Monday, April 18, 2005

No more talking points!

Josh Marshall makes a good point, a point I've been thinking about for some time but haven't been able to put into words: the main problem with the Democrats is that they have developed a reflexive habit of letting politics dictate policy.

The problem Democrats have is not bad tactics or bad strategies or poor framing. The problem is an over-reliance, even an addiction, to tactics and strategies.

For years I've argued that the Democrats' problem on national security issues is not so much that they aren't 'tough enough' or that they lack new ideas. The problem is a now-deeply-ingrained habit of approaching national security issues not so much as policy questions to be wrestled with but as a political problem to be dealt with and moved on from.

That has a host of damaging consequences, the most serious of which is that if you chart your policy course so as to avoid political damage, always casting about for the sweet spot of political safety, you tend to lack any greater programmatic consistency. And that tells voters (as it probably should) that you’re inconstant and unserious. It also muddles effective communication by confusing the communicators themselves about just what it is they are trying to say or accomplish.

What the last year has taught me -- both in good ways and bad -- is that this malady isn't limited to the national security domain but applies to Democrats pretty much across the board.

Josh has some advice on how Democrats can overcome their political strategy cravings (using Social Security as an example):

Here's what I propose whenever Democrats have a question about just what stance to take on the Social Security debate.

One question ...

What is the actual policy outcome that would be most preferable on Social Security (to protect, preserve or augment it -- whatever) and how important is it that it take place in this Congress?

That's the first, second and third question.

That answer should drive everything else.

I could add to this, but it would just be fluffing. Go read the whole thing and absorb it.

I'm as big a fan of framing as anyone, but even framing is just another example of "tactics and strategy". It is the training wheels for the new Democratic movement. It is not the movement itself. I'm still interested in it, but I need to move beyond it.

update:If I can allow myself a little bit of meta I'd like to point out the irony that Josh Marshall's post about Democrats being addicted to strategy and tactics at the expense of real policy is itself an excellent use of metaphorical framing (Democrats are Addicts) to make a point that snide dismissals of framing has not: that framing is not enough.

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