Leave it to Democrats -- the "bumper-sticker party" -- to unveil a catchy slogan for their complex problem. The solution du jour for the latest Democratic debacle: Stand for Something.
Well, this old Democrat has been there when we stood for something.
I was in Miami in 1972 when McGovern really stood for something -- or against something: the war.
I was in San Francisco in 1984 when Mondale told the nation what we stood for: raising taxes.
I watched in 1988 when Dukakis told us unemotionally where he stood on capital punishment even if the victim was his wife: no death penalty.
Yes, three good Democrats who all stood for something -- the wrong things. And I fear it's about to happen again. We've got the left turn signal on and we're headed down another rabbit hole to political oblivion.
So what would my bumper-sticker slogans be?
(1) The People, Not the Groups. Today, when "the groups" say frog, we jump, regardless of how it affects the people. When the unions said oppose President Bush's homeland security bill, we did, and the people responded by defeating some of our best senators.
(2) A Real National Party, for a Change. Who can argue with a straight face that the Democratic Party is truly national when our chairman, our titular head(s) and our congressional leaders cannot go into the fastest-growing section of this country because they would do more harm than good?
(3) 'Centrist' Is Not a Dirty Word. The old liberal saying that all you find in the middle of the road are dead possums is dead wrong. You find middle-of-the-road Democrats holding office in hundreds of city halls, courthouses and statehouses around the country. It's also where most Americans are.
(4) Bye-Bye, Terry. Our chairman, who reminds me of that Mac Davis song that goes, "It's hard to be humble when you're perfect in every way," should be given that engraved gold watch and shown the door.
To those who dismiss this as more claptrap from a Southern Neanderthal, here's my final bumper sticker:
(5) Defeat Happens!
-- Zell Miller
is a Democratic senator
Re: Democratic Party.
Replace spineless leaders.
Sack that goofy-talking national chairman.
Fire those consultants who design the limp, losing strategies.
That would be the easy part for Democrats. The hard part is getting rid of Bill Clinton. The party has become Clinton -- self-absorbed and risk-averse, obsessed with its money patrons, routinely disloyal to its voter base and with the convictions of a chameleon. All it lacks is Clinton's sincerity.
Democrats see themselves now as a managerial party, dealing earnestly with "good government" problems but with nothing larger in mind. They are embarrassed by their past -- the aggressive party of progressive reform that held a majority for 60 years. The dwindling band of liberals disagrees, of course, but they too are safe incumbents who recognize the risks of flirting with too-big ideas. New Democrats, ignorant of their own history, have unwittingly embraced the old "root-canal economics" that kept Republicans in the minority for two generations (until the GOP figured out that nobody ever lost the White House on "borrow and spend" politics). Democrats are going to get rolled again and again on economic questions until they rediscover the faith of their fathers.
Yet their problems will not be solved by going back to the New Deal but by forming an energetic new vision of the country's future -- what this society could become and how government might help. To develop such strong convictions, one has to get out of Washington, put aside the polls and focus groups, and engage in patient conversations with real people -- not about issues but about their lives. Instead of scolding those idealistic young people who rallied to Nader, Democrats might talk to them, ask what they want their country to become. The United States is bubbling with a "new politics" that emanates from scores of unrecognized issues and inchoate personal yearnings. Neither party (nor the major media) yet takes this seriously, but that is where Democrats will find their new majority, if they do.
If they stay on defense, the minority status in Congress could last for quite a while. The old GOP used to settle for that until finally it was rescued by a big loser -- Barry Goldwater -- who instilled the convictions that led to its eventual triumph. Democrats in Washington think they have a marketing problem: devising the right "message." I think they are waiting for their Goldwater.
-- William Greider
writes for the Nation.
Democrats suffered a big setback Tuesday. With the loss of the Senate and several seats in the House, we plainly need to regroup and develop more effective ways to connect with the American people.
While disappointed with Tuesday's returns, we must not be discouraged. The foundation for a strong Democratic comeback in the next two years is rock-solid, and it begins in our statehouses. Democrats fared extremely well in the nation's gubernatorial races, winning key elections in Michigan, Illinois and Pennsylvania -- three swing states in national elections. Democratic governors in these and other states will offer a model for how to govern effectively in today's economic climate. We will balance our budgets and bring common-sense business principles to government without sacrificing our states' ability to make long-term infrastructure investments.
Democrats need to stand for strong fiscal accountability while also promoting long-term investments in transportation, education and natural resources to improve the economy and the quality of life for all Americans.
-- Mark Warner
is governor of Virginia.
I chose to be a Democrat because my parents said they were the lesser of two evils. Over the years, I have watched the party fight to represent ordinary people, those who have fallen on hard times, as well as the middle class and working poor. But without a bold vision of what America can be in the 21st century, my party will lose more elections, and the people who depend on us will suffer the consequences.
While Democratic leaders debate which candidates to embrace for congressional leadership positions and the presidency, the party must not allow its internal discussion of whether we're "too liberal," "moving too far to the right" or "ignoring our base" to alter our vision of how we win elections in this post-9/11 political landscape.
In this new season of opportunity, the Democratic Party must become a real opposition party. For starters, we must draft our talented state leaders, such as Gov. Jim McGreevey of New Jersey and Gov.-elect Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, to step up and fill the leadership vacuum.
The new congressional leaders must defend and preserve our hard-won civil liberties, civil rights, reproductive rights, workers' rights and the environment.
The current crop of presidential contenders should step aside and get on the college lecture circuit to encourage young people to vote and participate in the political process.
After all the recrimination and finger-pointing is over, I hope the Democratic Party emerges as more than the lesser of two evils.
-- Donna L. Brazile
directed the 2000 Gore-Lieberman
campaign and is chairman of the
Democratic National Committee's
Voting Rights Institute.
Here's my Democratic bumper sticker, albeit a little long:
Vote Democratic for New Ideas on Opportunity, Responsibility and Security for All.
* Opportunity. Democrats must build this message pillar on specific new ideas that contrast with the Bush permanent tax cut. Our plan should target jobs, education and the middle class.
* Responsibility. Don't shy from values language and policy positions that emphasize personal and corporate obligations to society.
* Security. Can't walk away from this one. We need a new Democratic definition of global security: cooperation not only on fighting terrorism, but also on the environment and the AIDS crisis.
* For All. This party's populist bedrock message needs a new layer of gravel, but it must remain a unique selling proposition.
A couple more words: I have been through four Democratic debacles: 1980, 1984, 1994 and 2002. Similar aftermaths: a fruitless debate between the left and the center; and waiting, even hoping, the economy collapses to bring the party back. Let's do it better this time.
Let's realize we can't win without both wings of the party. Republicans were hungry enough to submerge their differences to win. We need to do the same. And let's not count on disaster to bring us back. Instead, let's stand for things we really believe and remember that we'll never win again unless we're willing to take risks that could cause us to lose.
-- Carter Eskew
is a Democratic consultant.