Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The Morning After

I'm still formulating my thoughts on last nights results. In fact, I expect to be formulating those thoughts for the next few years. Here's just a few of them:

  • I've been hearing lots of "screw the youth vote" on the blogs this morning. A lot has been made of reports that the percentage of 18-25 year olds was no higher this year than last time around. But, as Josh Marshal points out, the youth vote did increase from last time. It was just obscured by the increased turnout among all demographic groups. A backlash against young voters is not what we need right now. We need them to feel like they are still valued so they will stick around for the next cycle.
  • Also, we shouldn't blame Kerry. Kerry was not my first choice in the primaries. I was especially hard on him back then because I thought he was a poster child for all that had gone wrong with the Democrats over the last decade. Yet, despite the fact that he never had a clear, compelling, positive message, despite the fact that he was a "northeastern liberal", despite the fact that he was not the warmest personality on the stump, despite the fact that he was trying to unseat an incumbent president in a time of war who not two years ago was polling 80+% in the polls, despite all that he still managed to pull within 2 points of beating that president. We should all be thanking Kerry this morning for serving his country and his party admirably. It is not at all clear that anyone could have done any better.
  • It is not at all clear that anyone could have done any better. That point needs to be re-iterated. There will be a lot of "would Dean have done better" columns in the coming days. I am a huge Dean fan, but even I am not sure he would have fared any better than Kerry. Dean would have beaten Kerry on at least one point: the voters would have had a better idea where he was coming from. But would that have been enough to overcome some of his other weaknesses?

    Candidates are not plug-n-play. You can't exchange them in the historical narrative and ask how they would have done in the same campaign because the campaign is shaped by the people who run it. A Bush vs. Dean race would have been a different race with different dynamics and no one can say for sure that those dynamics would have been to Dean's advantage.
  • Clearly, the gay marriage issue helped the Republicans this time around. But it wasn't Bush's support for the Federal Marriage Amendment that did it. It was the eleven ballot measures banning gay marriage, many of them in swing states, that did the trick. It brought out the Bush base better than Bush himself. I should have figured it out when I noticed there were a lot more "One Man/One Woman" than "Bush/Cheney" bumper stickers.
  • I'm already seeing some rumblings out there that our organizational effort sucked. I disagree. We did increase turnout for our guy. We just didn't account for the increased turnout that their guy got as well. Just because we didn't outpace them is not a reason to beat ourselves over the head. We did good. Just not good enough.
  • What I think we are lacking is message. The biggest problem Kerry had was that it was hard to articulate a positive case for his presidency. I am convinced that the American people wanted something different than Bush. But people like him will continue to win as long as they have a message that people can understand, even if they don't necessarily agree with it.

    The message is clear: clarity beats nuance.

    Being right on the details won't matter as long as we can't wrap it in a nice package that appeals to the voter's sensibilities. That's why I think that the work of George Lakoff on framing will be so essential to future Democratic success. Lakoff is right when he says that it is the way you frame the debate, not the specifics of the debate, that matter most to the voters.
  • Which leads me to my final point: don't blame the voters. I understand how tempting it is to denigrate those who voted for Bush. Lord knows I've had those same thoughts myself. But you don't win over people by starting with a message that says, "You would be stupid not to agree with me".

    Most of these people aren't stupid. They just see politics as, at best, a necessary evil. Devoting their time to studying the issues in sufficient detail, sufficient to recognize shit from shinola, is and always will be anathema. Just consider the fact that many establishment journalists fall for the bullshit, and they are paid to study the issues in sufficient detail..

    We need to embrace and learn to work with the fact that most people just don't want to know the details. We must stop railing against it. We must understand and speak to people on their gut level. The facts can be used to make that appeal. But the facts themselves are not the appeal.

To that end, I plan to devote myself over the coming months to training myself and others to better communication. I'm going to learn how to frame the issues in a way that even the "stupid" can understand. I'm going to learn how to talk to people who honestly believe that Bush is a great president.

Whining is for losers.


The following posts played a significant role in shaping my own thoughts:

  • Jacob Weisberg on why simplicity works.
  • Steve Soto gives the most raw dump of his emotional thoughts. I had the same thoughts, even though I ultimately come to disagree with most of them.
  • Cliff Shecter also gives us a raw dump of his emotional thoughts. Especially on the role morality played in this election.
  • James Wolcott provides some necessary levity in the gloom.
  • The Moose presents democrats with a lot of positive thoughts to consider.


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