Bucking the CW, Dems Should Tack to Port

“Give us a reason to vote for you, or we sit home”

by JC

Conventional wisdom already is telling us that the lesson democrats should take home (and republicans and the MSM is amplifying) is that when the base doesn’t turn out, as it didn’t in the NJ and Virginia gubernatorial races, that candidates should move to the right in order to capture moderates and independents.

Ezra Klein explains this phenomenon:

“…Barack Obama wasn’t on the ballot yesterday, and he won’t be on the ballot in 2010. If his voters stayed home last night, many politicians will take that as proof that they’ll stay home in 2010, too. That doesn’t just make the map harder for Democrats. It also moves Democrats to the right, as their consultants will explain that a winning coalition requires more voters from relatively conservative blocs, like seniors and downscale independents, and thus a more centrist campaign strategy.”

Kos takes the opposite approach, and clearly lays out why dems need to move to their left in order to shore up their electoral chances:

There will be much number-crunching tomorrow, but preliminary numbers (at least in Virginia) show that GOP turnout remained the same as last year, but Democratic turnout collapsed. This is a base problem, and this is what Democrats better take from tonight:

  • If you abandon Democratic principles in a bid for unnecessary “bipartisanship”, you will lose votes.
  • If you water down reform in favor of Blue Dogs and their corporate benefactors, you will lose votes.
  • If you forget why you were elected — health care, financial services, energy policy and immigration reform — you will lose votes.

Tonight proved conclusively that we’re not going to turn out just because you have a (D) next to your name, or because Obama tells us to. We’ll turn out if we feel it’s worth our time and effort to vote, and we’ll work hard to make sure others turn out if you inspire us with bold and decisive action.

The choice is yours. Give us a reason to vote for you, or we sit home. And you aren’t going to make up the margins with conservative voters. They already know exactly who they’re voting for, and it ain’t you.

So as we head into the 2010 election season, dems have a choice: work for the progressive base that swept Obama to power, and ignite them to help fight for change; or follow the CW and continue the tack to the right in the off-year election, in hopes of capturing enough independent and centrist votes to make up for the loss of the base.

It isn’t just the right that is struggling with a split in their party–conservatives ejecting RINOs in an attempt to purify the republican party is indicative of the failure of GOP politics. The left likewise is split with a strong progressive section that refuses to follow timid democrats ratcheting to the right. Bad dem politics, as exhibited by the likes of Max Baucus, already is beginning to cement a growing rift between progressives and mainstream democrats on the left.

Democrats need to make up their minds what is more important to their party heading into ’10: progressive ideals, or conservative, centrist and corporatist pandering. Because without a candidate like Obama on the ticket to turn out the progressive, young and minority base that his presidency owes its existence to, they’re left to their own devices (good policy votes for incumbents, strong stances by challengers) to motivate those voters to turn out.

As Kos said: “We’ll turn out if we feel it’s worth our time and effort to vote, and we’ll work hard to make sure others turn out if you inspire us with bold and decisive action.”

Obama should take that as a wakeup call for ’12.


  1. It is the job of the punditry (online and off) as well as ‘advisers’ to take the simple and make it very complex. That’s how they keep their jobs. That’s why I like the work that Markos is doing (more and better Democrats). This should be very simple. Politicians need to show the voters that they understand what those voters desire, and then those politicians need to give it to them, or at least present the appearance of it. Tacking to the right doesn’t work because it is pre-deciding what it is the voters want. Tacking to the left will be no more useful than that, and I don’t think that’s what Markos was saying. He was talking about tacking to the progressive side, which is Democratic by coincidence more than design. The point of progressive populism is that the people want ‘it’ and should get ‘it’.

    The strangle hold that Republican purity mavens have over their party is a spiff, a bonus. Where the wingnuts held sway, Democrats won. They forced the game into telling people what it is they would like, a loser’s strategy.

    • JC

      I think one could argue that good politicians should “understand what those voters desire” and then give it to them, as you do.

      Conversely, one could argue that a great politician understands the needs of his constituency, and of the country, devises policy and positions to match, and then goes to work educating his constituency about good policy, and gets it implemented. If he succeeds and the policy works, he gets (re)elected, if he doesn’t he loses.

      I call the former the mark of a good panderer, or a pragmatic politician–a gumby. The latter a leader. There can only be so many leaders, but many gumbys. Then there are those who are confused about who their constituency is, and pander to their corporate overlords, lying to and about their warm-blooded constituencies.

      Unfortunately, our current Congress and, it seems, the Administration, are hugely devoid of visible leadership in many areas.

      I watched David Plouffe defend Obama on the Daily Show last night, and it was interesting to hear him talk about how Obama’s style of leadership will not become apparent for many years–indeed after he leaves office–as it is largely behind the scenes.

      That may work for many areas (national security and international relations immediately come to mind). But the country needs good leadership to explain things like why it is important to have government get involved in health care, when the private industry’s best efforts results in 45,000 people per year dying prematurely from lack of health insurance. Why not doing something tangible soon about climate change multiplies the effort needed decades later if we kick the can down the road.

      JFK laid down tangible goals: we’re going to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. And we did. What do we hear? Platitudes about “quality” and “affordability” and “surges”. It’s no wonder that progressives are becoming disillusioned with nebulosity being passed off as policy.

      • It’s no wonder that progressives are becoming disillusioned with nebulosity being passed off as policy.

        No, it’s not. The problem facing progressives is that they believe themselves to be alone in facing this.

  2. petetalbot

    Interesting analysis, JC. I’ll take Kos over Klein any day of the week.

    I think the MSM and pundits made more out of this than it deserved, however. My take was posted about one minute before yours.

    Jay has some good analysis, too.

  3. If you were to go down a list of positions on issues with most voters, they would not be able to tell you which candidate held which position. That’s not what campaigns are about.

    But very generally, voters wanted health care reform. They can’t give specifics about it because they don’t very well understand it – they just know that they are paying through the shorts and getting less and less care for more and more money. It’s not really discussed in the media save a few places like Moyers or Democracy Now. They just know they want reform.

    It is starting to sink in that the Democrats are not going to deliver, any more than the Democrats are going to get us out of these wars or stop shoveling money to the banks or remove the wiretaps or stop torture and rendition.

    As that perception sinks in, voters will more and more retreat to their original base – all the new Democrat voters will go away, and we’ll have a normal shift back to Republican rule until we get sick of them again.

    And reform will have been averted, thanks to the Democrats.

  4. Big Swede

    Klein or Kos, no matter.

    The 800# gorilla in the room is the economy. Health care, Cap and Tax, Card Check, all doom the economy and jobs.

    Sadly, Aug. was your only chance.

    Waterloo approaches.

    • Packing your bags, Big S? Where ya gonna go … Argentina isn’t what it used to be in the Friedman-esque days and ol’ Deutschland can’t shake that its citizens like being part of Europe. I suspect authoritarian capitalism ain’t your thing, either, so that counts out … err, I dunno. Where ARE you gonna run to?

      • Big Swede

        I could leave, but why? Voters are just beginning to see the errors of their ways.

        The backlash could set you guys back years and bring back 90’s era prosperity.

        I might even sell some of my gold and silver bullion.

        • Matthew Koehler

          Yeah, that’s right B.S….Clearly all of our country’s problems (economy, heath care, Iraq/Afghanistan, etc) started on Jan 21, 2009.

        • problembear

          hey swede. better divest yourself of bullion and go for futures on marijuana crops…..

          the way your sad little teabagger revolt is going, the trend lines all point to liberal and progressive.

          maybe there’s a future for jake eaton as a licensed pot broker.

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