Friday, November 05, 2004

Change politics, keep policy

In the post below, I don't suggest any substantial policy changes. That's because I think they simply aren't needed. If we had lost 61-38 instead of 51-48, there'd be some reason to change our policy stances. As it is, we lost by just 100,000 votes in Ohio. The only real losing policy stance we had was the right to marry, and that's an issue where demographics are trending slowly in our favor. Terrorism doesn't really count -- Bush's advantage there comes out of personal identification with him rather than any kind of policy difference.

Furthermore, one thing that we can all learn from Bush is that your political rhetoric and your policy only need to meet at a few points. Bush talks about democracy promotion while weakening the hopes for democracy in Iran, Russia, Central Asia, and much of the Middle East. He talks about fighting terrorism while blowing the obvious opportunities to kill Zarqawi and Bin Laden. He talks about NCLB but fails to fund it. Your signature policy proposals only need a tenuous connection with the rhetoric you use to sell them, and you'll do just fine. Since it's the rhetoric that voters hear, that's what we need to change.

There might be some issues in our current policy portfolio we need to emphasize more, though. Raising the minimum wage always seemed like a political winner to me, especially if we have John Edwards to sell it as a moral issue of giving hard-working Americans what they deserve.


Justin said...

I think you're basically right. Bush won in spite of his policies, not because of them. And those voters whose primary issue was moral values -- they weren't going to be swayed by policy matters anyhow. I think the Democrats could eventually get at least some of those voters while pushing an even more progressive agenda (maybe not tremendously more progressive), but if they do, it will be with style rather than substance.

Look, here's what I think that style really needs to address. Red-staters (myself included) have a serious inferiority complex with respect to people on the coasts. Whether easterners consider themselves elite or not is really besides the point. The fact is people in the Midwest (I don't know the South) suspect that easterners think we're just a bunch of ass backwards hicks, and we worry and worry about showing that (i) we're not, and (ii) we don't care what they think anyway. Part of the reason Bush goes over so well in the Midwest is that he's one of "us" -- yeah, yeah, he's privilleged, but he speaks naturally in religious terms, which counts for a lot. Voting for Bush is actually a sort of populist move for many red-staters: it's a way of saying fuck you to the elite easterners who think they know everything and put us down. I actually think the gay marriage results are partly (though certainly not entirely) a reflection of this sentiment.

Somehow, the Democrats have to cut off this push for the Republicans. Maybe the simple fact that Bush won't be running in 2008 will do it. If the Democrats put up any decent candidate, it would be amazing, utterly amazing, if Guiliani, for instance, could keep all the Bush states in 2008 (though he might win previously blue states). Maybe you're right, maybe the Democrats need to run a candidate from the South/Midwest, although I'm not completely convinced that Hilary is unviable. Maybe the Democrats need a candidate who can speak in religious terms without seeming like he's trying too hard.

One point about this last possibility. It seems very possible to me that the interaction b/w religion and politics could change dramatically in the next several years. Right now the evangelicals would seem to have every right to expect a whole lot out of the government which they just got elected, probably more than Bush and others will want to fight to get them -- Roe v. Wade being the obvious example. If Democrats can avoid being scapegoated for the evangelicals not getting what they want, if they can work it out so that the blame falls within the Republican party, then Democrats could make major headway by just standing in place between now and upcoming elections.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Justin, is there any way I can get you to either start your own blog or post here more often?

Mary said...

Regarding finding someone who can talk about religion without sounding like they're trying too hard: I don't think Kerry did that. I think Catholics and non-"evangelical" Christians as the media uses the term 1)have a history of having to explain themselves in this country and 2) often have nuanced beliefs and interpretations of Scripture that don't lend themselves to easy sloganeering, and might sound like "trying too hard." I think the non-"evangelicals" in this country have to get more vocal, but our very nature is not to try to impose ourselves on others. It's a problem.