Friday, June 23

The Narrative is Now The Narrative
To:My Loyal Reader
X
The Dem IM: Sorry for the delay. Thanks for sticking with me. Wait, what am I doing here, again?
We are now less than five months from Election 2006. The Democrats are still leading the generic congressional ballot in the House and great numbers are coming in from Senate races across the country. Things are looking good.

Despite the good news, all the talk in the traditonal media is about the "Democrats in Disarray" and the inevitable failure that will befall them in November. The topic being covered is not what's best for the US in Iraq, the recovery effort in the Gulf Coast, or the rampant corruption in DC. The media narrative is about the media narrative. This self-reflexivity is nothing new in journalism and mass media. However, the way that it is mobilized against Democrats is particularly ubiquitous.

For example, take these two articles published in the Washington Post Sunday edition. In "Always the Party of What-Went-Wrong", Dan Balz describes how "The Democrats have become too good at losing" and how "envy of Republican campaign techniques is a staple of Democratic soul-searching." In "How to Take Back Congress: Advice for the Democrats," a number of commentators put in their two cents for how to save the party. The advice can generally be broken down into the categories of targeting specific demographic groups, emphasizing certain issues, hammering the Republicans on Iraq and playing to the base.

There is value in all of these suggestions, to be sure. However, what happens when the narrative becomes about strategy (as supposed to the strategy pushing the story)?

Do As I Blog, Not As I Say
Our counter-attack for the media's obsession with Democratic destruction was supposed to be simply not playing into their hands. At least, that's what I thought. I have read story after story on DailyKos complaining about Democratic politicians and surrogates lamenting the state of the Party in public. Diary after diary claimed (and I believe rightfully so) that discussing the failures of the Party in the press only served to re-affirm the idea Democrats as failure's in coventional wisdom.

However, at this year's, admittedly successful, YearlyKos, all I heard from convention attendees (and Kos, himself) was about liberal bloggers "crashing the gates" and challenging the inept Democratic Party. What happened to don't air our dirty laundry in public? And at this point, what is public? Certainly, the traditional media (newspapers, TV, magazines, etc.) would be public. My site, though accessible to anyone with Internet access is not nearly widely circulated enough for me to feel like I should worry about its electoral influence.

In the end, what matters is the effect on the larger media narrative and thus conventional wisdom. Have widely-circulated political blogs become mainstream enough that we should stop with the process talk and solely publicize the news and opinions we want to break into conventional wisdom? Even if we could enforce such message discipline on the blogosphere - a near-impossible task - in a situation where the media narrative is about the media narrative, will any attempts to change the subject fall on deaf ears?

The Answer?
Any successful media narrative must be simple and singular. I believe that coordinating a narrative that works best for Democrats, then, must come from a top-down strategy. It is unfeasible that a singular storyline can be perpetuated by the blogosphere for several reasons:
  1. Short Attention Span
  2. Multiple Viewpoints
  3. Too Contrarian
  4. Any Coordination of the Message Would Have To Be Done Publicly; Media Narrative Once Again Becomes About Media Narrative
Only a top-down structure could coordinate the message and the plan to disseminate it effectively. The plan should, of course, take into account current conventional wisdom, trends in new and traditional media, and the events on the ground. Bloggers would also play a role in reinforcing that message and helping refine it.

So where does that leave The Dem IM? I have just argued that this site can never be effective and can only serve to pile on the "Democrats in Disarray" theme.

I am continuing with my site and its mission as a thought experiment. I have raised many questions in this post for which I simply do not yet have an answer. I think working through these challenges is helpful, despite the fact that any solutions we find may go no farther than this community. So let's remember always that we must fight the tough fights but leave a little time for imagining the "what if's" that keep us going. It feels good to be back.

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Friday, April 28

On Hiatus
To:Loyal Readers
The Dem IM: Saving the country and the Democratic Party from themselves is,well, hard work.
Clearly I have not been able to keep up with site as much as I would like given my current status. As such, The Democratic Instant Message is going on a temporary hiatus for several weeks and will return tougher and stronger than ever in early June. Thank you to all those that have supported this project and please feel free to contact me anytime.

A final status report before I take off. We are in great shape. Aside from the Charlie Wilson and Paul Hackett debacles we are exactly where we should be. It is OK that "we don't have a message" for now. That can wait til the fall. The only thing we need now is a leader. Where is our Newt Gingrich? If we could get Paul into some sort of unofficial spokesman role for the party that would be best but he already seems busy with the Fighting Dems. Perhaps Obama should be our figurehead? We must put a face to our message.

Overall, though, I am proud of the resurgence I see inside and outside the establishment this past few months. The fight gets much harder from here though. The Republicans will bribe their constituents with irresponsible legislative givaways. Bush, with the help of the immensely likable Tony Snow, will bounce back into the 40's. The Republican attack machine will function at full force to tear down our candidates. Will we let them defeat us again or will we fight back? Only time will tell. I, for one, think that America is worth fighting for. Let's get to work.

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Thursday, April 6

Libby: Bush himself authorized leak on Iraq
To:George Bush
The Dem IM: It's time to come clean Mr. President. Why are our men and women dying in Iraq? Why did you lie to the American people?
I should be writing my thesis which is due in 23 hours right now but I feel like my head is going to explode. From MSNBC.com:
Vice President Dick Cheney’s former top aide told prosecutors President Bush authorized the leak of sensitive intelligence information about Iraq, according to court papers filed by prosecutors in the CIA leak case.

The filing by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald also describes Cheney’s involvement in I. Lewis Libby’s communications with the press.

There was no indication in the filing that either Bush or Cheney authorized Libby to disclose Valerie Plame’s CIA identity. But it points to Cheney as one of the originators of the idea that Plame could be used to discredit her husband, Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson.

AAAAHHHHH!

Between Tom Delay, illegal domestic spying, and the dozen or so other scandals that the Republicans are dealing with, its hard to focus your attention on any one event but THIS IS THE BIG ONE. I've always thought threatening impeachment of the President was too big of a political step for Democrats, especially as they are already doing so well in public opinion. However, this may push it over the edge.

Right now, we must have one goal: Get every single Republican on-the-record as to whether they are with the President and their Party or are they with the American People and honesty in government.

It is now to the point where the President is so damaged that we must attack without fear of reprisal. Our men and women are dying in a war built on lies and deceit. Our constitution is in danger. Our government is broken.

This is a once in a lifetime chance to change how this country is run. Here's the battleplan:
  1. Get Republicans on-camera on-the-record with their stances on the President, their Party, and the various D.C. scandals.

    Hammer those who stand with the Party with the facts.

    Call out the flip-floppers and rubber stampers that try to change their rhetoric for the election.
  2. Demand the President come clean. When he doesn't, hammer him on it.
  3. Get out our two messages:
    Enough is enough and it's time for a change.
    -and-
    The Power of Hope, The Promise of Justice: Democrats - Fighting for America.
Let's get to work.

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Thursday, March 30

Fantasy Campaign Manager: John Edwards (Part 3 - Conclusion)
To:George Allen
The Dem IM: Alright, I admit. You're a good looking guy and a worthy candidate. That's why we're going to have to bury you.

General Election Strategy

Opposition

It is my prediction that the Republican nominee for President will be Virginia Senator George Allen. Further, his candidacy will be successful for some of the same reasons as Edwards’. Front-runner John McCain will, once again, be pushed out of contention for his failure to adequately impress the base that he is conservative enough. This will open the door to a range of candidates (much like Hillary’s downfall will on the Democratic side) to impress primary voters. Of the contenders, Allen is well funded and possesses the same personable demeanor that Edwards brings to the table. It should be a relative cakewalk for Allen once McCain is out of the race.

Allen is only second to McCain in the challenge he will offer to the Democratic nominee. The son of a legendary football coach, Allen is an all-American guy that voters will find strong but not overbearing. Allen will probably be the early favorite, as he only needs to hold on to the states that Bush won in 2004 for victory. The map for Senator Edwards is more difficult and will require a solid campaign to allow victory.

Identity

It will no longer be enough to simply be “the Southern boy with a smile.” Edwards must draw sharp class contrasts between himself and Senator Allen. Though Edwards is a millionaire himself, he must identify with the rural poor in the same way that Presidents Bush and Clinton have. I believe Edwards is believable in this role (unlike Gore or Kerry) and should dedicate himself to playing it. In addition to talking about his childhood as the son of a mill worker, he must convincingly speak of “feeling the pain” of those still impoverished. Again, the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina is a vivid image that Edwards should use to make this argument.

Also, along those lines, Edwards must be identifiable as a man of faith and family. As a Southerner, Edwards possesses an inherent credibility when he speaks about his faith. This religiosity will also play into Edwards’ working class identity. His goal must be to, not only make the country aware of the central role faith plays in his life, but also contextualize his vision and policy proposals within his faith. Like Jimmy Carter in 1976, Edwards must be the Southern preacher of the 2008 campaign. Specifically, his dedication to helping those less fortunate should be couched in Biblical terms that emphasize the necessity of such work. Again, Edwards must cast himself as raised with working class values.

Edwards must also prove that he can be a strong fighter. While Kerry backed down when attacked, Edwards must seize the opportunity to prove he will not back down from a fight. Presidential candidates must be willing and able to strike down anyone who attacks their strength, integrity, or leadership. George H.W. Bush made one of the smartest moves of his 1988 campaign when he challenged Dan Rather on national television. Rather asked Bush pointed questions on his involvement in Iran Contra when he snapped back at Rather. The event made national headlines and proved that he could be a tough fighter. Clinton proved his toughness on multiple occasions including a Democratic Party debate where he directly challenged a fellow candidate for discussing Hillary’s financial records. Current President Bush famously gave a dismissive nod to Al Gore when he tried to challenge him in a 2000 debate.

There will almost certainly be a time in the campaign where a harsh, unfair attack will be lodged as Senator Edwards’ identity. This moment will be key to Edwards’ candidacy. If he can make the story about standing tough against those who seek to undermine his credibility, he will move from likable activist to Presidential candidate. If not, he will follow in the line of castrated Democratic nominees defeated in November.

Defining Allen effectively will be equally necessary for the Edwards campaign. Allen’s name ID is very low so it is important that the Edwards campaign define Allen before he can define himself. The Republican successes in defining Gore and Kerry can be of use here. As a Washington insider, Allen falls into the same possible character weaknesses as Gore and Kerry. He can be defined as a political opportunist who is beholden to the party and interest groups for his success. He can be hammered as a flip-flopper on issues such as stem-cell research where he said he was for it and then later qualified his statement. He can be portrayed as a member of the Washington elite that is out-of-touch with regular American issues.

His voting record also betrays him. He voted no on tax cuts to reduce the marriage penalty and increase deductions for college tuition. Edwards voted yes. Allen supports privatizing Social Security. He voted for bankruptcy reform and against stopping subsidies for corporations that ship jobs overseas. He has also voted against funding education and against environmental concerns.

It is clear that Allen must be cast as a “sellout.” That is, he must be cast as a candidate that has sold his soul to big business and does not care about the needs of working people. His motive can be explained as political greed that led him to sell out his constituents and his country for the Republican nomination for president. His votes “against working people” and for “big business contributors” and his past political success can be used as evidence of this claim. This, again, goes back to a class argument as Allen should be cast as the greedy rich kid who thinks he deserves the Presidency simply because he has sold himself to the highest bidder. Edwards, on the other hand, represents the common man that always stands with “the little guy.”

Narrative

The theme of the campaign should be similar Kucinich’s 2000 campaign slogan, “Fear ends. Hope begins.” Weary of the wars and threats of the last seven years, voters will be looking for a candidate that emphasizes attainable domestic goals rather than abstract foreign policies. This should play well for Edwards, as this is his strength. However, Edwards must keep the focus on domestic issues and his solutions to win. If Allen can shift the terms of the campaign to terrorism and danger, voters most likely will choose the Republican candidate Allen.

In order to stop this, the Edwards campaign should emphasize the following narrative:
“The terrorists attacked us on September 11 to attack our very way of life. They thought they could bring “terror” and fear to our lives and force us to reject our deeply held beliefs in hope, freedom, and justice. Now the Republicans in Washington want to capitulate to the terrorists and give up on our greatest ideals. They want to tear up the constitution. They want us to live in a climate of fear and doubt. They are willing to surrender our rights and liberties to the terrorists. Under their rule, the terrorists have won the battle to define our priorities of America.

We cannot let the terrorists win. We believe in an America that never lets terrorist thugs determine how we run our county and we will NEVER sacrifice our freedoms and beliefs out of cowardice or fear. Courage is staring fear down and proclaiming, “we will not let you intimidate us. We are not afraid of you. We will never let you determine how we live our lives.” In America, we have a slogan: ‘live free or die.’ We will ‘live free’ no matter what the Republicans or the terrorists have to say about it.

President Edwards will never let America surrender to fear. Instead, we offer a message of hope. In John Edwards’ America, everyone will have a fair shot at life. In John Edwards’ America, community values will trump greed and despair. President Clinton was right. ‘There is nothing wrong with America that can not be fixed with what is right about America.’”

Vision


This, inevitably, leads into providing a better vision for America. This vision should be built around maximizing opportunity for all, protecting the securities and rights of Americans, and government accountability. As discussed above, the specific issues in this vision are not important except for their ability to reflect positively on the vision, itself. As part of the vision is government accountability, however, I believe the campaign should offer a “Contract With America” type document that outlines the plans of the would be Edwards Administration. This would give voters the idea that there is a plan behind the rhetoric. Among the issues in such a platform should be:

- - - - - - -
CENSORED
Contact me personally for details
- - - - - - -

Implementation

Vice Presidential Choice

The obvious, and I believe correct, choice for a running mate is former Virginia governor Mark Warner. He will undoubtedly be a media favorite by that point and will add positive buzz to the campaign. He also adds a seriousness and practicality that will balance out well with Edwards. His greatest contribution to the campaign, though, will be his ability to effectively attack candidate Allen. Warner is viewed more favorably by Virginians than Allen and polls have shown that Warner would actually beat Allen in Virginia in a one-on-one challenge. Warner will be able to do for Edwards what Edwards could not do for Kerry: attack the opposition effectively.

If Warner is not willing to run, Joe Manchin, the Democratic governor of West Virginia will make a great second choice. He is an immensely popular (80% approval) Democratic governor of a “red state” and could easily bring West Virginia’s five electoral votes back to the Democrats. He is also a national hero for his strong, capable response to the coal mine disasters of 2006. Finally, he would add even more credibility to Edwards’ campaign on issues of poverty as governor of one of the poorest states in the union.

States to Campaign

Finally, I will address all-important question of where to campaign to get to 270 electoral votes. Assuming Edwards wins all of the Kerry states, which I think is a more than fair assumption given Kerry’s poor campaign, Edwards needs Ohio, Florida, or a combination of smaller states to win the election. Edwards should pursue a strategy that contests of all the swing states (New Mexico, Nevada, West Virginia, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Colorado, Missouri, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Florida) plus Allen and Warner’s home state of Virginia for a total of 369 potential electoral votes. If Arkansas and Arizona continue to show such low approvals for President Bush (41% and 45%, respectively) , they might also be continued in a strategy of 385 potential electoral votes.

Obviously the extent to which any of these states will flip in 2008 will be determined by the situation on the ground but for the sake of prognostication, I will attempt to predict a possible outcome. Again, under the assumption that Edwards carries the Kerry states he will have 252 electoral votes. Given voting irregularities and corruption, let us rule out Ohio as an Edwards win. To further complicate the scenario, let us rule out a road to the White House that goes through Florida. Kerry lost Iowa and New Mexico by only 1% so let us assume that an Edwards campaign picks up those 12 electoral votes. This would bring him to a total of 264.

If Edwards wins one of New Mexico, Nevada, or West Virginia, he will finish in a 269-269 tie with Senator Allen. In this case, the House would vote to elect the President by state. However, in a national election where Edwards wins 23 of the states, it is foreseeable that this also could end in a tie and a constitutional crisis. If Edwards were to win any other battleground state or combination of states, he would win the election.

Final Prediction

Edwards wins the Kerry states, Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada, and Missouri.
Edwards 285, Allen 253.

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Monday, March 27

Meanwhile, in the Real World
I have been away this weekend in New Hampshire for Spring Break. It's the first time I've been entirely disconnected from the world for more than 24 hours in years. I've now been back in town for less than a half-hour and according to NBC Nightly News, I missed a lot:
  • The Downing Street Memo's authenticity was confirmed - Bush and Blair planned to go to war months before they claimed to (whether or not there were WMD's). They also thought that sectarian warfare was not an issue.
  • Immigration reform would make it illegal for churches to help "illegals."
  • American and Iraqi forces bombed a mosque killing an 80 year old imam.
This is why we fight.


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