The Default Democratic Party Strategy and What Should Replace It (Part 1)

May 2, 2004

I sometimes get the feeling that the default Democratic Party campaign strategy—especially in regard to domestic affairs—is little better than that of Lisa Simpson as she ran versus Nelson for class president of Springfield Elementary.

In other words, deep down they’re policy wonks:

Marge: Honey, you can be popular. You’ve just got to be yourself… in a whole new way.

Lisa: No, I’m going to stick to my platform of incremental policy amelioration: fluoridated water fountains, vegan lunch options…

This isn’t to say they can’t be passionate debaters, for they often are quite passionate. But their passion tends to go over poorly when they debate anyone blessed with that simple, direct debating style that only comes from having a mind able to be blissfully ignorant of nuance:

Lisa (giving speech to school assembly): … and we deserve a French teacher that actually speaks French. J’accuse Monsieur Kupferberg!

Mr. Kupferberg (with a stereotypical Brooklyn accent): What is she yakkin’ about?

Lisa: I rest my case.

(utter silence in audience except for one student coughing)

Principal Skinner: Nelson, rebuttal?

Nelson: Yo, everyone. It’s me. Nelson. (pulls up right shirt sleeve and flexes biceps)

Students (cheering): Nel-son! Nel-son! Nel-son! Nel-son! Nel-son!

Thus, when push comes to shove, they have no choice but to bet everything on the hope they can convince the electorate that at least they’ll be much better than their opponent in regard to daily, bread-and-butter concerns:

Lisa (singing, to a tune highly reminiscent of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from Evita):

I’m not that cool.
I don’t wear jeans.
I’ve polished an apple or two.
But every grade that I grubbed,
I grubbed it for you.

So call me bookworm.
But I’ll never squirm
when there’s work to be done.
Yes, I’ll take my lunch at my desk
while you’re all outside having fun.

Don’t vote for me, kids of Springfield,
unless you want an effective leader.
I’ll talk to teachers.
I’ll handle Skinner.
A vote for Lisa makes you the winner!

Students (operatically chanting a la “E-vi-ta! E-vi-ta! E-vi-ta!”):

Vote Li-sa! Vote Li-sa! Vote Li-sa!

(from Episode EABF20, “The President Wore Pearls”)

While this worked for Lisa and has worked for a couple of non-fictional Democrats too, I doubt that this is the best plan to woo those potentially wooable to the Democratic Party. And thanks to the uncompromising nature of President Bush, Vice-President Cheney and the Honorable Messrs. Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Delay, et cetera, such doubts are today widely shared.

But what is to be done?

First, we in the Democratic Party need to determine where the party stands now in the mind of the general electorate. Second, we need to determine for what the Democratic Party should stand. Third, we need get the general electorate to realize that’s what we actually stand for.

Tonight, we deal with the first issue, and the news for Democrats is quite alarming.

Much has already been made of the fact that during April, despite the escalation in Iraq and the political fallout from Richard Clarke’s book Against All Enemies and Bob Woodward’s book Plan of Attack, President Bush has retaken the lead in the overall popular vote polls, even when you average together the results of many different pollsters and then try to smooth out noise by calculating moving averages:


(Source for Entire Graph: Sam Smith’s The Progressive Review, specifically its national polls page, as it appeared May 2, 2004)

However, I believe the story for Democrats is much worse than this. For example, comparing the last two full-scale Washington Post/ABC News polls, Kerry’s standing took a major hit between early March and mid-April on each of the 11 specific “Who do you trust more to handle (fill in the blank with specific issue)?” questions that were asked with the sole exception of the one on counterterrorism, where Bush already held a giant advantage.


[Margin of Error: 3% Click on graph for full-size version.]

(Source for Data in Graph: The Washington Post, specifically the following link for March 7 and the following link for April 18.)

Soon to come are my ideas for the second and third problems of what the Democratic Party should stand for and how to convince the general electorate that this is in fact what we do stand for. Stay tuned.

One Response to “The Default Democratic Party Strategy and What Should Replace It (Part 1)”

  1. Jeff Says:

    I think Dems are focusing way too much on trying to rework OUR image, which is difficult, while ignoring that GOP success from 1988-2004, and esp. 1994, has been built on… pillorying the Dems. The focus shouldn’t be to build ourselves up (we should try, don’t get me wrong, but it’s tough, incremental, long term work difficult to dowhile out of power) but instead the easy task of getting everyone left of center dedicated to eviscerating the GOP in a coherent and coordinated fashion.

    It really bothers me that people don’t get this….

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