Friday, November 05, 2004

Why We Lost

Among the myriad of Op-Ed handwringing about Kerry's loss on Tuesday, the best I've seen is Andrei Cherny's NY Times editorial "Why We Lost". His argument, which I think is a compelling one, is that the democratic party has lacked a real vision and an overarching strategic vision of the world that they can sell to America. Instead, they have positions on a few issues, and strong stands against anything Bush has done, but there is no coherent thread that ties it all together.

So, I ask you, what does (or should) the democratic party stand for?


Blogger Qian said...

I've read Cherny's editorial as well as "Why They Won" by Thomas Frank. I agree with both that Democrats have been lacking a coherent message and vision. However, I don't think that's the only or even the most serious problem. I think that to be competitive the Democratic party must stop nominating introverts. I think that the party suffers from a collective case of "The West Wing" syndrome. We somehow believed that a wonkish Northeastern intellectual could actually win a national contest. It can only happen in TV land. In any race that gets significant TV coverage, the more extroverted, magnetic personality will always win. Look at every presidential race since Reagan v. Carter. There is not one instance where the less charismatic candidate won, regardless of his party affiliation, experience level, message, or personal history. That's why a B-movie actor beats a nuclear engineer, a governor of a small, poor Southern state beats a sitting President who won a war, and why a language-mangling cowboy beats a smarter, more qualified war hero.

I did believe that Kerry had a chance if he could just find the right message. But now I realize that even if he had, he would not be able to deliver it. It would be like Britney Spears playing Ophelia or Keanu Reeves playing Hamlet. (The latter did happen a few times in Canada, and I imagine it went something like this: "Dude, to be or not to be, that is like the question. Whether 'tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, man, or by opposing end them. Whoa!") Well, back to my point. We need to think of the President as the chief spokesman for the party in the same sense that Michael Jordan was the chief spokesman for Nike. Did he know anything about shoes or feet or the physiology of jumping? Would a shoe designer have been a better spokesman? I think that it's just a sad political reality that those who can govern best can no longer be elected on that basis. People have neither the time nor the inclination nor indeed the ability to judge a candidate based on facts or policies or plans. It really just comes down to who is more likable.

I think this is especially hard to digest for those of us who do try to look beyond the surface of the candidates. Our idea of “electability” put John Kerry ahead of John Edwards. Big mistake. We like to point to polls that show people care about "values" or “experience” or "the economy" or "the war in Iraq". But those are little white lies that people tell the pollsters. It's the same problem as when Nielsen did their ratings with viewer diaries instead of actual monitors. PBS shows had disproportionately high ratings because people wanted to be thought of as cultured and said they watched Masterpiece Theater when they were really watching The Price is Right. I think Democrats are especially prone to imbibing the pollsters' cool-aid since we really want to believe that the election of the leader of the Free World is more than just another beauty pageant. So bring on the extroverts I say. Bring on the affable Hollywood superstars (no, not the preachy, holier-than-thou Alec Baldwin types, but the salt-of-the earth, plain-spoken Paul Newman types). Bring on the guys who can sell you shoes that cost a buck to make in sweatshops for 120 dollars. Bring on the women who can sell you bottled water for more than the price of milk. Don't get me wrong, we can still have Rhodes Scholars, but they'd better also be womanizing Southern bubbas who can charm their way into every sorority house on campus. I want someone so likable that as long as he is alive the Republicans won't dare to think about eliminating the presidential term limit.

Just so this post isn't completely off topic, I'll tell you want I think the Democratic Party stands for. I think the Democrats stand for fairness. I think the Democrats stand for foresight. I think the Democrats stand for inclusion. And I think the Democrats stand for responsibility. Could the Democrats do better in every respect? Absolutely. But I don't think there's anything wrong with what we stand for. I just think we need someone who likes people and who people like out there telling our side of the story.

11/05/2004 06:25:00 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

Unlike the author of the linked story, I was under the impression that lots (most?) of the recent 5-4 supreme court decisions were in favor of the "liberals". No?

Qian: Who thought Kerry was more electable than Edwards? I think it was plainly obvious (to moderates?) that Edwards would be more electable. He's more likeable, has a good story that appeals to small town folks, and is from the South. Maybe he wasn't quite as rich as Kerry, but democrats were able to get plenty of campaign contributions. I took democrats' nomination of John Kerry as either being totally oblivious (party machinery in Iowa?) or very (now we know overly) confident that they could get who ever they wanted due to Bush's mistakes (new england states?).

IMHO... Both the democrats or republicans leave a lot to be desired in the categories of foresight and responsibility on important issues such as social securiy, medicare, debt, environment... Both get so caught up in politics that the greater good gets lots.

Democrat's and especially, Kerry's attacking _everything_ that Bush did was a stupid strategy. The public can easily see through that. Only attacking on things where he really has done something dumb (or at least you can make a decent case that he has) would be a better strategy.

11/05/2004 10:21:00 PM  
Blogger Mwal said...

I wonder if Bill Cosby would be willing to run for president.

11/06/2004 03:23:00 AM  
Blogger Qian said...

Eric, Edwards definitely had more appeal to non-party moderates. But the big reason that Kerry was able to come from 20 or so points down to win in Iowa was that the people who voted in the Democratic primary thought he was more electable than any of the other candidates on the strength of his millitary service, etc. At least if you believe the exit polls of the Iowa primary. Edwards was polling much higher on likability but Kerry much higher on electability. I think if the Democrats had stuck with their initial assessment of him as a boring Northeastern senator they would have been better served. And after Iowa his momemtum took him the rest of the way. (A good reason to instead have primaries on a single day, just like the general elections) I think far from being over confident, the nomination of Kerry was a sign of low confidence. Kerry was, believe it or not, deemed the safest choice for the Democrats. His millitary and political experience was suppose to make him the strongest on defense and security.

It's interesting that you feel Kerry and the Democrats attacked Bush too much. I believe Florida had more than its fair share of political ads this year and from my own inacurate observation 90+% of the Republican ads were attack ads compared to about 60-70% for the Democrats. The Republican ads tend to be ad hominem attacks, e.g. Kerry's a flip-flopper. The Democratic ads started out not attacking at all but became increasingly aggressive as the campaign wore on, but never really reaching the level of the Republican ads. In fact the Democrats entirely refrained from attacking Bush during their convention in Boston. When they did finally begin to really attack Bush, starting around the time of the first debate, they had no clear message to speak of. And I guess that's why it felt like they were attacking everything.

Interestingly, in the Florida senate race, the strategies were reversed. The Republican Mel Martinez ran a great number of ads touting his own experience. The Democrat Betty Castor ran way fewer ads but they were mostly ads attacking Martinez's character. Martinez finally began responding with attack ads of his own late in the campaign. The result of the race was very, very close. Castor lost but she did significantly better than Kerry in Florida despite having had only a fraction of the media exposure and no or even negative coat-tail from Kerry.

All in all, I think a lot of things went wrong with Kerry's campaign, but the major factor is still the candidate himself.

I agree with you that the Democrats are far from perfect as they tend to do their fair share of pandering to businesses, unions, and guys with money. I think every politician, no matter how idealistic he/she is, will end up compromising his/her integrity to some extent. It's really just a matter of human nature and the nature of politics. I still believe that the Democrats should be able to do a better job than the Republicans in looking out for the country's long-term interests, but there's certainly a great deal of room for improvement.

11/06/2004 12:44:00 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

Bush didn't need an outstanding military record to get elected. I don't see why the challenger should.

Given that I live in CA, obviously I didn't see most of the FL ads. (Even if I did live in FL, since I only watch TV when traveling, I would have missed most of the comercials.) My observation of Kerry overly attacking Bush and Bush being more positive (but starting to add in some attacks towards the end) was based on the non-advertisement media reports (mostly NPR and AP/Reuters via Yahoo). That's lots of clips from speeches and very obviously biased politcal pundits.

11/06/2004 04:37:00 PM  
Blogger Vincent said...

The Democrats got killed on "values". Evangelicals turned out in record numbers to vote for Bush because they perceived him as being more in touch with their morals. People voted against their interests (health care, education, social security, fiscal discipline, not being a warmongering nation) and instead voted for "I hate abortion-giving fags."

The Democrats need to reframe the values debate. There are other far more important values than simply sexual and reproductive ones. It's a bit over the top, but...:

My fellow Americans,

Nearly 400 years ago, the Pilgrims came to America to escape religious persecution in Europe. The dreamed of founding a nation on solid Christian values. Little could they have known that their nation would become the greatest, most powerful nation in the world.

We are the inheritors of the legacy of the Pilgrims. Their values are our values. Three simple words summarize those values like no others could: Love thy neighbor.

As a nation founded on Christian values, we should strive to understand not only what Jesus taught, but what he didn't teach. Jesus didn't say "Love thy neighbor, but not if he's Black." The Democratic party stands for equality for all people, regardless of race. We will fight to eliminate the last, ugly vestiges of racism in this country, and we will fight to ensure that people of all races are treated with equal respect and dignity.

Jesus did not say "Love thy neighbor, but not if she's a woman." The Democratic party stands for equality for women and will fight to eliminate gender discrimination. We support equal pay for equal work, and we support an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.

Jesus did not say "Love thy neighbor, but not if he doesn't share your religion." The Pilgrims came to America to flee religious persecution, and we dishonor their struggles if we contribute to the same problems they fled. The Democratic party stands for government based on Christian values, but we must respect that there are those among us who choose to express those values in a different way. We can, nay must, govern in a way that all people, be they Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, atheist, or of any other religion, can live in freedom and equality.

Jesus did not say "Love thy neighbor, but not if he's gay." No matter what your views on homosexuals, Jesus would not want us to persecute them. The Democratic party stands for equality of all people, regardless of sexual orientation. Our opponents would like to amend the Constitution to strip homosexuals of their rights, to institutionalize bigotry, to discriminate against homosexuals as second-class citizens who could be denied the right to raise a family or visit their loved ones in the hospital. This is not only bad government, but it is un-Christian. Our opponents' claim that homosexuality is a sin. Jesus loved all people, but most of all the sinners. We are all sinners, every single one of us. Let us remove the splinters from our own eyes before we condemn others for the splinters in theirs.

Jesus also told us that faith, if it hath not works, is dead. He said that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. The Democratic party, as the majority of the country and indeed even as our opponents, share in the faith. The Democratic platform proposes to put forth in works the values of our faith.

Our faith tells us thou shalt not kill. From the moment of conception to the last breath of life, the Democratic party believes thou shalt not kill. Like our opponents, we support a ban on partial-birth abortion. Unlike our opponents, we believe thou shalt not kill applies after birth as well.

The Democratic party will never start an unnecessary war based on false pretenses. Let me make one thing absolutely clear: We will never let anyone interfere with our ability to defend ourselves, to our right to root out terrorism no matter where it is in the world, or to intervene militarily to prevent genocide. We supported the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. We support our allies in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to destroy the operations of al Qaeda in their countries, and we support the use of targeted military strikes in Sudan and other nations that are less cooperative in eliminating terrorism. But unlike our opponents, we also support military intervention to stop the slaughter of thousands of innocent people in Darfur. Our opponents even admit that genocide is occurring in Darfur, yet they stand idly by. Did the good Samaritan stand idly by when he encountered the traveler lying battered, bleeding, and nearly dead along the road? No, and neither shall we.

Our opponents' avoidable war in Iraq has led to the deaths of over 1,000 American soldiers and to the wounding of 30,000 more. It is estimated that over 100,000 Iraqis have lost their lives in the struggle, mostly due to errant American bombs and shelling. The President, as commander-in-chief, is responsible for the actions of the military and the killing that occurs. A true Christian President, with true Christian faith, would have taken to heart the words "thou shalt not kill" and taken every step possible to avoid the war in Iraq. Unfortunately for the hundreds of thousands dead or injured, our President chose to go to war as a first, not last, resort.

Thou shalt not kill motivates us in many other regards. We support health insurance for everyone and access to prescription drugs for all Americans, regardless of income. Our opponents claim that our plan is too expensive and instead propose additional tax cuts for the wealthy. But what greater good can our money do than to save the lives of those who had the misfortunate to be both ill and poor at the same time? The Bible tells us it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. What will you say at Judgment Day? Will you say that, like the good Samaritan, you did everything you could to save the lives of the sick and poor? Or will you say that you couldn't be bothered to because you would rather have had a tax cut?

The Bible tells us "Honor thy father and thy mother." Is it honoring them to let the pharmaceutical companies charge exorbitant prices for their necessary medication? We don't think so, which is why we support the reimportation of prescription drugs from Canada and other countries. We support allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower prices, and we support a comprehensive, optional, insurance program offered to all Americans. If our opponents honor their father and mother, we invite them to match our proposals.

Honor thy father and thy mother. We support fiscal discipline in order to make sure that Social Security is funded for generations to come. Our opponents would threaten the viability of Social Security by allowing people to invest their contributions in the stock market. Is it honoring thy mother and father to tell them when they reach 65, "Sorry, there's no money for you. The retirement income you were counting on for the necessities of life disappeared in accounting fraud so Ken Lay could buy another mansion"?
And so on. The Democrats need to drive home to the evangelicals that on every one of their so-called "values", the policies of the Democratic party do more to further them than any of the corrupt, half-assed programs that the Republicans implement.

11/06/2004 09:25:00 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

A bit???

I certainly hope you can recognize that two people (or parties in this case) can have the same goals (e.g. equality, respect for life), but very different ideas of how to further those goals.

Sorry, but while I agree with some of the ideas mentioned, I don't see the democrats as significantly better on "values". Both parties like to talk about how magnaimous they are, and both parties have serious shortcomings.

One major complaint about many democratic proposals is that often they aim to sound good and/or give people things that they think they want in the short term. But the same programs often have long term and/or hidden costs, so it's not clear if they really help the people that they're claiming to. While I beleive that many ordinary people innocently support such proposals, I suspect that many of the democrats in power know (or should know) that they're using gimicks to manipulate the masses, and I suspect that their primary movtives are to futher their own power and/or other agendas. That doesn't help them on values.

Of course, republicans are sometimes guilty of this, too.

11/06/2004 10:23:00 PM  
Blogger Vincent said...

That's my point exactly. The Republicans are no better than the Democrats on "values" (and I'd argue significantly worse if a broad definition of values is chosen), and the Democrats need to hammer that point home starting now. If we wait until the debates 4 years from now, it will be too late, because it takes time to unbrainwash people.

Out of curiosity, what Democratic proposals do you object to on the basis of long-term/hidden costs? Prescription drug reimportation is the only one I see that fits into this category, and it's only meant as a stopgap measure until we can reform the domestic pharmaceutical industry and/or offer prescription drug coverage to all Americans.

11/07/2004 01:29:00 PM  
Blogger Justin said...


I'd be willing to wager that had Kerry given that speech, he would have won on Tuesday. Your talents may have been wasted in astrophysics.

11/07/2004 10:30:00 PM  
Blogger finou said...

First off, Vincent that was a great speech!! what are you doing in astrophysics?!
Personally, I totally agree with Qian. Kerry looked like a dorkey teacher's pet type and well.. Americans don't vote for nerds (didn't the democrats learn anything from the 2000 election?).
I think if they had picked someone with a bit more charisma, that person could have delivered their message (whatever that was) more clearly. If the democratic candidate had related to the average Joe better, "values" wouldn't have been as much of an issue in this election.

11/08/2004 11:11:00 AM  
Blogger acg said...

So, Vincent, when are you running for governor? :)

11/08/2004 08:35:00 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

Out of curiosity, what Democratic proposals do you object to on the basis of long-term/hidden costs? Prescription drug reimportation is the only one I see that fits into this category, and it's only meant as a stopgap measure until we can reform the domestic pharmaceutical industry and/or offer prescription drug coverage to all Americans.

Prescription drug reimportation is short term, but I don't see a big negative that justifies criminalizing it. Normally, I would say deficit spending is the stereotypical Democratic short sighted proposal. Of course, at present the Republicans deficit tax cuts is just as bad.

Still, there are other examples... Raising the minimum wage sounds very good to someone at or near minimum wage. But in the long term it contributes to inflation and doesn't fix the situation of companies with extremely high ratios of pay for their top earners to pay for their lowest wage earners. I think economists agree that significantly increasing inflation hurts the entire economy. And it's argueable (seems reasonable, but I'm not sure) that it most hurts people with non-fixed rate debt (eg credit cards) and people with a small ammount of savings most (since they are more likely to need to invest conservatively and lost real value to inflation).

(BTW- Personally, I would support indexing minimum wage to inflation, maybe adjusting anually, but there would need to be some protections (perhaps a lag?) in place to prevent a positive feedback cycle from triggering run-away inflation. Then there wouldn't have to be a highly political debate on raising the minimum wage every few years.)

Blocking legal reforms (e.g. to cap "pain and suffering" damages) is another stereotypical example. People like the idea of a rich careless doctor or big company paying millions to an unfortunate victim. Of course, in the long term, this results in insurance costs increasing for all the doctors and companies, which they pass the costs along to all of us.

11/08/2004 09:14:00 PM  

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