We know how the election looks to you. How did it look to the people responsible for it? From the November 6 issue of the New Dem Daily, the newsletter of the Democratic Leadership Council, the folks who brought you centrism: “You don’t really need exit polls to understand that Democrats, especially at the congressional level, need a new, clear message, that is positive, centrist, but unmistakably distinct from that of the Republican Party or the President.” If anyone can tell me how a message can be both centrist and unmistakably distinct, I’d like to have lunch with you. Maybe we could go to Chili’s–I hear their chicken wings, while similar to those served at Hooter’s, have a certain unmistakable distinction to them. I can see the 2004 campaign now: “Vote Democrat–Centrist, but Unmistakably Distinct.” I’m sorry, are we selling politicians here, or boxes of pink wine?
It’s high time, the New Dem Daily continues, to get rid of the mantra of the last four cycles–”prescription drugs, yes; jeopardize social security, no”–and come up with something new. The problem is, when your game plan calls for sticking to the center at all costs, tinkering with benefit programs is all you can talk about. But here’s the part that will really curl your toes: Walter Mondale’s loss in Minnesota was a “hard-to-miss rebuke to the base-mobilization strategy for a Democratic future.” In other words, running to the left cost us a senate seat in Minnesota. But wait, prior to his plane going down in the snow and ice, wasn’t Paul Wellstone winning the race by doing just that? The man had won two U.S. Senate elections already without setting foot in the center. But running as a progressive in a state that is not safely Democratic simply does not compute in the DLC’s political mainframe. Well, to paraphrase the Luddite general in the movie “War Games”: After careful consideration, some of us have come to the conclusion that the Democrats’ new computer sucks.
Here in Texas, as Jake Bernstein explains this issue, the trouble wasn’t so much that the Democrats ran away from their base; it was more a misunderstanding of what their base was looking for. To be sure, the ethnic composition of the ticket spoke to a vision of civil rights and equality that appeals to the party faithful. But you can’t eat a vision, and the faithful like their soup with a little meat in it. There simply wasn’t that much separating the message of the two tickets, and that’s why the Democratic base–union members, African Americans, environmentalists, and Latinos–didn’t turn out in the numbers the Sanchez team was promising. Leaving aside the phenotype factor, what you had in this race was a banker, a corporate lobbyist, and a fiscally conservative wonk versus a rancher with good hair, a corporate lawyer, and an energy magnate who happens to be a weirdo. Which perhaps explains why only 35 percent of registered voters bothered to vote at all. Keep in mind that not all eligible voters are registered, so the turnout was more like 25 percent of your fellow adult Texans (the ones who are citizens, anyway). A little more than 14 percent of your neighbors liked Rick Perry better, so he’s the governor. Think you can do better than that? Odds are Tony Sanchez won’t be trying this again, John Sharp has announced he won’t be around next time, and there’s a whole posse calling for the head of the state’s leading (using that term loosely) Democratic consultants. There’s a party waiting for you. Do you want it? –N.B.