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Monday, August 4, 2008

Reality check: No guarantee of a sweeping Democratic victory in 2008

Over the last few months - and maybe even since the midterm elections in 2006 - I have heard countless allusions to 2008 being a redefining moment in American politics, a watershed cycle, a change election that will reshape government at every level, setting America on the path to a more promising future.

I've witnessed jubilant state party leaders proclaiming 2008 to be the year our party retakes the White House, amidst a celebratory atmosphere in Spokane.

I've heard pundits predict the other side has no chance of retaking Congress, and observed even Republican leaders conceding the same thing.

I've heard fellow Democrats say in conversation that the Republican brand has been so badly tarnished that anyone who runs under the party's banner is doomed, and all we Democrats have to do is walk past them towards the finish line.

I've even had conservative friends assure me that we are going to trounce the Republicans so soundly that the feat won't be repeated for another hundred years - and Democrats will have an overwhelming mandate from voters to govern.

It's all too easy for us to get in the habit of making assumptions and assertions about what November will bring. We forget that nothing is certain.
"Our great business in life is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand."

- Thomas Carlyle
There is no guarantee of a sweeping Democratic victory in 2008. None.

Any Democrat who thinks electing our ticket and winning back the White House will be a cakewalk is gravely mistaken and in for a rude awakening.

Looking around, I see a Democratic Party that is in many respects mentally unprepared for battle. We should be putting on our helmets and preparing to fight, because we are due on the field for a match with the Republicans. Candidates who appreciate this, like Darcy Burner, are mobilizing now. They are marshaling volunteers, revving up the phonebanks, sending teams out to walk precincts, turning the campaign office into a beehive of activity.

But not all Democrats are picking up the pace, especially in some of the downballot statewide races - where stellar Democratic candidates are sitting on their war chests. Presumably, they're waiting until the very end to spend almost of it on paid media that will be lost amidst the thunder of the presidential campaign.

That is not the way to win.

The organization EMILY's List takes its name not from some person called Emily, but from an acronym - "Early Money Is Like Yeast." The same idea holds true for early effort. Or early advertising. Or early anything. Meandering along towards autumn is a mistake, for autumn is the beginning of the season of No Spare Time.

Democrats need to have a sense of urgency now. As in, NOW. NOW! Election Day is only getting closer; we have less than a hundred days to go.

The end of summer is rapidly approaching. The Republicans know it. They can feel the prevailing wind against them. They are desperate to hold on to what they've got. That includes the White House, which they illegitimately seized twice.

And a desperate foe can be a dangerous one.
"Facing it, always facing it. That's the way to get through. Face it."

- Joseph Conrad
Our (presumptive) nominee should be setting the tone. But as Cenk Uygur, host of Brave New Foundation's Meet the Bloggers says, he isn't.
Obama has not attacked at all. This is the same mistake Kerry made. He [Kerry] could have pounded Bush for all of his mistakes; instead he hardly laid a glove on him because he wanted to run a positive campaign. That's ridiculous.

There is a difference between hard hitting ads and negative campaigning. In my mind, negative campaigning is when you make stuff up about the other guy (like McCain did about Obama not visiting the troops in Germany because he couldn't bring cameras) or go after him personally (like McCain did when he compared Obama to Britney Spears). But going after your opponent's record isn't negative campaigning; it's explaining why it's a bad idea to vote for the other guy. That is part and parcel of a political campaign.
As Cenk adds a little later in his post, it's all about taking control of the discussion. Reframing the debate. Leading, not following.
Obama wins simply by having this conversation. If the question is -- does John McCain blindly follow George Bush -- Obama doesn't even need to win that debate. He wins simply by having that debate. What is stuck in people's mind is how much McCain voted with Bush.
And what's going to happen if Obama lets McCain and his Republican allies dictate the focus of the conversation America has this autumn?
If they don't have this kind of killer instinct, they will run a stupid, mushy campaign that will get rolled over by the Rove acolytes and wonder how they got their lunch money taken again.

And by the way, they are well on their way to doing this already. The offshore drilling flip-flop was a disaster. You undermine all of your arguments, all of your surrogates and give away your strength when you agree with the other side. Watch this clip for a full understanding of why this type of concession is the best way to lose an election.

Americans want a politician who is strong. That doesn't mean a politician willing to start more wars or one who mindlessly brags about being tough on national security. It means someone who is willing to stand their ground.
I've said this before, but it bears repeating again.

People respect authentic leadership. They vote who they identify with. Who they can trust. That's what is ultimately most important - not a candidate's positions on the issues.

And that's why Obama would have done better to stick to his guns and say we can't drill our way out of our energy problems, instead of conceding that what the other side wants could, well, just possibly, maybe be part of a mix of solutions. Retreating from a principled position signals weakness and a lack of authenticity. It alienates the base and gives the other side an avenue of attack.

The Republicans are going to blast Obama no matter what he does. If he refuses to sell out on his values, they'll scream about it and make up all kinds of lies about his campaign (i.e. Obama will raise your taxes by $2,435.09 or some mythical figure). If Obama concedes anything, they'll snicker and call him a hypocrite.

A "flip-flopper", to use their framing.

("Flip-flop", incidentally, has unfortunately entered the American political lexicon. Republicans started using the phrase unceasingly in 2004 and Democrats have made no effort to eradicate it, which is a shame, because the phrase doesn't respect the complexity of politics, especially the legislative process).

Republicans are going to be out there attacking us for the rest of the summer and all through the fall with increasing intensity. They won't be giving any quarter. They're going to fight and fight hard. It's time Team Obama realized that.
"A problem well stated is a problem half solved."

- Charles Franklin Kettering
Here's Cenk again:
I don't know if they know this, but they are running against McCain. He is their opponent. Their job is to defeat him. To beat him. To make him lose, and hence, become a loser.

This isn't some esoteric campaign of Barack Obama versus history. That's what the McCain camp wants. This is a real political fight between two real people. And until Obama realizes that and gets in the fight, he is not going to win. Take a swing, for the love of God. Show the American people you can be a man, a strong leader, someone who can knock an opponent down.

If we want Barack Obama to be the first black president and not just the first black nominee of a major political party, we need to get ready for battle.

If we want to reelect Chris Gregoire as our Governor, defend our Democratic legislative majorities, replace Dave Reichert, Doug Sutherland, and Rob McKenna with Darcy Burner, Peter Goldmark, and John Ladenburg, we need to go to work.

If we want to knock out Gordon Smith and Jim Risch, we need to throw our firepower behind Jeff Merkley and Larry LaRocco.

If want to wipe that silly grin off Tim Eyman's face and beat back Initiative 985, the More Traffic Measure, we need to roll up our sleeves and get moving.

If we want to pass Sound Transit 2 and put our region on the path towards reliable rapid transit for all, we need to take action. Not next month, not a few days from now, not even tomorrow - we need to set sail NOW!

The August 19th primary is two weeks from tomorrow. The November 4th general election is eleven weeks after that. The clock is ticking.
"A positive thinker does not refuse to recognize the negative, he refuses to dwell on it. Positive thinking is a form of thought which habitually looks for the best results from the worst conditions."

- Norman Vincent Peale
If we want to win...if we really want to retake the White House...if we're really hungry for change... we can't lay around and enjoy the summer.

We need to donate. Phonebank. Knock on doors. Distribute literature. Talk to neighbors. Register people to vote. Urge people to vote. Disseminate endorsements. Learn how to use VoteBuilder. Attend a training or train others. Show up to support our candidates. Encourage friends to volunteer.

Organize; build infrastructure.

At Evergreen Politics, my good friend Lynn Allen has posted a stirring roundup of some of the fine people who are out there doing something. They are the heroes who are fearlessly blazing a trail to change, one step at a time.

We need more of that. The Democratic Party needs an infusion of fighting spirit and a can-do determination. The celebratory, joyful mood needs to be ditched. If we win in November, we can party for the rest of the year - all through the holiday season. But right now we have a battle to fight. We can take nothing for granted.
"Life affords no higher pleasure than that of surmounting difficulties, passing from one step of success to another, forming new wishes and seeing them gratified."

- Dr. Samuel Johnson
We're up against an opponent that's not afraid to stoop to cheating, dirty tricks, or disenfranchising voters. That means we have to be vigilant, resourceful, and unyielding. When the Republicans strike, we have to return fire, quickly. When we see an opportunity, we must strike immediately and throw the Republicans on the defensive. We must drive them back as far as we can without pausing.

Rapid response will be crucial in September and October. Minor skirmishes and engagements will be won or lost in a matter of hours - maybe even minutes.

Candidates whose names are not Barack Obama, Chris Gregoire, Jeff Merkley, or Darcy Burner will have less money to spend on paid media and less media attention. Their campaigns will need to be creative and inventive.

They will need to maximize the potential of the Internet, build a strong field operation, and look for ways to make it into the morning newspapers, midday talk shows, or the five o'clock broadcasts.

They'll need to devise and execute a plan for boosting the campaign's visibility to the public and increasing awareness via word of mouth.

The earlier they execute, the better, because the noise will rise to a fever pitch as every other campaign turns up the volume.
"Do the thing and you will have the power."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson
It's up to us, the grassroots and the netroots, to give our candidates a helpful push when they need it, hold party leadership accountable as valuable resources are allocated, and constructively criticize whenever we see time, talent, and treasure being wasted or possibilities squandered.

We are the ones we have been waiting for. There is no guarantee of a sweeping Democratic victory in 2008. This is a marathon election cycle that is coming to a close. We are capable of deciding the outcome. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to step up now and make a difference in 2008.


Blogger OlyScoop said...

What a terrific treatise, Andrew. I'll stepping up my efforts to help in the next two weeks. Also, I'm taking vacation time in October to volunteer for campaigns. I'll see you out there.

August 6, 2008 7:03 AM  

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