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Democrats needed a platform   September 27th, 2006


More observations...

What do Democrats stand for in these mid-term elections? If the first thing that came to mind was "They're against Bush," you're probably in the majority. If the Democrats have a real agenda, it seems to have been lost in their rhetoric against Bush.

And I suppose that makes a certain amount of sense. Bush's approval ratings have been generally going down since soon after the War in Iraq began, and they have been downright dismal for pretty much all of this year. Given such an unpopular president, it's not surprising that his opponents would take advantage of that weakness. But, as best as I can tell, that's about the only strategy they've been employing this election cycle. If they've been arguing other issues, their arguments have thoroughly been lost in all the anti-Bush rhetoric both on the news and in the blogs. A little over a month out from the elections, Democrats are associated more than anything with being opposed to Bush. That's certainly enough to pull in the more liberal part of the electorate, including the liberal wing of the "independents", but that may or may not be enough to win.

At this point, the Democrats are pretty much a one-issue party; they are against Bush. Obviously they plan to (and are) tapping into a popular discontentment with the current course the country is on, but like any one-issue party, the rise and fall of the entire party rests on that single issue. As long as that issue gives them strength, that's a good thing. But what if that issue suddenly isn't a strength but a weakness? In September, Bush experienced a non-trivial bump in the polls --and every time there is an uptick in Bush's popularity, that's an almost automatic downtick in the Democrats' chances in November since they've made Bush the issue. The Democrats have also been campaigning heavily on terrorism and against the war in Iraq and, earlier in the year, had been achieving some success: People were giving them higher marks on those traditionally Republican-dominated issues. That was potentially worrisome to Republicans. But lately, Republicans have retaken their traditional lead on the issue of combatting terrorism and, apparently, people are even less convinced that the Democrats could do a better job in Iraq, supposedly Bush's weakest point. And we're entering October with those sentiments, and October is when most voters make up their mind.

The movement back towards the Republicans isn't necessarily all that surprising. As people start paying attention to the upcoming elections, it's entirely possible they've moved beyond simply agreeing with the Democrats about their dislike for Bush and started wondering what the Democrats would do differently. Sure, many people dislike him and they've said so in polls, but eventually they want to know what the Democrats are offering as an alternative. If those that dislike Bush vote Democratic, what can they expect? For the most part, there is no answer to be found. The Democrats haven't told us who they are and what they believe, only that they aren't Bush. They're hoping that's enough.

But the Democrats need a platform.

Or, perhaps, they needed a platform. Of course it remains to be seen whether or not the recent shift could reflect a slight post-9/11 bump and that the Democrats are capable of rebuilding their lead, but if the recent polls reflect a real shift back towards the Republicans, it may very well be too late for the Democrats to push a package of substantive plans. They've bet the entire house on the "we're not Bush" approach.

Through much of late 2005 and early 2006, the Democrats kept promising a platform for the 2006 election. This commentary in October 2005 indicated that Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was putting the finishing touches on the most detailed "positive" election-year agenda in a decade . That same month, Martin Frost (fromer Democratic representative from Texas) said he thought it might be best to wait until early 2006 to present a "unified" Democratic platform . Lacking any kind of platform in November 2005, Democratic bloggers started proposing their own . In December, people were still waiting for the Democratic platform and Howard Dean went so far as to say that the Democrats would lose in 2006 if they didn't produce one . In March, Pelosi proposed the national security portion of their platform in a brief speech rather short on details . In June, just five months before the election, the Democrats revealed their new platform called "New Direction for America" , explained on a single page of a three-page document (the first page being a cover page and the third page being a list of things they were against). And in July, the Democrats themselves indicated that 75% of their campaigns are a referendum on Bush .

In short, the public was waiting for a Democratic platform for nearly a year and even party leader Howard Dean said in December 2005 that they needed to produce one, or they'd lose. Yet it wasn't until six months later that a platform was revealed--and, even then, the next month they stated that 75% of the campaigns would be little more than referendums on Bush.

The potential problem with that is that now that people are starting to pay attention to the election and are considering their options, virtually all they know about the Democrats is that they're against Bush. The Democrats haven't been promoting their platform long enough, hard enough, or loud enough--instead, their criticism of Bush is what everyone hears. And that's all they hear. And having heard it for the last four years, many people are getting desensitized. They may want to vote for something else, but the Democrats haven't given them anything to vote for... only something to vote against. It may well be the longest negative campaign in recent American history.

To handily beat the Republicans in November, the Democrats need to win at least some Republicans over. If it's just Democrats and some independents that vote for the Democrats, it's going to be a close race. And, in reality, it shouldn't be a close race: This election is the Democrats' to lose. They have an unpopular president fighting an unpopular war and implementing domestic policies that worry many people on both sides of the aisle. Politically speaking, this election was wrapped up in pretty wrapping paper with a bow on top and given to the Democrats. Given the realities of today, it shouldn't be that hard to pull in some Republican votes. Some Republicans are not pleased with how the war is going. Many Republicans are not in favor of the PATRIOT act. Many Republicans are not comfortable with warrantless wire-tapping. There are plenty of opportunities out there for the Democrats to pick up some votes from registered Republicans. But most Republicans aren't going to vote for Democrats just because they aren't entirely happy with the president. They need to have a good idea of what the Democrats are going to do if they get power. And, so far, it's not clear at all.

The Democrats should've had a plan. They should've been promoting it constantly all year. The anti-Bush sentiment was a given and they could have reminded the voters of how bad Bush was during the last month before the election--those that were dissatisfied with Bush would then remember the Democratic proposal that had been promoted all year and could embrace that at the polls. Now, however, all they have is a desensitized anti-Bush message that they've been hearing for nearly four years and have little or no idea what the Democrats actually have to offer.

If the Democrats win in November, they have Bush to thank for being so unpopular. But if they lose, they have no-one to blame but themselves.

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