Thursday, November 11, 2004

Changing our approach

Chris Bowers provides some fascinating insights into the demographics of left and right in this country. The basic conclusion he reaches (and I agree with it) is that the political makeup of this country favors the Republicans over the Democrats and that no amount of "move to the left" or "move to the right" strategizing will help:

Moving one-way or the other isn't going to cut it, as our position would remain precarious in both directions. The problem, as I see it, is not that we are too liberal or too moderate, but that the country itself is too conservative. With 34% of the electorate self-identifying as conservative, and 85% of self-identifying conservatives voting Republican in national elections, Republicans only need a little over 40% of the moderate vote to win. In that situation, they could run a horrendous campaign and still win, while we could run a nearly perfect campaign and still lose.

We are in a lot of trouble, and the only way I see out is pretty long term: we need to close the gap between liberals and conservatives. Well beyond any other demographic, that is the heart of our problem. Conservatives outnumber liberals in states worth 459 electoral votes, while liberals outnumber conservatives in states worth only 79 electoral votes. In every southern state except for Florida, conservatives outnumber liberals by at least twenty-one points. That is not a swing region. That is barely a swing nation.

The only way we do this is if all Democrats, including moderate Democrats, start defending liberalism and telling the truth about conservatism. We have to grow liberalism. This does not necessarily mean that we have to adopt more liberal policies, but at the very least we have to start defending liberals. No one does that anymore, which nearly guarantees that liberalism will not grow. When you face a dead end in either direction, there is little point in moving. We have to move the country, or else we are dead meat. Either we defend the ideology of half of our voters--and defend it by name--or we face a generation of irrelevancy.

[emphasis mine]

What Chris is arguing for is that we make a foreground/background switch in our political approach. Much of Democratic strategy over the last few years has been based on the idea of shifting a movable foreground object (the Democratic party) in one direction or another over an immovable background scene (the American political landscape). Unfortunately, it hasn't worked and, as Chris so ably illustrates, it probably never will.

But, if we switch our conception of foreground and background and instead treat American political opinion as the movable object through the landscape of Democratic ideals then maybe, just maybe, we might have a chance.

This is what the Republicans have done so well. They fleshed out the details of their landscape and have taken the American electorate on a storybook ride through that landscape. They have asked the voters to come along for the ride on their Jungle Cruise and have left the Democrats standing at the docks pathetically waving our public opinion polls and demographic studies.

No wonder the Democrats have developed the reputation for being weak-willed and indecisive. It's a reputation that is based on truth.

Democrats must come to understand that they have a landscape of their own. We don't need to change ourselves. We need to change the country. We need to develop a narrative that will allow the electorate to go on a journey through our landscape and see that it has something better to offer them.


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