The New Yorker on-line has a Q & A session with Goldberg, in which he discusses realistically the chances of a Democratic takeover of the House and even as a long shot, the Senate, in 2006. Unlike Media Matters, which believes that the MSM can change voters' minds by a torrent of toxic spew against Bush and the GOP, Goldberg looks at the long term after spending a good long time in Missouri and Iowa and other exotic places between the Blue and Left Coasts:
It’s hard without a Roosevelt to rebuild a Roosevelt coalition, that’s for sure. By "Reagan Democrats," what I mean are the Catholic, working-class, white suburbanites who have gradually left the Democratic Party. Since the McGovern period, there has been a feeling among many people in this country, particularly in those states that are not situated in the northeast or along the Pacific Coast, that the Democrats have a family problem, a God problem, and a national-security problem.I talked to Democrats from red states, Democrats who are popularly elected officials in states that have been going Republican in the Presidential race. They all say the same thing: part of their problem is policy—they need the Democratic Party to convince the voters that they, too, will stand up for American national security.
After spending time in the real world outside the NYC and LA/SF MSM Go-Go Zones, Goldberg not surprisingly finds Dems scratching their heads over "netroots" excessive negativity that blurs their local messages to the moderate electorate:
"national security and so-called "values" issues like abortion and gay rights are only part of the problem for Democrats. The other part is stylistic. There’s a feeling among Democratic professionals in these red states that Democrats tend to condescend to voters in the heartland. The governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer, who’s a very popular and populist Democrat, argues that sometimes the Democrats just don’t seem as likable as the other guys. And the problem with likability comes from a feeling that Democrats are lecturing voters about what’s best for them.
The questioner seems puzzled as she asks:
But Brian Schweitzer is, as you say, a Democrat who got elected in a very red state.
That’s because Brian Schweitzer is a Democrat who lives in a red state and has figured out how to talk to people in a way that doesn’t anger or annoy them. He’s doing some things that are very liberal, in our understanding of what the word “liberal” means—putting a lot of money in K-12 education, looking for alternative fuel sources. On certain issues, he is in the Montana mainstream: he’s opposed to gun control. But his success has much less to do with particular issues and more to do with his style of approach to voters, in which the voters don’t feel that they’re being talked down to, and that their values are not being mocked by the national Democratic Party.
Why are liberalism and condescension equated so easily?
The Princeton historian Sean Wilentz says that Democrats are motivated by humanitarianism. Humanitarians want to make people better, and when you set out to try to make people better you often end up condescending to them. Adult Americans don’t want to have somebody who doesn’t know them telling them how to live their lives. Maybe this plays into a libertarian streak.
Maybe that Mike Dukakis/Al Gore "I know better" gene is hopelessly stuck in the Democrat's DNA, and their habitual overstatements on almost every conceivable issue don't help. For instance, Sean Wilentz just named President Bush the most awful Chief-of-State the US has ever had. But Wilentz has a subdued modulated tone compared with, say, the average gaseous emission on Huffington Post about Bush.
But the Elephant in the Living Room lies in one inescapable, inexorable fact:
Karl Rove didn’t have to get out as many moderates, because there are more conservatives in America than liberals. In the exit polls of the 2004 Presidential election, one out of every five voters identified himself to pollsters as a liberal, while one out of every three self-identified as conservative. The conservative base is simply bigger than the liberal base, and Rove is not wrong when he says that this is essentially a center-right country. So liberals must do more to reach the moderates. In many states, liberals need to win as much as seventy or seventy-five per cent of moderates in order to win.
I will bet you will not find one Kossack or Puffington denizen who will admit that self-identified conservatives have a roughly 7/4 ascendancy over self-identified liberals. They are still in the pre-1968 liberal dominance mode before radicals drove Nixon into the White House and radical feminists alientated the Catholics from the Democrats, radical internationalist alienated the working class, Jimmy Carter alienated very much of the electorate with his hectoring condescension [and still does]. The "humanitarian, holier-and-smarter-than-thou" ultra-left persists in denying each and every catastrophe that eroded their base over the decades. The intellectuals and the blacks remain in their coalition, but they have employed the media, which leans to the left to continue to peddle quasi-socialist nostrums and propagate unionism, much like the TUC in Britain used to proclaim that, no matter how far the government had nationalized and demilitarized, the UK had to go further and further left to achieve what really would work well. The UK voters decided for Thatcher in the UK. She and Reagan in the US both advanced "Anglo-Saxon models" which successfully demolished the socialist option, but these Kossacks and Puffington denizens are in denial about that historical demolition.
Senator Chris Dodd has an interesting suggestion to make the Democrats a national force again. This actually reflects a reality, even though I believe Iraq was probably a correct move. I personally think L. Paul Bremer and Rumsfeld botched a good beginning:
Senator Chris Dodd has suggested that the Democrats can not only compete with the Republicans on national security but actually run to the right of them. President Bush, he argues, has hobbled the military and left us with very limited options against North Korea and Iran, because he has bogged us down in Iraq.
You have a great quote in your article from Dodd, comparing Iraq to the "missile gap," which Kennedy used against Nixon in 1960.
Dodd told me, "It’s a better opportunity than Jack Kennedy had when he ran on the phony missile gap. We have real issues." But this goes deeper than that. Democrats have to convince people, especially people in the moderate camp, that they believe two basic things (I’m borrowing here from Leslie Gelb, the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations): one, that America is not the source of most of the world’s problems; and two, that although sometimes America messes up when it tries to fix those problems, that doesn’t mean America cannot use force to do good. That is the feeling of the overwhelming majority of America.
Senator Barack Obama and I were talking about Senator Russell Feingold and his desire to make issues like N.S.A. wiretapping and Guant?namo Bay a central part of the Democratic platform. Obama, who is pretty liberal, said, We have to go gently. Of course, we’re Democrats and we’ll do it differently when we get in power. But Americans feel good about their country and they don’t want to be told, over and over, that their country is a failure.
Bingo! I do fear that a Democratic Administration would reactivate the Energizer Bunny Jimmy Carter gene that led to fiascos in Korea in 1994, but the flaky wing of the Dems can be mitigated. However, the question remains. Will the Dems do enough, given a lot of hyperventilating about privacy and civil liberties [tell those to the IRS!], be able to restrain their lunatic fringe? And who could actually be strong and common-sensical enough to keep his/her bearings in the big tent/asylum that the Democratic Party can become [I worked in two Democratic National Presidential Campaigns on National Staff, and lots of local campaigns, and when you get west of left/center, here be dragons!] Goldberg is asked if there is anyone at the moment who could be called the leader of the Democratic Party:
The Democratic Party has leaders. But this is just the nature of being out of power—the Democrats control no branch of government. People who work for Nancy Pelosi, in the House, think she’s the pr?eminent leader; people who work for Harry Reid, in the Senate, think he’s the pr?eminent leader; and, of course, there are a lot of people around Hillary Clinton who expect her to be the pr?eminent leader. The same with Howard Dean. No—the Party is split by personality, and the Party is also split because there are people who are more liberal and people who are less liberal. It really doesn’t have one person you could point to and say, That person is somebody who embodies the Democratic Party, who speaks for it...This is the frustration of a lot of Democrats: people don’t fully understand that when you are out of power, you are really out of power..
Fortunately for the Republicans in 2008, a likely winner in 2006 has "smart and tough" problems of her own. Is she smart enough to avoid the trap?
Nancy Pelosi told you, “We win ’06, we get subpoena power.” You write that she appeared to be excited by that prospect.
It’s very exciting to the Democratic Party’s most loyal supporters and to the Net-roots people, the online Democrats who are quite vitriolic in their hatred of President Bush. The problem—and this is what a lot of Democrats say who are cautioning against this—is that by the time the Democrats take over the House, if they do, it’ll be 2007, and the Bush Administration will be on its last legs. The argument is that, if the House goes Democratic, the leadership should spend more time convincing the American people that this is the party you want in the White House in 2008. Imagine if the Democrats in the House voted to raise the minimum wage, or for college-tuition tax credits. That sort of legislation would be broadly attractive to millions of voters, and either the Republican Senate or President Bush would be put in a position of stopping it. Or let’s say that the Democrats take over the House and vote to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. That would probably be pretty popular. So they could work to make the country safer and to help the poor—or they could spend their time investigating the run-up to the Iraq war.
Will she be able to restrain Conyers and, to a lesser degree, Rangel from their agendas? I can't see GWB vetoing a minimum-wage hike as part of his long, slow departure from the White House if that will harm the GOP in 2008. And what about the fifty-state strategy of the hot-head at the top of the DNC?
There’s a quote in your article from Representative Rahm Emanuel, of Illinois: "If you think that Mississippi and Ohio are the same thing, you’re an idiot." That’s in regard to an interesting debate you discuss, between him and Howard Dean.
Howard Dean decided to put a lot of Democratic National Committee money into a program to build the state parties in all fifty states. But the congressional leadership is saying, We have a finite amount of money and we have the opportunity to take back the House in 2006, so give us that money and we’ll pour it into Ohio, or Florida—into congressional districts that we think we have a chance of turning. And what Rahm Emanuel said is that, as a long-term strategy, trying to make the party competitive in fifty states is a fine idea, but you can’t have a long-term strategy if you don’t have a short-term strategy. And if the Democrats continue to not control any branch of government they’re going to wither as a party. So what he’s arguing—and most Democrats seem to agree that his and Dean’s arguments both have merits—is to put all that money into winning the House in 2006, and from there build up to bigger wins.
So is 2006 really about 2008?
2006 is important in its own right, but of course 2008 is it. I don’t want to say “the whole enchilada,” but it’s extremely important. 2006 is when a lot of ideas are going to be road-tested, in policy and in strategy, for both parties.
If not Hillary Clinton in 2008, then who?
There are ten or twelve plausible candidates for the Democratic nomination for the President, some of whom we haven’t really thought about yet. It could be Mark Warner, from Virginia, or Evan Bayh, from Indiana. Each person has a reason that he—and they’re all men—would be a better alternative nationally to Hillary Clinton. What’s bubbling beneath the surface right now is a feeling that Hillary Clinton could certainly capture the nomination, but she is not the best person to run for the Presidency. This goes back to the paradox of Hillary Clinton: she is a moderate figure—she’s never actually been as liberal as people think. But by 2008 the country will have had sixteen or seventeen years of knowing Hillary, and people’s ideas about her are fairly fixed. If only because of the amount of money she’s raised, she’s formidable, and she’s in the way of all of these other guys.