Amitai Etzioni has an absolutely brilliant piece in The Christian Science Monitor on the Democrats vision problem. While the Democrats are looking for the right messenger (enter Wesley Clark’s empty uniform candidacy), they’re ignoring their fundamental problem – they have no message:
Is the party for or against the war in Iraq? Opposed to all tax cuts or only some of them? Which healthcare or drug- benefits plan does it favor? How do the Democrats figure on saving Medicare?
One major reason the Democrats’ collective voice is so muffled is that they’ve bought into a comforting illusion that the problem is not the message but the messenger.
Democratic leaders hold that if they just had their own Fox TV network, a liberal Rush Limbaugh, or a pollster as talented as Frank Luntz, then their message would take the country by storm. Al Gore is trying to launch a liberal cable TV news network, and various fat cats, including Jon Sinton, CEO of AnShell Media, are reported to be raising money for one liberal network or another. Al Franken’s new book blames the Democrats’ election losses on the media, which he claims have been taken over by conservatives.
Of course the idea that the media is conservative only makes sense if the media consists solely of talk radio and FoxNews, and not The Washington Post, The New York Times, the LA Times, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the 3 major networks, CNN, and NPR, all of whom tend to spout the Democratic Party line on their editorial pages on any given day. It also ignores the fact that the media industry is one of the Democrat’s bread-and-butter contributers, and the fact that a vast majority of news reporters, editors, and personalities are Democrats. However, that’s another issues. As Etzioni continues:
The reason liberal messages are not resonating isn’t because they’re unheard, but because they’re out of touch with the majority of Americans. In 2000, the proportion of Americans who identified themselves as liberals – including those who see themselves as “slightly liberal” – amounted to only 1 in 5. And that was no fluke. Since 1972, National Elections Studies polls show Americans labeling themselves liberal have never topped 23 percent.
The reason why the Democrats are losing and will lose in 2004 is that they have no message. Even The New York Times is noting the lack of substance coming from the Democrats on key issues:
With the future of America’s postwar occupation of Iraq looking longer by the day, the political debate over the issue has taken on new urgency. As American soldiers continue to die and the cost to American taxpayers continues to mount, the Democratic presidential candidates have started to sense that Iraq could turn into a liability for President Bush’s re-election campaign. Unfortunately, they have so far been mostly jockeying to produce the best sound bite about who was the first and loudest to denounce Mr. Bush’s flawed policy. They need to do better.
In utter words, as I like to say “petulance is not policy.” The Democrats have yet to say what they would do for Iraq, and that is simply unacceptable. If they think that the American electorate is going to buy the Democratic line that we should pull out of Iraq and put the ineffective, corrupt, and cowardly UN in our place they have another thing coming. Polls have shown that the UN has never been more unpopular with the American public. Those same polls are showing a groundswell of sentiment against Europe because of their position in regards to humanitarian relief in Iraq.
The Democrats have one shot at winning, and that’s if Iraq crumbles and takes the US economy with it. Despite the best efforts of people like Ted Kennedy to bring this scenario about, it just isn’t going to happen. The terrorists in Iraq aren’t holding back, they’re hitting us with everything they have, and the best they can do is kill a few targets of opportunity here and there. As the Iraqi people are assuming more and more responsibility for their own security the security situation will stabilize.
The fact is that the core of the Demcratic messages is “we hate Bush” and that’s it. The Democrats are not putting anything resembling a viable alternative on the table for key issues of national security. Even on the economy the only things that are certain is that the Democrats would raise taxes on someone and try to resurrect the failed HillaryCare system of 1994 in spite of the fact that any such system would be unacceptable to the American electorate.
The Democrats may eventually come around and start putting policies on the table – but by that time the damage will have been done. The Democrats think that if they scream their views loud enough people will listen – what they’ll find is that the problem isn’t that their message is getting across, is that it is and the American electorate simply doesn’t like what it sees.