The changes that Democrats need to make to transform into a majority party are not complex. In fact, they are so simple that they can fit on a Starbucks napkin. (no endorsement from the coffee chain implied)
This napkin bears the Underdog Democrat Manifesto. Each of the 9 edicts are explained below:
We Are the Progressive Party, Remember?:Sometimes I think we’ve forgotten. Our party moves forward, not back. We advocate using government policy to better people’s lives. We innovate. We come up with the new ideas that change the debate. When we innovate we are progressive, when we do not, we lose. Note: “Let’s Save Social Security” is not progressive. “Let’s expand Social Security is.” “Balance the Budget” is not progressive. Using interest savings from balancing the budget its.
Focus Inward Get your stuff together as a party and stop worrying about what the other side is doing! Look at the comeback of the Republican right movement from 1964 to 1980 to the present day. They did not try to be like Democrats but built up their own ranks. It’s far better to build a strong group that non-voters, independents and loose Republicans will want to gravitate to first, then worry about Republicans.
Don’t Move Right, Don’t Move Left, Don’t Move Anywhere!: Better to be what you are than to create that artifical image that you are changing to please people. To the extent labels matter, you’d have to say the Democratic party in the US is a center-left party. But the compelling part of our party, as well as the energy and innovation comes from the left. Attempts to “run right” have been artifical and have not worked. Successful Democratic races in 1912, 1932, 1948, 1960, 1964 and 1992 all contained strong progressive messages at the same time the candidates may have also held many ‘centrist’ beliefs. (If you think Clinton won in 1992, because he was a ‘centrist’, think about that longer and harder.)
Take Risks: Democrats, unlike Republicans, simply cannot win by playing it safe. This is always true for Democrats in my opinion, but it is especially true when we are in the minority. If we play it safe, incumbents win. Politics is so full of assumptions and artifical walls that we tend to think ‘This won’t work’ or ‘Don’t do this or you’ll lose’
Play The Whole Field: We must make an effort in every square inch of the Union, even those vast areas where we are the incredible underdog. Does this mean we take Kansas in 2008? Sorry, it aint that easy. But we do have to run there.
It’s About $ (but its Not.): The Underdog will never ask the party to be shy about asking for money. But it doesn’t win elections on its own. We are a party that must learn to run and win races on one third to one half of what Republicans spend. Does that sound crazy? It’s not. If we are doing the other things right: Flipping of the Debate, being the Progessive Party, the War Room, and the other edicts right; we can get more bang for our buck.
We Need a War Room: In politics, the most organized side always wins. Always. So let’s be the most organized side. We need a coordinated, Democratic daily [scratch that, hourly] message and a war room. It is impractical and not necessary to have one ‘Great Leader’ of the democratic party, but the various leaders (Dean, Reid, Pelosi, etc.) need to coordinate leadership on each issue. WHEN WILL MY WAR ROOM OPEN?!?
Flip the Debate: Take the needle and scratch it across the record. Suprise the media. Change the debate to fight elections on better ground. In every Democratic campaign, the debate should be flipped towards Democratic isuses.. issues that didn’t exist prior to our inserting them in the debate. Think about Harris Wofford’s 1991 run for Senate and the issue of healthcare he brought out of nowhere. Think about John Edward’s use of the poverty issue. At morning meetings, the Kerry campaign asked ‘What’s in the News today?’ At its mornings, the Clinton campaign asked ‘What headline do we want in the papers today?’ Think about that.
Most Importantly, The ‘U’ Factor: Stop waiting for your party to change and get out there and do something! Ask yourself. What have I done? Did you send an email to friends, did you post on blogs, did you volunteer for a local candidate. Did you join your hometown Democratic Club? For me, the change started when I decided to stop watching CSPAN and get elected for what I could. I am now a municipal councilman in a New Jersey suburb. I am a Democrat, I will always be a Democrat. (but it doesn’t mean I’m quiet about where the party is going…)