November 5, 2004
"When it is dark enough, you can see the stars." - Emerson
However the White House wants to play it, the election did not show a broad
popular shift in favor of the Republicans. Yes, the President won the
election outside the margin of litigation, and his party picked up support
in both houses of Congress. But however dark things seem for the
Democrats, it wasn't a blowout. A couple of percentage points the
other direction, and John Kerry would be picking his cabinet. That
couple of percentage points could easily be found among those middle-of-the-road
Americans who naturally should belong to the party, except for a couple of
minor issues or perceptions. With a little revamping, the Democrats
could change the dynamic and dramatically increase their appeal even in the
solidly red states.
To accomplish this, there are three things that the Democrats need to do:
1. Get Right with God
2. Give up on Guns
3. Rebrand the Party.
Get Right with God
Karl Rove's strategy of mobilizing the Christian evangelical base of the
Republican party paid off, defining the GOP as the party of "moral values."
Now, you're not going to get most of the hard core religious fundamentalists to
change their mind about that. But, the Democrats could easily infuse their
own base with new energy, and open a dialogue with the millions in the middle by
tapping into the strong tradition of religious progressivism that exists in
mainstream churches, temples, and mosques. The spiritual strength of
ML King is just waiting to be embraced. Observant Jews know the value
of an ecumenical society. Moderate Muslims understand the threat of
fundamentalism. Join these forces together to challenge the notion that
only evangelical Christians hold "moral values," and you'll be able to bring
back many of those who want religion to be a force for good in our society
without our government becoming a theocracy. This worked well for the
Democrats in the past, and gave moral authority to the fight for Civil Rights,
the fight against the Vietnam War, and in opposing the radical dismantling of
the social safety net during the Reagan years.
Give up on Guns
I know, I know: guns are dangerous. In fact, my own father was
killed by a gun, murdered some 35 years ago. But you know what?
I don't blame the gun. I blame the guy who used it. Sure, in an
ideal world, there wouldn't be guns in civil society. But the reality
is that there are almost as many guns as people in this country. You're
not going to get rid of them. We're a gun culture, itís part of our
heritage. More and more states are instituting concealed-carry laws,
and they seem to work. Certainly, those laws haven't caused any kind
of backlash in the populace. So give up; embrace the simple and common
understanding of the 2nd Amendment. In doing so, youll defang the NRA.
People who like to hunt or target shoot, or who have a gun for personal protection,
won't be paranoid that a Democratic administration is going to come knocking on
their door. Do this, and you can probably get the cooperation of the gun
lobby in making sure fewer guns get into the hands of criminals, hold people
responsible for their gun ownership, and work more effectively to reduce
accidental gun deaths.
Rebrand the Party
In advertising, when a product or company has reached the point where its very
name is considered a liability, is at odds with the perceptions of consumers,
or has been rendered inappropriate by the progress of time, then it is time to
"rebrand" that product or company. Labels matter. For the last
couple of decades Republicans have been very effective in painting Democrats
as "liberals" who are outside the mainstream. But that's just what the
old Democratic Party used to be. The Conservative movement has so shifted
the political center of this country to the right that now most of the platform
positions of the Democratic Party would be comfortable to Richard Nixon.
It's time for the Democrats to acknowledge this reality and change their name
to "The Centrist Party" (perhaps with a transitional period of being called the
"Democratic Centrists"). This would increase appeal to the vast majority
of Americans who are in the center of the political spectrum, would co-opt the
term "moderate," and would paint the Republicans as "Rightist." Labels
matter, and with this single move the Democratic Party could redefine the
Democratic Party loyalists will go nuts when they see these proposals.
But cast a clear eye on them, and you'll see that Iím not suggesting anything
radical. Those moderate religious beliefs? Already a Democratic
mainstay. Acceptance of gun ownership? John Kerry touted his
hunting background. Rebranding the party? Clinton did all the
hard work, now itís just the matter of a name change.
Think about it.