The strategy of the Democratic Leadership Council, or DLC, has been to win by appealing to conservative and moderate voters, assuming that we are a conservative nation (and state) and there aren’t enough progressive and liberal voters to win elections. Candidates who espouse the DLC method don't make much effort to appeal to the Democratic base and instead work hard to reach moderate and conservative voters. Their website says " we believe in a Third Way that rejects the old left-right debate and affirms America's basic bargain: opportunity for all, responsibility from all, and community of all."
The netroots philosophy may not be laid out quite so clearly anywhere, but I think it boils down to "Be true to your beliefs and be a Democrat." That's not very fancy, but it sounds like a comfortable way to campaign. No need to remember to say different things to different groups -- just be yourself.
Rep. Artur Davis (D, AL-07)' recent remarks in Tuscaloosa
People ... are yearning for a sensible politics that speaks to our conservative impulses of responsibility and accountability, and to our more progressive impulses of shared obligation
and in Birmingham, where he praised Ronald Reagan and said Republican Bob Riley "has been the most successful governor of Alabama we've had in my lifetime," are examples of the DLC strategy. So is this news release from a Democratic Congressional candidate a few years ago:
[his] solid credentials on pro-family, pro-life, pro-gun, pro-flag, pro-faith, pro-people issues are well known ... [He] is as conservative as God's Word and as liberal as God's Love, his life is a testimony to that fact.
That candidate is now the state party Chairman and still believes that "conservative as God's word and liberal as God's love" is a great line. People around here call this approach Republican-lite. Conservative and progressive. Conservative and liberal. Can voters really trust a candidate who claims to be both at once?
In Tennessee, Harold Ford, Jr. also emphasized his conservative leanings in his unsuccessful for the Senate seat vacated by Bill Frist in 2006. This is from a blog for one of the losers in the Tenn. Republican Senate primary:
Harold Ford, Jr. will also campaign as a conservative this Fall. He will attempt to get to the right of Corker on some issues. ... Bob Corker is much, much more likely to stand with conservatives in the U.S. Senate than Harold Ford, Jr. As a U.S. Senator, the very first vote Harold Ford, Jr. will cast would be for liberal Democrat, Harry Reid as Majority Leader. That's unacceptable.
It illustrates a fundamental problem with the DLC method. When conservative voters have a choice between Republican-lite and a real Republican, they vote for the real Republican. What do liberal or progressive voters do when faced with the same choice? They either hold their nose and vote for Republican-lite or, and this is key, they don't vote at all. Ford lost the Tennessee Senate race. That was an open seat. In the same election non-DLC Democrats beat incumbent Republicans in the equally red states of Montana and Virginia. Republican-lite doesn't get the Democratic base fired up to vote for the Democratic candidate, in fact the strategy takes the Democratic base vote for granted.
I expect that Markos will talk about a strategy in which Democratic candidates campaign openly as Democrats on a progressive, populist agenda that emphasizes authenticity. The basic premise is that Democrats have better ideas and should put them forth in an honest, open fashion. There is no need to induce cognitive dissonance trying to be both liberal and conservative at the same time. Candidates should stake out their positions, stick with them and run as a Democrat, against the Republican party.
Successful netroots candidates who've won this way include Representatives Ben Chandler (D, KY), Stephanie Herseth (D, SD), Paul Hodes (D, NH), Joe Sestak (D, PA) and Senators Jon Tester (D, MT) and Jim Webb (D, VA), to name a few. These candidates didn't run away from the Democratic party, they embraced it. Jon Tester famously said "I don't want to weaken the Patriot Act, I want to repeal it!" He went on to beat a sitting Republican Senator in Montana. It's worth mentioning that he also beat DLC candidate Jim Morrison in the Democratic primary.
One reason that the DLC strategy isn't working well in the real world these days may be the assumption that America is a conservative nation. Maybe that isn't true. In fact, Media Matters for America and the Campaign for America's Future recently released The Progressive Majority: Why a Conservative America is a Myth, which presents polling data that shows Americans hold progressive views on a wide range of issues.
- The role of government -- 69 percent of Americans believe the government "should care for those who can't care for themselves"; twice as many people (43 percent vs. 20 percent) want "government to provide many more services even if it means an increase in spending" as want government to provide fewer services "in order to reduce spending."
- The economy -- 77 percent of Americans think Congress should increase the minimum wage; 66 percent believe "upper-income people" pay too little in taxes; 53 percent feel the Bush administration's tax cuts have failed because they have increased the deficit and caused cuts in government programs.
- Social issues -- 61 percent of Americans support embryonic stem cell research; 62 percent want to protect Roe v. Wade; only 3 percent of Americans rank same-sex marriage as the "most important" social issue.
- Security -- 43 percent of Americans say we are spending too much on our military; 60 percent feel the federal government should do more about restricting the kinds of guns that people can purchase.
- The environment -- 75 percent of Americans would be wiling to pay more for electricity if it were generated by renewable sources to help reduce global warming; 79 percent want higher emissions standard for automobiles.
- Energy -- 52 percent of Americans believe "the best way for the U.S. to reduce its reliance on foreign oil" is to "have the government invest in alternative energy sources"; 68 percent of the public thinks U.S. energy policy is better solved by conservation than production.
- Immigration -- 57 percent of Americans feel "most recent immigrants to the U.S. contribute to this country" rather than "cause problems." Sixty-seven percent of Americans feel that "on the whole," immigration is a "good thing for this country today."
- Health care -- 69 percent of Americans think it is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure all Americans have access to health coverage; 76 percent find access to health care more important than maintaining the Bush tax cuts; three in five would be willing to have their own taxes increased to achieve universal coverage.
All this means Democrats who talk about progressive ideas in a sincere way should find a lot of traction with the American electorate. And I haven't seen anything to make me believe Alabama voters are that much different on than the rest of the nation on these issues.
Party affiliation is something that fluctuates, but there is evidence that in the 2006 election, it was increased support from Democrats and Independents that gave Democrats their victories.
Comparing 2004 and 2006 exit polls, here is the estimated swing Democrats received according to partisan self-identification:
Overall Dem vote increase: 5.15%
Growth from Dem's: 2.41%
Growth from Ind's: 2.08%
Growth from Rep's: 0.66%
Based on those numbers, you could argue that 2006 was a Democratic base election, as 2000 and 2002 were Republican base elections.
Maybe you've heard that Republicans outnumber Democrats, but that no longer holds water either. For MSNBC, Charlie Cook quotes results from Gallup party identification surveys. Before pushing independents, it looks like this:
- In 2001, Democrats had an edge of eight-tenths of a percent;
- In 2002 the GOP was up by nine-tenths of a percent
- In 2003 Republicans were 1.9 points ahead.
- In 2004 the Republican lead shrank to six-tenths of a point in 2004
- In 2005 Democrats pulled within the error margin, with just four-tenths of a point separating the parties
- In 2006, Democrats pulled away, leading Republicans by 3.9 points, with 34.3 percent identifying themselves as Democrats, 30.4 percent as Republicans and 33.9 percent as independents.
For Independents who lean toward a party, the numbers are even more dramatic:
- In 2001 Democrats had an advantage of 1.3 points
- The parties were four-tenths of a point apart, within the margin of error, in 2002
- In 2003 there was just a one-tenth of a point difference, also within the MOE
- In 2004, Democrats had a 2.7 point advantage
- In 2005 the advantage grew to 4.4 points for Democrats
- In 2006, this category exploded to a 10.2-point advantage for Democrats: 50.4 percent for Democrats, 40.2 percent for Republicans. The remaining 9.4 percent did not lean toward either party.
This 10.2-point advantage is the biggest lead either party has had since Gallup began tracking the leaners in 1991.
Citing polling results from Capitol Survey Research Center, the Birmingham News writes:
[I]n June 2003, a few months after U.S. troops invaded Iraq, ... 50 percent of Alabama voters said they thought of themselves as Republican and 33 percent identified with the Democratic Party.
But voters' identification with the Republican Party plunged to 35 percent, the same as the Democratic percentage, in a poll taken by the center March 28-29, April 2-26 and May 1. Voters' identification with the two parties remained pretty much equal in May .
In the 2006 Alabama primary Democrats cast 465,023 votes for governor compared to 459,759 Republican ballots.
In the January 2007 special election primary for Alabama House District 22, Democratic voters outnumbered Republicans by 3.7 to 1. This after GOP chairman Mike Hubbard said, "I can tell you, the Democrats are scared to death about House District 22." Democrat Taylor went on to win the HD22 seat with 58% of the vote.
Just last week in Mississippi, about 220,000 more Democrats than Republicans voted for a gubernatorial candidate.
These are the kinds of statistics that indicate being a Democrat is no longer a terminal disease, even in the South. Americans agree with many progressive ideas and more people consider themselves Democrats than Republicans. Among Independent voters Democrats have about a 10 point advantage.
This is the time for Democratic candidates to stop running away from their party. The debate between the DLC and the netroots will continue long after Sunday's edition of Meet the Press. I believe and hope the netroots view is correct, based on recent recent information and also because I'm tired of living in a country where conservatism rules.
What do y'all think?