Thanks to Terri of Spinning Wheel (a great blog, btw) for leaving this link in the comments. Urban Archipelago
I have always enjoyed Dan Savage, ever since I first read his book The Kid, about his open adoption experience. Of course, I'm not entirely comfortable with his coining of the new word named after your friend and mine, senator Rick Santorum, but then I'm a lesbian, so the subject matter is not exactly up my alley (note: do not click on this link if you are easily grossed out--how did I suddenly become the queen of sm^t links anyway)? I do love a good anti-wingnut google bomb, though.
Anyway, there has been a lot of discussion of where we should go from here*, who is at fault, and how the democrats can recover from this loss and WIN. Talking Points Memo also questions the impulse to pander, as well they should.
I'm glad we're thinking and talking about strategy and WINNING, but you know, I think it's a fair amount simpler than all that. I agree with those who say that we should not be dumping on Kerry, blaming him for the loss. I did not think it was a choice between two evils; I liked Kerry. Yes, he made some expedient choices that I disagreed with, and I even wrote in a challenger in his last Senate race because he voted for the war (little did he know how much he would regret that vote). But I would have been PROUD to have him as a president. PROUD.
I don't think he did anything wrong in terms of policy or even the campaign. As a phone bank volunteer, I was stunned at the efficiency and accuracy of the phone lists I got on-demand on my computer. But I don't think he was a good choice. He would have made a great policy leader in the party or in a democratic administration, but in my opinion, it was a matter of substance over style. I know this has been said over and over again, but I want to say it again because I think it's simpler than everyone is making it out to be. We need to nominate someone with heart and energy. And I hate to say this, but we need to nominate that person with heart and energy, even if he's not the most qualified, most intelligent, most experienced person who's "turn" is up.
Perhaps it shouldn't be this way, but I think we democrats are just too inclined to nominate people for president who simply cannot connect with voters. Brilliant, accomplished, eminently qualified men, but people who are distant and policy-oriented and who think and speak in complexities and nuances. I don't want to pander, but I think we need someone that people can understand, and, more importantly, can trust.
Kerry was getting there, but he was only simple and straightforward and easy to relate to when he was talking about the war and GWB, and that's not enough. I admit that I never heard a simple, clearly-articulated "elevator speech" about why Kerry (not ABB, anybody but Bush, a worthy cause to me but perhaps not to swing voters), was going to do great things. He did not inspire. And speaking with relatively moderate republican family members who had deep concerns about Bush but voted for him anyway, they just didn't trust Kerry. As Atrios points out in the link above, any candidate will get the same treatment, but we need someone whose personalilty and trustworthiness shines through all that. Someone who will look into people's eyes, and suddenly none of that will matter.
Think about it. The republicans have tried to tar every single democratic nominee in the last 20 years with the same brush: they waffle, they only care about polls, they're too liberal, they have some skeleton in their closet. And who is the one candidate to whom did it not stick: CLINTON, probably the one candidate for whom most of those allegations are true. Don't get me wrong, thank god for Clinton, but the one difference between him and Kerry, Gore, Dukakis, and Mondale (heaven help us), is that Clinton was able to *outshine* the allegations with the sheer force of his personality and his simple likeability. And even post-Monica and post-everything else that went down, if Clinton were running for office today, he'd win in a landslide. Maybe that's because people think he could bring back the economy, but I don't think so. I think it's because people simply LIKED him.
If you haven't listened to Ira Glass's pre-election coverage of swing voters on This American Life (be aware that the pre-election hope may be hard to handle if you're still feeling sensitive), check out his discussions with Gig. Gig was dying for a democrat he could believe in. He was educated, informed, and reasonably thoughtful, but he just needed an emotional connection. And he found it in Bush. Lord knows I don't like him, but I understand why people think that he's a likeable guy. My partner had a very similar experience talking to my BIL, also a relatively intelligent, well-educated person. Do I want to wring his neck and disown him for voting for Bush, yes. But I'd rather give him a better choice next time.
I was not an Edwards supporter early on; I confess I was a fan of Dean. I was excited and carried away with the idea that a true progressive could generate such energy. But I am sad to say that I think Dean's proof of concept failed in Iowa, before, I might add, the scream ended it all, fairly or not. I would frankly love to secede and elect Dean president of the Northeast, but I doubt it's going to happen--those red states need our tax money too much to let us go quietly. But you know what, I think if Edwards had topped the ticket, he might have won. I wish he'd given it a few more years--he appears a bit too young at this point, and I'd like to see a little more experience--but he is a democrat who can shine in the way we need to shine.
I should add that I work with a similar issue every day. I work for an historic and important women's college, supporting the marketing effort (we don't call it that, it's Enrollment Management). There is so much here to be proud of: the history of women's empowerment and education, the quality of faculty and scholarship, the important women who emerged from here and changed the world, the connections students will make to that long line, the community that is built and rebuilt every year as new women join this community that has continued for more than 150 years. But you know, every time we connect with prospective students, we have to explain that yes, they will meet guys, no, they won't become lesbians if they don't want to be, and yes, they will have parties and a social life. In order to honor and maintain the higher purpose of this institution, we have to address some pretty base and lower-level concerns. There was a time when this institution did not stoop to address those concerns, and it lost ground in selectivity and prestige, which hurt its overall mission of educating women and helping them avail themselves of positions of societal power. I think we as democrats are making a similar error. It's not pandering, we just need to select candidates based on their ability to make an emotional connection with voters, to be trusted in the face of mudslinging and slander. That's the only way we'll swing the swingers, and even though it makes me sad, I think this election, right back to the primaries, proved that we do need to reach that group. I just think the job of reaching them is not as complicated (or as reliant on anti-gay or other divisive politics) as people think. William Saletan got it right in Slate the day after the election. Simple.
Oh yeah, and if the local democratic parties in "swing" states could please make sure that the elections boards allocate voting machines by population and not by penetration of republican registrants, that would probably help. Sigh. A full investigation might be a good idea too.
*Link at Salon.com--you must subscribe (so worth it!) or subject yourself to advertising in order to read full text.