18 October, 2005

A Newt-Less Democratic Party

I was cruising around the blogroll a few days ago when I came across the "thank you for..." post by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson over at WaMo. Fairly standard stuff, but when I came to their last bullet point, my brain started to go into that wierd overdrive mode. Some of you know what I'm talking about: time seems to slow, every movement of the air around you becomes crystal-clear, and your vision tunnels down to the point of interest. Emphasis mine.
The focus of our book is on where the GOP’s organizational and institutional advantages came from and how they are exploited to pursue extreme goals and protect incumbents. We don’t focus on what agenda Democrats should present. In fact, we largely agree with Jon Chait’s excellent piece this summer, “The Case Against New Ideas," that the importance of the specific ideas, or even their tone, tends to be exaggerated. We should make clear that we do think ideas matter (thanks, "cmdicely," for the call for clarification), particularly for governance, and indeed one of us has been arguing for making economic security a key Democratic theme for a while. Still, the crucial challenge for the Democrats over the next year is to work in as unified a fashion as possible. It was the creation of that unity, after all, that was Gingrich’s greatest contribution to the GOP’s success—in 1994 and since.
Now, what does this mean, exactly? Does it mean we need a Newt-like political creature of our own? If it does, we are all up that nameless creek after leaving our paddle at the dock, as there are no Democrats that would fit the mold that Gingrich created. Nor is it possible to use the GOP plan for our own political success.

First to the Newt-less point. Show me one House Democrat that is capable of real leadership. Any one will do. And I'll have to wait around for someone to come up with someone that will even hold a candle to the GOP leadership of the last decade.
  • Nancy Pelosi: Even today, I consider her the biggest appeasement that the Democratic Party has ever put up. Listen to her remarks on the Crooks and Liars clip of the "Shame! Shame! Shame!" affair. And after doing so, I challenge any of you to come up with a less-convincing orator for the party. Nancy is far from possessing the smooth tones of Gingrich, which is what made him such good copy for the media and, therefore, highly effective in the driver's seat of 1994.
  • Steny Hoyer: The little-known House Whip (which, admittedly was Gingrich's position before the '94 Revolution) has little known about him outside of his own district, with the most recent item of high google-rank being his "failed leadership" on the Bankruptcy Bill. That's not necessarily the highest profile person we can send up now, is it? That and he's considered to be well into the Moderate side (antithetical to the Newt-standard rabid partisan) and, from the above example as well as others, not trusted fully by the mainstream Democratic media voices. (More on this point to come.)
  • Robert Menendez: Again relatively unknown outside of the 13th New Jersey district. Aside from the occasional press release, he doesn't have much to go on for an opinion. I haven't heard his appearances on the weekly address, nor have I ever caught him on C-SPAN. Possible candidate, but doubtful. His voting record is far to the populist side, according to these guys, and while that is the direction the party should run (much to the dismay of my libertarian side), he would need a major appearance overhaul to appear as being the standard bearer for the New Democratic Party.
  • Many many others: Sorry, but no. Just as with Hoyer and Menendez, you need to be well known outside of your own district. Perhaps the younger of the Brothers Salazar will have the opportunity once he gets some seasoning in him.
As for the second point, there have been many attempts to "redefine" the Democratic party over the last few years. And nowhere have those been more prevalent than over that the Daily Kos. Of all the attempts I've read, the one by Black Maned Pensator happens to be the closest, even if he still uses the buzzword of "manifesto" for it. (Step 1 when writing a piece calling for a new path for the Democratic Party: Avoid all uses of the word manifesto. It is a negative buzzword that can and will be twisted around like a wet towel by the conservatives and Republicans. Trust me on this.) Scroll down to Section 3 of his (Ye gods, this is what I call a long one!) diary and you'll see his attempt. (Her attempt? Ah well, you can't tell these days, can you.) Now open THIS link in a new window.

See the difference yet?

The Republican version is short, concise, and to the point: consistant, brief sentences that said exactly what they wanted them to and little else. The only way the authors could've made the points shorter would be to leave out the punctuation.

I highly doubt that we can do that. And why is that?

Because we're Democrats. By nature, we hem and haw and debate our way into making our official publications 20 times larger than they really should be, even without the seriously verbose natures that some bloggers have. (Myself included. Or at least, I better be included.) We seem to have this institutional need, almost a pathological weakness, to open the tent as wide as possible. And this is a good thing, this drive towards diversity, but in doing so, each and every single one of those diverse groups will want their own list, if only the top 5 or so, tacked onto the big release. And that will make it highly unwieldy for the average voter, not to mention the average citizen that sees no reason to vote.

And for a second twist on the point, one of the main reasons the RCFA was so highly successful, and resonated so well, with the voters was not the simplistic nature of the document. Instead, it was the effectiveness of the public relations campaign that pushed it over the top. Print media, broadcast media, internet media; the "unofficial" wing of the GOP was in full shriek well before the Contract came out. This gave them plenty of practice in the art of public relations in all its glory before time came for the big push, and they used their experience expertly.

Where is the Democratic version of the noise machine? Almost non-existant.

Sure, we've got the blog-writing powerhouses of Josh Marshall, Duncan Black, Markos Zuniga (Sorry, Kos. Don't know how to make Blogger do the emphasis mark over the "u" up there.). And we have the loyalties of countless, quality newspaper editorialists and reporters out there. But we're still missing something. And I know how to describe it in just two words...

Rush Limbaugh.

Where's our version of him? Franken? Hell no. Riley? Nein. Malloy? Nyet. ANYone on Air America? Non, negative, and no chance in hell. Oh, they're good (at least some of them) and they're learning. But they need to go up against the major leagues here, and they just aren't up to facing down a Limbaugh.

So for all those hoping to see the Democratic Manifesto For America turn around and bite the Republicans in the tuckus next November, think again. We've got a long way to go, just in the prep work alone, before we can touch them with a whamm-o like that.

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