"Our Karl Rove is the blog you should be glad that Democratic strategists don't seem to listen to"
-- what they're saying on Republican blogs

Friday, September 29, 2006

Does Merely Opposing Republicans Get You Down? Try on a Philosophical Framework for Size.


You'd have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to recognize that the entire Democratic party is lacking in certainty and clarity. The Democrats' raison d'ĂȘtre has wilted into a mere shadow of the principled party of the 1930s through the 1970s. And there's a good reason: the nation has moved on. Americans have become more confident, more independent, and more wealthy. As a result, many economic and political Democratic ideals that served this nation so well from the Great Depression until the 70s no longer resonate.

True, your opposition to Republican failures might just get you a majority this fall, but in the face of such utter governing chaos, there shouldn't be a single Republican left in Washington at this point. I assert that you will win new seats this fall not only because of Republican policy self-destruction, but also due to an implicit set of values and ideals about how Democrats think and how Democrats govern.

Democrats have a secret weapon that they've either forgotten about, or have been bullied into thinking it's not valuable. This secret weapon is the set of popular and time-tested American ideals and attributes that include respect for institutions, the rule of law, the art of governing globally, and the ideals of "debate then decide." These are incredibly valuable because our country has been blindsided by an opposing set of Republican values, which include breaking institutions, ignoring laws, challenging the Constitution of the United States, destroying global alliances and trust, and the ideals of "decide then deride."

Despite the Democrats' inability to get in touch with and communicate these mainstream and superior political assets, Americans can still see these values on display when they watch their favorite political comedy show on TV (Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, et al.) -- and viewers implicitly map these values to the Democratic party.

But here's where your problem starts, Democrats: You are also the audience. You go straight to Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, and other spitball flingers to get your soundbites and philosophical steak'ums to help make your political points. No doubt, these entertainers are dead-on in their verbal assassinations of the folks running this country. And, no doubt, it feels good to be a part of the clevery. But these entertainers are not the philosophers or framers of the Democratic agenda. They do not work to link the Democratic party to our nation's proud history, and they don't portray Democrats as responsible stewards of governing excellence, complete with straight-talk, and forward thinking principles to ensure long-term health and stability of our nation domestically and abroad. Rather, they are more likely to take pot-shots at Democrats as well because, well, spitball flingers only have spitballs.

But someone out there in the media landscape does move the needle in Democratic advocacy -- and it's time for those of you in office and running for office to set your collective TiVo's to one Keith Olbermann. The anchor for MSNBC's Countdown (airing weekdays at 8PM EST) has found his voice, and it is arguably the strongest, historically grounded, solemn, formidable, and effective voice of reason on Cable TV.

In case you haven't seen him in action lately, please take the time to watch these video clips of his increasingly-frequent "special comments":


Keith's moral and philosophical clarity is not only refreshing, but convincing. Of course everyone should continue to enjoy The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Real Time. Just don't misconstrue clever jabs and comedic outrages for a true principled framework from which to grow a purpose.

In addition to Keith, I highly recommend you also read this article from the Economist: Helping America's Workers (The Democrats need to posture less and think harder) [subscription required]. If you are running for office, or already in office, it would be a wise investment to subscribe to this newspaper. The Economist provides compelling and relevant meaning to liberal principles in ways that are, in many ways, foreign to the American political paradigm. For instance, do you think it's impossible to support unbridled, free-market globalization and income redistribution in the same ideological framework? Well, not only is it possible, but the Economist argues that it a no-brainer, and is the moral thing to do. Start reading.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Running for Office? Then Keep Running.

Democrats running for office,

Much hoopla has been created in Democratic circles over a report that Republicans plan on getting personal in their campaigns this fall. Opposition research, finding character flaws, and even exaggerating facts to cast Democrats as bad alternatives...all in an effort to win their races.

The very fact that Democrats are shaken and/or surprised by such "news" -- and the very fact that this article needed to be written at all -- is an indicator that Democrats have not fully digested a very fundamental paradigm:

Running for office has precious little in common with being in office.

Yes, this seems very obvious when you read it. But, it appears that many Democrats to this day still believe that running a campaign is more akin to giving voters a "preview" of what they would do in office, rather than treating campaigns as a completely different process, with completely different goals and objectives. So at the risk of being rudimentary, I submit the following primer:

Running for office is a public relations exercise. Your primary goal is to be popular enough to get the most votes (and interesting enough to get people to actually come out and vote). That's it! If your positions on the issues help you become more popular with voters, great -- use your positions. But if you have a position is not going to be popular, then you need to shift your message to things that will be popular: your character, values, history, family, successes... whatever topics you can toss into the ring that will help you win more votes and get people excited about you representing them.

Being in office, on the other hand, is about communicating and setting policy and being clear about your positions, and how they link into your vision for your district/state/nation. While public relations plays a part in being in office, it is merely a component of the job. But the policy-related issues and strategies you'll be setting while in office are purely optional things to talk about when you're running for office. So carefully pick and choose the issues you choose to share with voters to ensure you are the most popular.

If we agree on this delineation, then it's clear that Republicans are generally more in touch with -- and fundamentally understand -- the political process. Because Republicans are no longer popular with voters, their top job in campaign mode is to shift the focus onto things that make them more popular than you. And exaggerations, white lies, and misleading information are part of the public relations process: unless there's a law against it, it's fair game.

So when you're attacked by your opponent, it is your responsibility as a candidate to diffuse and deflect any and all accusations (true or not) levied against you in such a way as not to reduce your popularity with voters. Then, immediately refocus the campaign back onto the things that will make you more popular... which right now would be your discontent with the Iraq War and, by extension, the entire Republican approach to governing.

This political season, the Iraq War does seem to be ground zero for popular discontent with voters. And, being the rugged Americans we are, we seemed to have dug our collective heels in on this issue, and have submitted our verdict: it's a flop. Represent this view in your campaign, and it's more likely that people will want you to represent them.