Wednesday, December 15, 2004

But What Must the Democrats Do?

The Democrats seem to be facing a long, hard road to 2006, and an even longer, harder road to 2008. These roads are made neither shorter nor easier by the unabating attempts by conservative Republican commentators and analysts to define the Democratic Party. It's getting so that you can't hear mention of the recently passed presidential election without hearing talk of the 2008 presidential election. And if a Republican is in the room, you can't hear talk of 2008 without hearing the words "Hilary Clinton" and "frontrunner" going along with it.

Conservative Republicans know that Hilary Clinton is basically unelectable, and they want to latch onto that immediately. They want to define the Democratic Party in the media as the party of a candidate who cannot win. It's a good strategy, truth be told.

So what do the Democrats have to do? First, they need to repudiate the Clinton banner being hung over their heads by the Republicans. I dug Clinton, but his name (and, consequently, his wife's name) have been so demonized that they're just not politically viable in the mainstream anymore. They can be "blue state" heroes, but that appeal almost certainly doesn't cross over to the red states.

Second, they need to (with regard to 2008) get the fighting over who'll be the candidate done largely before the primaries, and largely behind closed doors. Having a number of popular candidates in the primaries gave the Republicans plenty of ammunition to say that the Democrats hadn't chosen "who they really wanted," referring of course to Howard Dean. If the fight had been conducted more privately, and earlier, then the candidate would have had a cleaner field from which to choose his running mate (instead of a field of candidates whom he had been made to fight to seecure the nomination), and he would have been able to start full-fledged campaigning much earlier, thus inserting himself into the public consciousness as the Democratic candidate, instead of one of the Democratic candidates.

Third, and perhaps most important (and underpinning the second point), there must be considerably more party unity than there has been in the past few years. I discussed, in my last post, the difficulties of the liberals in getting a forward-thinking agenda going, because that's "going where no man has gone before." As I said, a retreat into the past has the comfort of the familiar. But the Democrats' cause is further weakened by defections across party lines. Josh Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo said much the same thing with regards to Social Security recently, and it's true. If the Democrats can learn to rein in their varying constituencies in the same sort of way that the Republicans reined in social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and the religious right (some of whom hold blatantly contradictory beliefs), then they might just have a shot at this thing.

But then again, there's always 2012.