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Monday, April 09, 2007

making a new day for Democrats

Here's are bullets point list of some of the deeper electoral currents and implications for Democratic electoral politics running just behind the hot stories in the current news cycle:

* Democrats must focus on expanding legislative victories in the 2008 election cycle.

Presidential politics tend to suck all the oxygen in the media environment. It is no understatement, however, to say that local, state and national congressional races in 2008 will decide the battle for governance in the United States for a generation to come.

The current balance of the U.S. House stands at 233 Democrats to 201 Republicans, the balance of the Senate stands at 49 Democrats, 49 Republicans and 2 Independents who give the Democrats the slimmest of majorities. Further, as noted in the wikipedia, "As a result of the 2006 elections, 23 legislatures were carried by Democrats, 17 by Republicans, and 9 legislatures were split. In all, Republicans lost, and Democrats gained, more than 300 state legislative seats."

The goal for Democrats everywhere should not simply be to maintain the gains we made in 2006, we should look...in every state...to expand those gains. Imagine for one second what a ten seat gain in the House, a five seat gain in the Senate and five more State legislative houses would mean for advancing our common Democratic agenda. It goes without saying that each win takes away a GOP seat and expands our majority. Those targets are in the realm of the possible. For Democrats, including our Presidential contenders, this is job one.

* When we elect Democrats to legislative majorities we create cascading side benefits

When we "mint" a fresh Democratic US Senator they hold office for six long years. Jim Webb and Jon Tester and Sheldon Whitehouse will be a part of the political landscape through 2012. In the House, the hardest election is always the first...many of the candidates we just elected will be in the House a decade from now. The blathering national media may give the impression that the 2006 elections will rise or fall over what some talking head opines over this or that artificial cable TV controversy in the next month or two. Nope. The 110th Congress runs through January 2009...we're just three months in. Karl Rove can spin the news cycle and the media; he can't spin a majority in the House of Representatives.

On the local level, once gained, majorities in state legislatures don't easily switch back. And every state with a Democratic legislature writes legislation that Democrats nation-wide can emulate. Electing Democrats locally means we create a nation-wide laboratory of policy in action, with laws and policy custom-fit to the region they are written in. Further, the "farm team" of future national Democratic candidates comes directly out of this talent pool.

* Getting the majority, and then expanding it, means Democrats win twice.

It is vastly preferable in American politics to govern from the center with a strong and diverse majority than to "force it." ie. It's better to have a super majority that gives individual members the freedom to join or leave off joining the majority on any given vote than to ram through an ideologically pure agenda with a narrow margin every single time.

Great things happen in American politics when one party wins big and then governs big. From Social Security to Civil Rights, that is how we have accomplished so much that has made this nation great. Democrats have a chance to make regional diversity and ideological flexibility the hallmark of a 21st century legislative majority. We have the chance to follow political victory, something the GOP did attain, with legislative accomplishment, something the GOP never came close to attaining.

A Democratic President, with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and state legislatures across the land, could well usher in a new day in American politics that we have not seen since the New Deal era. That new day, and a Democrat in the White House, should be our common vision and goal. As a progressive, I would argue that attaining this goal would be the single most powerful way to advance progressive ideas. Let me expand on that with my next point.

* American politics at the dawn of the 21st century are shaped by realities that "everybody knows"

Health care is broken. Our education system is not up to par. Our government under George W. Bush, from FEMA to the Department of Justice and the CIA, has proven incompetent at best, and downright corrupt at worst. Every last one of us is facing the effects of 'climate change'. Every last one of us faces an emerging global economy run largely by multi-national corporations more loyal to profit than to citizens.

Everbody knows these realities. It is the Bush Administration and their conduct of the war in Iraq that has distracted us from these very real challenges.

What is less well known is that the solutions to these challenges are often best expressed in the progressive agenda. The more we make that progressive agenda expressive of mainstream, reform-oriented, can-do, good government...the more we make progressive ideas a part of mainstream American politics, the more Democrats will be able to claim the mantle of the party that can create a win-win for every American and cement our leglistative majorities with real legislative accomplishment that lasts for decades to come.

We can do this with a Democratic majority but only if we ruthlessly make a commitment to working across regional and ideological lines. In my view, everyday Americans...the mythic "Middle America"...deeply and intuitively understand each and every one of the challenges our nation faces. Folks understand what's broke with America...what people don't understand is how they can play a part in fixing things. We need to express that.

* In 2008 the Democratic Party must express a politics of Can-Do, a politics of win-win focused on how we all benefit when we work together.

This is a critical point that runs through every single political race in the nation. Americans aren't stupid. What they've been waiting for is a cooperative, post-ideological, results-oriented politics that expresses the will of the "silent majority" and addresses, once and for all, the real, unavoidable issues facing our nation. This politics must deliver the goods for every last citizen in every last region, with equity and justice for everyone regardless of affiliation or background. To do this, more than anything else, our Democratic leaders must be willing to explain HOW our policies will work for everyone...and then make absolutely clear, step-by-step, how we will deliver the goods with our legislative majorities.

Personally, I think there's a solid subset of Americans who don't really care which party does the "doing"...what they really want is to get things done. My message to Democrats would be to point out that if we are to advance our agenda we must understand this subset. We have a majority in Congress. We can expand that. We have some great presidential candidates. We can show our unity by rallying behind them. But to rally a sixty percent majority American public behind our agenda, more than anything else, we need to make it absolutely clear exactly how we will get things done that work for everyone. That's old fashioned pragmatic politics. And, yes, sometimes it's that simple.

* In 2008 Democrats must make it crystal clear that we are a party of reform. In fact, we need to marry the our progressive policies with the concept of "good government" so that these two concepts become synonymous in people's minds.

Too many Americans understand partisan politics as a "heads I win, tails you lose" system. We need to make it clear that there is a new day at hand. No longer does the rise of one party over another mean that one group or region will lose...or another will gain. That day is over. That reality cuts to the core of how George Bush and Dick Cheney have run our government. It's high time for that to change.

You can say we we've been saying things like this for the last twenty-five years. To that, I'd say this: everything sounds different when you've done the hard work of winning majorities in congress and state houses throughout the land. People understand legislative power. People understand that in 2008 when Democrats say what we're going to do...we are gonna make it happen. When folks pull the lever for our nominee in 2008, they know, for the first time in a very long time, they will be electing someone empowered to make big changes on Day One.

I think the Democratic party is up to this task, but only with a wholesale commitment to root and branch reform...and a kind of unity and tolerance of "big-tent" politics that we have not shown often enough in our recent history.

I wrote before the 2006 elections that they would usher in a two-year "battle for governance" in American politics.

There's a new day in American politics. I, for one, like where we are headed.

{This essay also appeared on dailykos where you can read an extended discussion.}


  • The best number out there is 21-12. That is the number of republican vs. democratic senators up for re-election in two years. The odds of the republicans taking the senate are miniscule at best!

    By Anonymous Mr. Warmth, at 2:30 PM  

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