeals with a straight face, we’re going to continue to get stomped.) That means we need a candidate who didn’t vote for the Bush tax cut, and that proposing to replace it with cuts for non-rich people is precisely the wrong thing to do. We should propose to replace it with a balanced budget and reduction of the national debt. We should argue that doing so will pay economic dividends in the form of lower long-term interest rates, but should keep repeating that debts have to be paid.
8. It looks as if the swing voters think that national security against the Islamist threat is an important issue. I’m only half-convinced that they’re right. But if that’s what they want to hear about, we should be prepared to talk about it, rather than being so obvious about wanting to get back to discussing Social Security. I’ve been saying for some time — as a policy opinion, not a political ploy — that our enemy is Saudi Arabia, not Iraq. Let’s have a bunch of votes in the new Senate on riders to various bills insisting that the Saudis start helping out against the terrorists or lose X, Y, and Z, with a provision that allows Bush to let them off the hook.
9. I will certainly put a “Re-Elect Gore” bumper sticker on my car, if he’s the nominee, but I doubt he’s a winner. How about Westley Clark? No, I don’t know what he’s for, either, but if he’s prepared to call himself a Democrat that will commit him to doing enough of the right things to make his election worthwhile.