Friday, January 14, 2005

Adapt or Die?

That's good advice coming a "new Democrat" like Dan Gerstein. But Mr. Gerstein is fooling himself and others if he thinks that the Dems pulled punches on President Bush in the last election. He writes:

The point is, to state the obvious (something our party often seems to have trouble grasping), that politics is a contact sport--particularly when you are competing against folks as cunning and ruthless as Karl Rove and company. So if we hope to win, we Democrats have to get over our predilection to preserve people's self-esteem at all costs, stop engaging in the politics of self-destruction, and start making some hardheaded calculations about what it takes to become a majority party again.
The Dems called Bush every name in the book this last time out, likening him to Hitler, or more realistically, Hitler to him. They called him dumb, dangerous, a deserter, and claimed he supported bringing back slavery, and legalizing rape, for God's sake. Let's not pretend that the Dems held anything back.

Besides that stupid comment, Gerstein makes some valid points, though being honest with why they lost has to be the basis of any rebuilding effort. Dems lost b/c they were out of touch with normal America. They no longer represent regular people, but too many narrow special interests (run by elites) that make it difficult to stray from the party line.

But Gerstein's does point out that a new face of the party will only work if there is something worth selling in terms of ideas an policies. Unfortunately for him and the Dems, it may be a long time in coming before that is the case. But changing many of the faces in the leadership should be a good starting point.

Of course, upgrading the salesmen won't dramatically change the results if we don't also upgrade the product we're marketing. Right now the clear majority of voters--including large swaths of the country--don't trust us to keep them safe or share their values, and we have a long way to go to rethink our messages and policies and ultimately rehabilitate our credibility. But we have to remember that politics is the art of persuasion, and in this era of diminishing party identification, elections more and more are tough tests of individual leadership. This last presidential campaign proved that in spades. And our test now as Democrats is whether we can select and empower strong, savvy and compelling men and women to not only chart our course but change it.