To win 2012, we must begin in 1968. In 1968 Nixon unveiled the Southern Strategy as a plan to revive the Republican party. By combining the traditionally Republican “run government like a business” economic conservative base with what were politely called “social conservatives” but what were really Southerners bent on preserving white privilege, Nixon hoped to build a winning coalition.
Today, after so many years of Republican dominance, it is hard to remember that from 1932 until 1992 Republicans almost never gained a majority in the House, they seldom held the Senate, and they only won the presidency with candidates like Eisenhower and Nixon who were, compared to today’s Republicans, flaming social liberals and advocates of big government and high taxation. In 1972 this southern strategy swept Nixon to a landslide.
The Democratic sweep of power at all levels in 1976 after Watergate was directly linked to Democrat’s use of impeachment to reveal the depth of Republican abuse of power and corruption. It was, however, a win whose nature was not understood by Democrats. It was a reaction to events, not the formation of a winning coalition.
Carter, despite being a southerner, did not dismantle the Republican Southern Strategy. Carter went on to surrender foreign policy conservatives to the Republican coalition of social and economic conservatives, and Reagan assembled these groups into a base which has been the core of Republican power ever since.
Carter’s use of bureaucratic rules and regulations, intended to shore up the civil service against political abuses, simply made it a higher priority target for conservative business people. Democratic inclinations toward effective government and better regulation to protect citizens from corporate abuses pushed anyone resentful of government regulation, especially if that regulation protected hated groups like gays, the poor and minorities, toward Republicans. Republicans set themselves on revenging and reversing the Nixonian setback of the silent majority by building up what Karl Rove called the permanent majority. They moved significantly forward toward that goal in the 1980s when they dismantled as much of the government as they could under Reagan and in the 1990s when they impeached Clinton. Breaking the air traffic controllers union without Democrats taking strong action to defend it was also a fatal error by Democrats. The move succeeded because the air traffic controllers union was not supportive of Democrats per se and also not a part of the union networks, so it had few friends among Democrats, and Republicans realized its vulnerability. But breaking that union and driving a wedge between unions and Democrats was part of the longer term strategy Republicans had developed as they realized the success of Nixon’s southern strategy. Republicans after the Nixon impeachment crafted a long term plan to seize power “permanently” with the Lewis Powell memo. They have stuck to it.
Part of that plan was to prevent Democrats from ever again using government to reveal Republican corruption and abuse and particularly to prevent them from using it to impeach a Republican president. Another part of it was to weaken public unions and unions in general, and so weaken the Democratic party. Remember, it was dedicated civil service officers like Deep Throat from the FBI who revealed the details of abuses of power under Nixon. Republicans under Reagan set out to deliberately subvert the political neutrality and the public’s respect for the competence of the civil service. They did this by appointing people to lead departments like Education and the EPA who were fundamentally opposed to everything these departments were tasked to do. In the Republican view, anything that could be done to hogtie these departments into inaction, undermine their mandate, or incapacitate their enforcement powers was not only acceptable, it was absolutely necessary.
They deliberately set out to leave like-minded persons behind permanently by using civil service hiring under Republican administrations in as partisan a fashion as they could. The development of “Christian” law schools and opening up other professional courses at “Christian” colleges, and the setting up of alternative “conservative” certifying bodies to the existing legal associations (such as the Federalist Society) was and continues to be part of this long term plan. These educational and professional bodies indoctrinate and certify the partisanship and ideological purity of the appointees. Their commitment is to the faith and the Republican party, not to the profession or to good, effective and efficient government under a civil service that functions in good faith to fulfill the mandates Congress and the President direct it to achieve.
The impeachment of Clinton is perceived by Democrats as having backfired on the Republicans. This is incorrect. It succeeded fabulously. In 2000 despite a terrific economic record, and despite winning more votes nationally, Democrats lost the presidency.
Clinton, a so-called New Democrat, followed up on Carter’s breaking up of union influence on the Democratic party. Instead of a base, Clinton built up a following (friends of Bill) and turned the Democratic Party into a personality cult instead of a principled coalition. Obama effectively followed this same strategy, assisted by Rahm whose “southern strategy” consisted of Blue Dog Democrats who were primarily Republican in all but name. It failed because it had no principles or base to hold it together. The move presented candidates who were pale imitations of real Republicans, and it was a move driven by Rahm’s personal recruitment of these candidates. It was Democratic personality politics at the legislative level.
Democrats have never fully exercised power even when they dominated all branches of government as they did in 2008 to 2010 in part because Republicans have their plants all through the civil service and because Democrats have no clear principles or base either to support their programs or to drive them forward. Republicans continue to appeal to their base of economic and social conservatives by playing hardball and pursuing hardline goals by any and every means available, even when out of power, and so they hold their coalition together through defeat and victory. Without a personality to unite them, Democrats fall apart. They have few principles and no base which unites them through thick and thin.
Democrats demonstrated they fundamentally misunderstood the key components of the success of the Republican strategy when Nancy Pelosi pledged not to use Democratic majority control of the House won in 2006 to investigate and impeach Bush or his cronies, despite obvious and flagrant abuses of power. Obama furthered this fundamental error in 2008 when he forswore any investigation of his predecessors, and when he dismissed Howard Dean from leading party building across the country. (See Dean's diary on today's rec list. He sees what Wisconsin means.) Even the bank fraudsters, torturers and other flagrant abusers of power got a pass. Obama cracked down even more on government officers willing to reveal government abuses than the Republicans did.
These were fundamental mistakes. When Republicans target civil servants and try to make them and all unions enemies, Democrats have a clear opportunity to present themselves as defenders of the public interest and public servants, and as defenders of the free association of working people to protect their own interests by democratic means of voting and electing their leaders and determining their bargaining positions. Democrats must stand consistently for open, accountable and fully professional (competent and committed) government. They must stand for the right to unionize and collectively bargain with corporations. Obama made a great mistake when he made his first priority a flawed healthcare bill that rested on a deal with pharmaceutical firms and healthcare insurers instead of card check and a strong defense of the right to organize. He made an even greater mistake when he alienated most educators and educational unions and the other unions who have been staunch supporters of Democrats. They may support Obama and Democrats because they have little choice, but it is far from clear that Obama or the Democratic Party supports them.
Republicans have taught us that protecting and extending the base should have, and always must have, the first priority. Pharmacy firms and insurers are not the Democratic base. Unions are, or at least they should be. Unlike Republicans, Democrats have in most instances appealed to a nebulous and fickle “moderate” or “independent” voter instead of their base. They have no plan to reveal abuse of government under Republicans. They have no commitment to clean, transparent government in specific terms, including use of political power to investigate corruption. They do not plan to reverse the construction of alternative educational structures that are, in effect, madrassas in America. There is no understanding of, defense of, or even articulation of the role of professional and non-political civil servants dedicated to the public good. They do not see unions as core components of the Democratic party base. As far as I can tell, they have no plan to build a party base. Obama has his campaign organization, built around him. It is another personality cult and doomed to be just as ephemeral, mercurial, and ultimately, ineffective as Clinton’s. It is no basis for a party.
Democrats have failed to plan, and as the saying goes, that is a plan to fail. And so they do.
What Democrats need in 2012 is a “Commitment to Revive America with Effective Government” spelling out in specific terms what they will do if they win back majority control of the House, Senate, and Presidency. They need to articulate a clear plan for what they will do if they run government. They need to clarify who their base is and they need to motivate them to vote and support their candidates.
Wisconsin shows what a motivated base can do despite enormous funds and effort by the opposition. President Obama has shown that he is more than willing to be led instead of lead, especially when it comes to legislative initiatives. This plan needs a clear articulation of what will be done to revive America, and why it must be done this way and not the Republican way.
Here is a draft of some of what we need to tell voters in 2012. Please add in the comments what you think needs to be said to get voters to vote for Democrats in 2012.
The Democratic Plan for America
Curing an illness depends on getting the diagnosis right. If your doctor treats you for a hangnail when you have cancer, you die. America is suffering from cancer, but Republicans insist it’s just a hangnail. Republicans have said since Nixon that American government should be run like a business. When a business gets in trouble, it fires people, kicking them out the door without any concern for what happens to them, their families, their homes, their health or their lives. Republicans insist firing public servants like teachers, policemen and firemen is what must be done. They insist handing Medicare over to private business, privatizing Social Security, and privatizing even education is the cure. Today youngsters begin their working lives owing huge debts to private firms for the education they must have simply to compete.
Yet Republicans insist private bankers and businesses must save America, even though it was bankers and businesses who, with the full support of Republicans under George Bush, got us into this trouble in the first place. And ever since Republicans won more power in the elections of 2010, they have done all they could to defund and downsize government and turn it over to private business, but where are the jobs they promised would follow? Instead of getting out of trouble, we are now in worse trouble than ever due to Republicans refusing to admit America has cancer, not a hangnail.
When will Republicans admit that America is not a business? When will they admit that government cannot and should not fire Americans and just forget them and walk away? When millions are without homes, without jobs, without healthcare, and without decent education or protection from disasters that are not their fault, government must act. It must act when businesses will not or cannot. And so to think that government is and must be run like a business is to fundamentally misunderstand the role and purpose of government.
Government must be run for the benefit of the people as whole, not for special interests, not just by and for the wealthy. Ever since Reagan Republican government has stepped in to shift wealth toward the already wealthy and away from everyone else. Republicans weakened unions, let inflation erode the minimum wage, gave tax benefits to businesses to take jobs overseas, and shifted the tax burden from the rich to the poor. Today the top 2 percent of incomes dominate more wealth than any time since 1929. The 400 richest families have more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans put together. This is not fair and it certainly does not make everyone better off. Government by and for the greedy has not led to good government or good economics.
The American cancer is lack of ability by the average American to pay for the things they need to survive. American incomes have fallen so low they cannot afford the housing, transport and education they need. America’s crisis is not a crisis of debt, it is a crisis of demand and it is a crisis of fairness. It is time for the rich pay their fair share of taxes. It is time for business to lose all those special tax breaks they get to send your job overseas. It is time you get paid what you deserve, a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. It is time for government to be run like a government for the benefit of the citizens, not like a business for the benefit of the shareholders, and forget the employees.
You voters employ us; we don’t employ you, and we will never forget that.
Democrats pledge that if you vote for them they will fight for you. Democrats will make the wealthy pay their fair share. We will end Republican tax policy that sends American jobs abroad. We will run government like it should be run, for all the people and not just for business, special interests, or the wealthy. We will protect your right to organize and fight for a fair wage and safe workplace. We will fight for your right to a good and free public education and higher education at an affordable price. We will continue to fight for your right to a place to live and a good doctor or hospital when you need one. We will fight for safe streets, safe food, and clean air and water. We will fight for you to get back what you pay for in Social Security and Medicare. You paid for it; you are entitled to it.
We want good government, working for the good of all and not just for the profit of a few. We believe government should be run like a government, for the citizens, by the citizens. That is why we are Democrats, and why we want your vote and your help to make America better for all of us, not just some of us.