Thursday, November 11, 2004

KE'04: A Preface

As it usually happens, my best post-thoughts come to me while I'm driving. Sadly, those are also the times when it is least safe to use a pen and paper or a laptop to get anything down on the permanent record.

The driving phenomenon is likely linked to the music I hear in the car: that song that played at the election night party, the one from my last night in Philly, several from Charleston karaoke nights. They trigger all the memories I've been pretty much ignoring since I left the trail - or the trail ended, I guess - a little over a week ago (just a week? You're kidding).

Coldplay's Everything's Not Lost reminds me of the Nodding Head in Philly and our post election night socializing before I ran the heck away from PA. I suppose it would waste keystrokes to explain the Country Roads/campaign nexus. Then there are the other songs that I never heard on the trail - at least outside of my own head - that create the soundtrack to the last 6 weeks. Much of the Garden State soundtrack, some Simon & Garfunkle, a touch of Bob Dylan.

I'm trying very hard to bring this blog back to its stated purpose - or at least, what, in practice, that sidebar material became: more objective commentary and criticism on state and national policy - ranting and pointing and sometimes raving about the day's news and events. The songs discussion actually does help me with that. See, once I can be done with the business of fond-memory-ing my time on the trail, I can get on with the business of working on what actually happened. To be worthwhile in the long run, the lessons of '04 have to move from "and I really learned a lot about myself that autumn" to "and I really learned a lot about the American voter, the Democratic voter, and how to structure policy and message in a way that both appeals to voters and saves the world."

Of course, right now, the policy I'm most concerned with is internal, Democratic policy. Why are we seeminlgy okay with being the party out of power? Why are we letting anyone (the media, ourselves) say that Hillary Clinton is the '08 frontrunner? Do we just like losing? I have to tell you, it really isn't that much fun. In the on-going battle of base vs. swing, what have the last 4 elections taught us about what the voters want?

What the voters want. There's a concept. Note Jim Pinkerton's Tuesday column on the Democrats and the voters. It's absolutely true that for most of last week, I've been blaming the voters. How could the re-elect Bush? How could my unemployed, impoverished, ignored, downtrodden, dying Mountaineers continue putting their faith in a man who doesn't care about them? Well, that kind of thinking and a buck-fifty can get you a cup of coffee, but it won't get you into the oval office. Surely, there must be a happy medium - I wouldn't really want to just sell them what they want - some medicine must be delivered also. But it's possible that voters aren't the dummies the losing side makes them out to be. So, as in life, balance in message is everything. From Pinkerton's column:
Now the Democrats must have a debate. If, after two straight losses, they still believe that their defeats are the result of bad luck, or "not getting our message out," they will be on track for yet another defeat in 2008. On the other hand, if they get the hint from the voters and go looking for their next presidential candidate in a red state, their fate might change, because after eight years of one party in the White House, the voters themselves are usually looking for a change.

Now, again, this isn't to say that Democrats should jettison everything they hold dear to become a shabby GOP-knockoff (frankly, we tried some of that already in Kerry's still-bad war vote messaging. It didn't work this time, and it won't work next time). But it's possible to be ourselves and be appealing to the voters. Otherwise, we all need to find new lines of work. We'll certainly be exploring the "how" in later posts, though that presupposes that we needn't ask "if" at the start.

All of this brings us back to this, a fundamental question, in yet another iteration:

Democrats - especially current, or would-be, leaders - must ask not what the voters can do for them, but what they can do for the voters.

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