January 03, 2005

How to Reclaim the Majority

Did the Republicans become the undisputed majority party for the long term as the pundits are saying? And is the Democratic Party on the wane? After all George W Bush won the majority of votes in the recent election and the Republicans control all branches of the federal government.

Certainly, the goal of a long term Republican majority governing the United States is now closer. One reason is Karl Rove, Bush’s political strategist. Rove is being celebrated as the premier architect of Bush’s reelection by predicting that he could win the election by motivating the religious right base to turnout in greater numbers than the Democratic base. Rove has said that this election had finally broken the tie that made this country a 50-50 country and the party has made strong advances in having more people identify with Republicans than with Democrats. What Rove aspires to create is a solid majority that will rival the FDR majority from the 30s and 40s that dominated the US political scene for decades. But, unlike FDR, Rove does not believe he needs to make his policies more palatable to non-conservative voters. He believes he can do this while sticking to the hard right platform that President Bush espouses. And Rove believes he proved this by 2004 past election.

Yet, is this what happened in this election? Has the tipping point been reached and is it inevitable that the right-wing has not only taken over the Republican Party, but also taken over the political leanings of a majority of America voters?

Clearly, the right-wing has gained an enormous victory in electing George W Bush this year despite the intense passion felt by activists on the Democratic side who desperately wanted to remove him from office. And the Republicans are set up for further victories unless we find ways to counteract the hardball tactics that they have used to grasp power.

One thing that should encourage us is that the polls still show the American public does not support the right wing agenda. And the CBS News/NYT poll conducted on Thanksgiving week showed that after the election Americans still identified with Democrats over Republicans by a decisive margin. Nevertheless, the Republicans are ruthless and will do pretty near anything they can to consolidate their hold on power. Witness the tactics that Tom DeLay used to ram through the redistricting of Texas in order to build an almost insurmountable majority in the Congress. And witness the way the Bush administration used the impending war in Iraq in 2002 to impugn the patriotism of the Democrats to win control of the Senate.

So what will it take to regain the majority from the Republicans? It will take understanding the American public, their fears and their dreams, and what needs to be done to rally an even more voters that actively support Democrats and what they stand for. Although Bush won a majority of votes, only a portion of those voters really back the hard right agenda and it should be possible to persuade many to abandon the Republicans. (And fortunately there are more than a few in this group. We are certainly helped by the Christian Right as they are prone to overplaying their hand and will certainly help push away voters who never realized they were voting to give the fundamentalist preachers control over their lives.)

It is clear from the post-election analysis, that one of the main reasons the weakly committed voters voted for Bush was that they had bought into the Rovian picture of Kerry as someone who was not strong enough to lead the country. All the millions of dollars of negative ads and false statements did cause enough people to worry more about electing Kerry than the consequences of electing Bush. The Democrats must find a way to inoculate their candidate in the minds of the voters from the lies and smears.

It is also important to recognize that the way that the hard right Republicans gained their control of Congress and the White House was by a long termed campaign designed to undermine people’s confidence in their government and in Democrats who believe that government can be a force of good for people. Certainly since the time of Ronald Reagan, the Republican mantra has been “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” The Republicans and the right wing media have spent much of the past twenty years using propaganda to first make the word “liberal” a dirty word and now they are doing the same to Democrats.

This campaign has been very effective. One of my coworkers told me that both parties were out to scam the middle class Americans so why even bother to vote? Another woman who voted for Bush said that she didn’t believe that Kerry could fix the problems in our country because no politician could fight against the factors that cause the problems. And furthermore, because no politician can really fix the problems, Bush was not to blame for any of the worsening problems due to his policies. What this shows is that the Republicans benefit from a growing cynicism about our government, while Democrats need people to believe that it is possible to make government work for them.

The Republicans’ second tactic is to build pleasing lies about what they want to do without telling people about the consequences of their policies. So you hear the Republicans talk about the unfairness of the “death tax” while preaching tax simplicity. Of course, when they are full of triumphalism as they are right now, they start to talk about how in order to pay for making the tax cuts for the wealthy permanent, they plan to end the employer deduction for providing health insurance which will effectively wipe out the way most people get their health coverage.

So what can Democrats do? Oliver Willis had a great idea after the election. He believes that we Democrats need to rebrand ourselves so when Americans hear or see the word Democrat, they think about what Democrats have accomplished, not what Republicans want people to believe about Democrats. A successful campaign will build a much better environment for Democratic candidates to run in because they won’t have to remind people that Democrats have a better record for solving the problems of ordinary Americans.

Other ideas that are bubbling up in the political blogs provide practical suggestions to demonstrate that Democrats are concerned with providing real solutions for the problems that affect ordinary citizens. Kevin Drum suggested having Democrats band together to provide health insurance for people belonging to the Democratic Party. This would be one tangible way that a Democratic value, health care for all as a shared responsibility, could be shown to work better than the Republican version of every man for himself. Steve Guilliard suggested that Democrats organize ways to help people who need help. As he said, the purpose is to show that Democrats are public-minded citizens and believe in doing their civic duty. How about having Democrats sponsor health clinics or tutoring clubs or even credit unions? Having the Democratic Party actively involved in activities that help people outside of the election cycle can go a long way in showing that the Democratic values are real. Democrats will once more be the party for the people and not the corporations.

Fortunately, several positive signs during the past year show that things are not quite as bleak as they might sometimes appear. Concerned citizens banded together to stop some of the more blatant corporate giveaways, including stopping the crass attempt to let powerful media owners control too many stations in media markets and also making Sinclair back down from their attempt to misuse the public airwaves. Furthermore, Democrats found they can be competitive with the Republican money machine without having to sell their soul to corporations. This means that Democrats can address the concerns of the majority of Americans without being emasculated by corporate sponsors. And if Democrats once more show that Democrats are truly the Party of the people -- a Party supporting a government of the people, by the people and for the people -- then surely the Republican majority will vanish like the chimera it is.

[Ed: an earlier version of this was published in the Vox Populi eZine.]

Posted by Mary at January 3, 2005 07:39 PM | US Politics | Technorati links |