Thursday, April 21, 2005

Reality Based Politics

When was the last time a politician did something to change your life for the better? I don't mean passing some corporate loophole or nebulous rule change. I mean really changed your life, inspired you, made you want, or have, to be a better person.

I can't remember any offhand in my adult lifetime.

This is the crux of the problem as summed up in a great post today at MyDD by Thresholder. In his post, "Reality. Credibility. For Chris and for everyone" he argues that what the Democrats are missing is not framing, their own set of Rovian tricks, or better partisan politics, but reality. From Thresholder:
BOTH PARTIES have been ignoring reality. We know the Thugs reject reality. But Dems have been living out of touch with reality for years. They have been scheming about how to win elections without standing up and making a difference in people's real lives. The credibility gap I talk about IS NOT ABOUT FRAMING! IT'S ABOUT FIGHTING AND WINNING POLITICAL BATTLES THAT MATTER TO PEOPLE!
To me, the thought that politics should be about taking risks in order to change people lives for the better is key to regaining the majority. But instead the Democratic party has become so fearful of losing, it has become out of touch with what is real in people's lives, focusing primarily on getting better at the process of running elections. This has come at the expense of taking risks and fighting real battles for real people.

What's missing in all this risk averse focus on the electoral process? Real issues. No not abortion, gay marriage, or Terri Shavio's feeding tube. Real issues that matter to real Americans. Health Care. Jobs. Equal rights for women and minorities. Formerly staples of Democratic agendas, where are they now? Where have they been in the past 20 years? Where have Democratic core values gone?

The former champion of the oppressed, Democrats are now in congress voting with the GOP to repeal the Estate Tax that "afflicts" 2% of the population. They are voting with the GOP to "toughen" bankruptcy laws that do nothing to curb predatory abuses by the credit card industry while rewarding it with windfall profits taken largely at the expense of debtors with catastrophic medical problems, divorce or being shipped over to Iraq. We as a party have grown too risk averse, instead focusing on the technique of electioneering and forgoing risk taking as our elected leaders merrily vote in "bipartisan" fashion with the GOP rather than fighting for the needs of real people.

All the talk we see now on framing and politics as advertising has its rightful place, and I do not mean to dismiss this important aspect of the process. But I think the core argument we need to demonstrate to voters is that we are the party that has stood and fought for them historically, and will stand and fight for them now. We can only do this by standing and fighting for what we as a party believe in and have always fought for.

For too long the centrist view that we need to compromise or get along with the GOP because we can't win or will get bloodied if we put up a fight has driven us down the path of credibility loss as Democrats shied away from one fight after another. How many people respect someone who compromises their values? How many people hold as credible anyone who will do nothing to fight for what he believes in? How many people will follow a leader who will not stand up to a bully? This is where the Democrats lost their credibility in my opinion. Their willingness to run from the word "partisan" or "liberal" or even object to being called the "Democrat Party" and focus instead on compromising their every core value has cost the party deeply. We've let the bully win. We've played his game. The Democratic Party as a whole has stopped playing to win, and instead has begun playing not to lose.

There is no passion in this. There is no inspiration in this. There is only the perpetuation of the status quo with a gradual erosion of one's self respect and values. If a man trades one of his values for a short term benefit today, what will he trade tomorrow when the stakes rise? To paraphrase the advertising cliché from the comments, we've forgotten the steak altogether, and done nothing but try to sell the sizzle. From Thresholder in the comments:
What it means is simply that we have forgotten how to fight battles except by advertising proxy. We have utterly forgotten the battles that were won in the 60s, the 30s, the 20s. Those battles were fought with leaders standing up to defend union interests and facing the clubs and bullets of national guards wielded by corporate bosses. Those battles were not fought with sizzle.
If the Democrats ever hope to regain the majority again and repair the damage done to the nation by the Republican Party and the Right, they must again risk the fight. Too often I see comments on the blogs about battles not being "winnable." In the primaries we were treated to "electability." This is the middle road. The "centrist" view. The vanilla option. It is often the most palatable; the alternative that offends the least; the safer route. Although this may win an election, secure a re-election, or go along with the polls, it is, like conventional wisdom, often wrong.

I often wonder how well the idea of desegregation polled in the South before its enactment. I find myself wondering if the political climate of today was in place, with the spin machine and MSM we now have, if the Democratic Party would have supported the Civil Rights bill as it did. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. That was so popular look what happened to him. But all of these examples earned credibility in the eyes of the people for whom these battles were fought. Credibility the Democratic party is losing rapidly due to its insistence on taking the middle path, the safe compromise, the GOP offered bipartisan approach, instead of fighting to improve the lives of average people.

Average people who used to vote Democratic.