"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."
– Benjamin Franklin
The 2004 presidential election was lost not by John Kerry over the last several months but by the Democratic Party over the last several decades. Democrats have lost control of all three branches of government for the foreseeable future. We are now a minority party.
When the Senate Democratic leader is defeated while spending $16 million attempting to get the majority of 500,000 votes, the problem is not a lack of funding or effort.
The failure of the Democratic Party to connect with Americas desire for fulfillment is political death.
Democrats are now history’s spectators, Republicans its actors.
The obsession with denouncing the radical conservative project as a "lie" has become a useful substitute for vision.
Renovating Democratic politics is not a question of moving to the right or talking more about religion. It is about creating a framework that once again communicates to the core needs of the American people.
America is not now, and never was, simply "the economy, stupid." What the American people want is a deeper sense of personal meaning, a national mission, and passion in times of fear.
Returning the Democratic Party to majority status will require a political realignment no less sweeping than that which was accomplished by conservatives over the last 40 years.
Only the breath of a serious and new moral-intellectual vision will be sufficient to resuscitate the Democratic Party.
Democratic candidates will continue to lose as long as they treat Americans as rational actors who vote their "self-interest" after weighing competing offers for health care, jobs, and security.
Conservatives have spent the last 40 years getting clear about the values they represent. They have even developed a "family values" brand to represent a framework that coheres traditional prejudices around prayer in school, gun rights, restricting abortion, and restricting gay rights.
By contrast, liberal or ‘progressive’ groups and Democrats have spent the same period of time defining themselves against conservative values, even ‘morality’ in general.
If resources continue to flow to the same leaders who have failed to construct a new vision and have thus left the Democratic Party in ruins then we can expect more of the same. And worse.
Those who resist the process to create a new vision will be left behind.
Candidates who intend to win should no longer hire consultants who repeatedly lose. Those who counsel caution when dealing with the indifferent, the disaffected, and the undecided do not understand American history. Consultants who advise their clients against offering a clear and compelling vision in fear that it will be attacked should find themselves without a home in the Democratic Party. The sooner they retire, the better.
Unconnected at a values level, the Democratic Party’s laundry list of policy proposals is a confusing and alienating hodgepodge of special interests bound together by a vague sense that ‘we’re all on the same side.’ Such a conflation demands no critical self-examination of the interest groups whose turf, and very identities, are treated as inviolable by Party chieftains.
The progressive vision must be a direct challenge to fundamentalism in all of its forms: political, religious and economic. It must match fundamentalism’s power without replicating its authoritarianism. It must appeal to the values of liberty, equality, community, justice, unconditional love, shared prosperity, and ecological restoration, among many others.
Democrats serious about returning to majority status must:
- Retire any leader who believes that we are currently on a winning path that simply needs more money and effort.
- Define and articulate a coherent set of values of our base, and be willing to lose those allies who do not share these values.
- Fight battles, win or lose, that define and advance our values and expand our political base.
In despair and defeat lie the seeds of triumph and victory. In that loss lies the opportunity to define a new progressive politics for the new century.