Friday, October 13, 2006

Democratic Party Still Missing the Point

An editorial in the Christian Science Monitor puts the problem with the Democrats in clear and concise words. The party has yet to earn our trust.

America is not a country of intellectual voters. We do not calculate our ballots on the basis of financial or class interests. Sure, advocacy groups back candidates by virtue of their sympathy with cherished causes. But more often, voters base their decisions on sentiments that are more amorphous. Traits such as toughness and likability are key factors, subject to the standards that media establish.

Democrats should know more about checkout lines at Wal-Mart, and less about windsurfing. They should also show an ability to speak different "languages" depending on their audience. If they cannot speak evocatively to union members in Seattle one day and an African-American congregation in Georgia the next, they can't win.
It's not enough for Democrats to repeat: "We have had enough." They have to tell people what they'd get if elected. And they have to create trust in their ability to make Americans more secure.

Some Democrats have figured it out. Jon Tester in Montana is in position to unseat the incumbent Republican. Democrat Harold Ford Jr. is either in the lead or at least in serious contention to win the Tennessee seat being vacated by Bill Frist. Both of these men have appealed to the voters not with the intellectual/elitist affectations of so many Democrats these days but with an of-the-people charisma.

Doubtlessly there are other Democrats who “get it,” but the party itself is still off track. From Howard Dean to Nancy Pelosi to Al Gore and John Kerry, the party’s biggest names are decidedly not “of the people” (excluding Bill Clinton who no longer defines the party).

They exude a type of we-know-best elitism that is mirrored by the new base of Daily Kos, MoveOn types who are forever discussing the need to “educate the people,” presumably so the people won’t be so stupid and vote so wrongly. Unfortunately, this type of Democrat is disastrously unaware that their rhetoric makes them alien to “the people.”

For the last decade plus, Republicans have been the party that seems most in tune with the people’s will and wants. Now, a lot of that is smoke-and-mirrors, but a lot is also based on an earnest connection to the voters. Gone are the George H. W. Bush elitist types and in their place are the George W. Bush plain-spoken types. Whether you think that’s all show or not, the fact remains that Democrats have lost their populist aura and their ability to convince a majority of Americans that they are the party that can be most trusted to preserve our way of life.

The party-at-large still misses the point—or at least still lacks the ability to communicate the point. The Democrats best hope this year is that enough individual candidates can win on the power of their own personalities and convictions. The Republicans deserve to lose. Will the Democrats convince enough people that they deserve to win?

--To be continued soon when I reveal which party I’m rooting for in this election--


Blogger Tom Strong said...

While I appreciate the point you're making, I think there's also a danger in it. Shouldn't we, the voters, be responsible and able enough to see through populist appeals, and make our decisions based on who will make the best policy decisions?

While it's easy to praise the politicians who know how to "connect" with voters, it's important to remember that they can often be wolves in disguise.

11:00 PM  
Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

But it doesn't matter what your policies are if you can't connect with the voters. Populist doesn't have to mean fake.

I'm not saying voters should only vote on personality--I'm saying politicians can't expect to win unless they appeal on a personal level to the voters.

11:09 AM  
Anonymous Rob said...

Oh boy. This is my first time to your blog and I'm not a commenter by nature. But I wish I was smoking what you are smoking. I grew up as a Republican. Socially liberal, fiscally conservative. Pro-business, strong-military, yadda-yadda. I do not believe my views have changed, but my place in the public debate sure has. I know find myself so far left of center that I openly call myself a "liberal democrat". I share this ditty as a way to put in perspective these things which you seem to hold in high regard. Does it really matter that a politician "connect with the people"? You will say that's the only way that a politican will get elected and I will say that's how got into this mess in the first place. It is odd that people persistently vote against their self interest because someone "relates" with them while robbing their bank account (moral + financial).

7:41 AM  
Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...


You are right that the most important part of governing has little to do with connecting with the people. But the most important part of getting elected has everything to do with building that connection. What's more reasonable: Changing the entire way people choose and elect their leaders? Or picking candidates who are not just qualified but can ALSO relate to the voters?

We don't live in a perfect world. You go to elections with the voters you have, not the voters you want.

9:04 AM  
Anonymous Rob said...

unfortunately, i have seen few politicians who possess both skills. most (like many of us ordinary people) excel at one thing or another. those people who are telegenic and gregarious are generally not the same folks who are analytical and dispassionate. at the end of the day, i bet most people would prefer to be governed by the analytical and dispassionate and leave the telegenic and gregarious to prime time tv and sports. i am not old enough to know how it used to be, but the on-going trend toward "sound bite" politics remains strong. and i do know that people tend to be programmed to act or react in a certain way. how else can you explain that large blocks of voters make decisions on other, distant people's sexuality (for example) as opposed to being able to find gainful, steady employment? make me god and i won't change the electorate. i've traveled to many countries and find americans to be among the nicest there are. however, the electorate does need to be awaken from its trance and understand that they are being led off a cliff by guys who relate to them on tv.

america has seen constitutional crises of a similar scale before and i trust that the system will survive and self-correct. but the current administration has shown not one shred of interest in playing by any rules.

ah well, back to my day job ...

12:30 AM  

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