Why the Dems lost
You know, when you look back into how the Dems lost, most of the reasons offered up are, honestly, bullshit.
What I am going to do here, is offer up a very different theory of how the Dems lost, one reflected by oh, actual issues and not theories. But before I start, I want to say I think e-voting as now constituted is a potential fraud magnet. It's not there yet, but the people screaming about paper trails and software are right. But that's not why the Dems lost in 2002 and 2004.
As long as people rely on Diebold as the handy dandy excuse for losses, no one ever has to examine how the Dems related to voters and why Rove and the GOP beat them.
Ok, let's say that the Dems were ambushed in 2000 and got seriously shitty advice on how to fight the ballot issues. The Dems were listening to bullshit about continuity of government and trust in elections. So they shrunk from the fight. Stolen? Yeah, in the time honored tradition of intimidation and rules lawyering. If you look at who showed up in Florida, like John Bolton and other future White House staffers, the GOP brought their A game and Gore thought they were playing by the rules of the past. Ooops.
But that wasn't was hammered the Dems in 2002 or 4.
What the Dems didn't do, while the GOP did, was target and reach their voters over and over, in a trusted setting. For argument's sake we'll call it a church. David Kuo explains in great detail how the White House could and would use government money to buy church votes. The media went on and on about values voters and scared the Dems away from their base. Don't pay too much attention to the blacks or the gays or the urban voters. It was Soccer, then Security moms and NASCAR dads. The Dems were being told repeatedly to compete for voters who had many reason not to vote Democratic......ever.
Suburbs were white and Protestant because the people who lived there were fleeing the city and the diversity there. It didn't take much to create a narrative , a frame, which would fit into their world view. They became Catholic as they soon followed. The one thing they didn't want to see or hear about was the great urban unwashed. And by the 1960's. the cities scared the living shit out of them.
The Republicans took time to find out who their voters were, and refined their messages, from the Southern Strategy to Bush, the Godly man. The Dems kept speaking to issues and losing. Bill Clinton was the grand exception to that, because his life story was geniune and common. Working class kid rises above his station and then doesn't forget who he is. That was a powerful narrative.
But for the most part, excluding Carter's evangelical based victory, the Republicans looked for new pools of voters and shaped their messages to meet their needs. Lower taxes isn't just a bromide. but for suburban voters in good school districts, a desperate cry for help. Their tax burdens are serious issues in their finances. And with stagnating wages, it sounds like a solution. It wasn't an issue of services, they wanted to maintain those, but wanted to pay less for them.
Which is why the meme of waste, fraud and abuse was so popular in the late 80's and 90's. People wanted to believe government was pissing their money away. They wanted someone to blame. And since Reagan had provided the subtext that the money was going to the underserving poor, it was an easy campaign to sell.
The Dems never really answered it, they never defended government and explained how efficent it was in reality. They were scared off from doing so by the think tanks. Grover and Steve and the rest of the Olin/Scaife mafia was making a cottage industry convincing the public that the market solved all problems.
I covered the Dot Coms, and I come from a family of government employees. If my family had done a tenth of the shit I saw on display, they would have been jailed for a decade each.
Bush is the ultimate extension of the businessman as leader myth, despite a legacy of failure and cronyism. It was laying that groundwork which made his presidency possible.
The Republicans defined the playing field, and then leveraged that advantage.
What most people don't get is that the GOP's old Southern Strategy, play to the suburban middle class had run it's course by 1992. Ross Perot had lept in, and was about to split the GOP moderates and conservatives. Abortion was driving the moderates away in droves. They may have voted for lower taxes, but they didn't like the moralists. Abortion had been a major issue for Republican women, and many were pro-choice.
Rove's genius, besides dirty tricks, wasn't attacking a candidate's strength, but finding a whole new pool of voters to work with. If he had tried to mobilize the suburban GOP, Al Gore would be ending his second term as president. They talk, but they don't do.
The evangelicals were doers. They had their bible meetings, and their church socials and sunday dinners. These people were willing to actually do things. Getting someone who believes in evangelism to evangelize isn't all that hard. While the Chris Shays and Olympia Snowes of the GOP bemoaned their fate, the GOP was going hard and fast to mobilize new voters, voters with a mission.
So what did the Dems do? Nothing. They mocked the fundies, but they never figured out how to reach the ones who would listen and they existed.
But it was more than that. As the GOP built up databases and contacts with evangelicals and getting them to turn out, the Dems were increasingly restricting their efforts to "key" districts. What that did was leave the GOP free to use their financial advantage against Dems.
Ineptitude became common in Democratic efforts. Bad candidates, bad advice and more importantly, shitty strategic thinking.
Look at the Dean campaign. If the problems of the Democratic party could be summed up in one, easy to understand lesson, it was Howard Dean.
First, look at who the Dean campaign hired, people more than willing to backstab after the fact. Ms. Teachout, this means you. Dean hired so many inexperienced people it was amazing.
Second, his regretable comment about reaching voters with Confederate flags on their pick ups was not only stupid, but said to black voters, "well, you don't count as much".
Third, they had no clue on how to manage Iowa. None. Instead of relying on locals, they flooded the state with outsiders.
Back to the second in a minute.
But the Dean campaign made the same mistakes all Dem campaigns had in that period. A muffled message, a victim of Dem sniping with no reasonable reply, and a poor GOTV strategy. The Cult of Dean didn't help matters. It was the best move for everyone that he became head of the DNC. He knew how to run state races, he got advisers who didn't eat in the original Ben and Jerry's and he had to finally find a way to deal with the Dems diversity.
By the time Bush had gotten to Kerry, who I still think has been unfairly maligned for his campaign, the attacks had already been defined. Kerry ran a good campaign, not great, but good, but the underlying structure doomed him to a close defeat. ACT, GCI and their underpaid staff made GOTV efforts a nightmare. But considering Kerry's liberal record and his manner, his narrow defeat was hardly some epic failure. Despite all of the years of demonizing liberalism, Kerry came within 113,000 votes of winning.
People have claimed it was Diebold which provided that edge. Unlikely, and here's why: remember how people claimed the exit polling indicated fraud? Well, no. It is far more likely to indicate lying. People lied about voting for Kerry when asked. Why? They didn't trust him, they didn't like gays, they thought he was weak. This was a version of the Bradley effect, when people lie about their vote for various reasons, in the 1982 California governor's race, race.
Rove's real secret weapon was the evangelical vote. While the Dems were working the state with ACT, and some genius had the idea of having English newspaper readers send letters to Ohio voters, Rove was working his well sown network. The one which came together in 2002 to hold the House, and then won Ohio for him. If the Dems wanted to claim, with only the thinest of proof, that Diebold didn't work, fine. Rove knew what he really had, and planned on keeping it.
Even if Diebold depressed urban voting, even if it did, Rod Parsley and his evangelical bretheren had the ability to drive thousands of voters, especially elderly voters, to the polls. I mean, place them in vans and take them to the polls. All organized and planned.
So what was the Democratic reaction?
"I'm moving to Canada"
"Diebold stole the election"
"We have to appeal to 'values' voters"
No one, not until months later, thought that, gee, shit, maybe we didn't campaign this right. Maybe our targeted strategy was fucked. People are still pissed that I predicted a Kerry win, despite the narrow lost and a widespread opinion across the media that was how it was going to play out.
But if anyone had done the reporting, they would have seen Rove's secret weapon. It wasn't banning gay marriage, although that did drive people to the polls, it wasn't Diebold, who's servers were being monitored by progressive hackers, waiting to see if there was a spike in their activity, but his evangelical network. That was the tool he used to hammer the Dems in key races.
And no one saw it.
Diebold or no Diebold, without the fundies, Bush lives on the pig farm permanently.
Now, back to the Dean comment. In the months after the election, you had people like Amy Sullivan suggesting that the Dems toss their coalition under the bus. Rove's wet dream.
The Rove coalition wasn't a political one, as many dem coalitions are, it was purely tactical. The Evangelicals delivered votes, and the Republicans smiled at them. A few dog whistle comments, a bill or nomination. Nothing serious.
The GOP was moving on black evangelicals as well, and had gained some ground until Katrina.
What many were still transfixed by was the idea of getting white southern men to vote for the right kind of Dem. Which was a wasted effort. The price of that vote would be the entire coalition. Much of that vote was driven by race anyway, but the DC Dems bought into it and a lot of other GOP-sponsored theories.
The dangerous time wasn't the election, but the months from Kerry's defeat to Terri Schiavo. That was the point where the Dems could have spiraled into a true defeat.
The Dems had not taken GOTV seriously, not trained people to do it, not thought about expanding the battlefield. Kos was laughed at in Washington and by some idiots online for backing long shot races. They never saw the value of making them competative.
Howard Dean did. While some people still don't get it, making the GOP defend everywhere means they defend nothing. If we were still targeting races, Chris Shays would have enough money to beat Diane Farrell. Now that you have the House leadership under attack, Tom Reynolds down by double digits, the Dems are on the offense and can pick even more races to press the GOP on.
Dems are now just realizing that their pool is single women, they're just dealing with their issues in a concerted way.
The problem that in assigning losses to Diebold, you ignore the strategic and tactical errors of the Dems which led to defeats. It was seriously flawed thinking which created these problems, mistaken assumptions, bad judgments which cost the Dems their Congressional majorities and lost the White House. Those are the things changing and giving Dems a chance to win.
posted by Steve @ 1:53:00 AM