“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

March 30, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Posted in politics straight up | Leave a comment
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Resuming his testimony before the House Committee investigating Un-American activities today, Dr. J.B. Matthews, former communist organizer, charged that communist strategy in America calls for the destruction of the Democratic Party as a prelude to the establishment of a "Soviet America." He also told the committee that immediate objectives of President Roosevelt's administration are identical to those of the Communist Party. Washington, D.C., 1938 August 22. (Library of Congress)

Oscar Wilde would have been a Democrat. He understood that life is complicated, there are no simple answers for anything, much less everything.

Why do individual Democrats struggle in their bids for election against Republicans? Republicans insist that there are simple answers — “Small government! Lower taxes! Freedom!”

Walk into a room with wall-to-wall carpet with an area rug in one corner and you find yourself drawn to the area rug, you likely won’t even notice the carpet. That wall-to-wall carpet is the Democratic Party.

Republicans are the area rug. They operate as a solid block with a very simple message – “Small government! Lower taxes! Freedom!”   Democrats can support or oppose any part of their party’s principles, none of which can be boiled down into a simple phrase. Equal rights? Sometimes. For some people.

It is certainly a wonderful thing to have a wide debate, to consider all our options, but at the end of the day, despite majorities in the House and Senate the Democrats were just barely able to scrape together the votes needed to pass the bill.  As the saying goes, too many cooks spoil the soup, or create a soup which is easy to criticize.

How can a party succeed in convincing the public of the benefits of its platform if so many members run against the party when seeking election? It should not be enough that simply putting a D after your name makes you a Democrat. People like Bart Stupak and Blanche Lincoln and Ben Nelson should either join the Republicans or run as independents if they want to serve in Congress.

The Republican tent may be too small to hold very many ideas, but it is easily recognized and understood —  Plus they have the added bonus of providing scapegoats for blame.

You won’t find Republicans talking about real-world solutions to real-world problems. Inconvenient truths about what we need the government to do in order for the country to not devolve into anarchy are ridiculed by Republicans. They believe corporations should take care of everything, including the military. In an incredibly complex world, this simple presentation is very attractive to people. It requires no thinking. One simple answer for everything.

The health care debate stands as another a good example of successful simple messaging by Republicans. “Health care reform is socialism.” Democrats were unable to boil down the essence of the bill in that way, they required too much air time that they didn’t have to explain what was in the bill and why. Republicans are now running on repeal of the HCR bill. Although they acknowledge there are some “the good parts,” their argument is the non-bipartisan Many voters think this is terrific, having been convinced that the Democrats are trying to steal their freedom with complicated legislation. The truth is, though, that without the mandate the pool of money is not large enough to cover the good parts — elimination of rescission due to pre-existing conditions, caps on coverage, co-pays for preventive care, etc. But it’s difficult to succeed against a sound bite — “the Democrats are stealing your freedom.”

One of the next big topics Congressional Democrats look to tackle is climate change. Again, Republicans have simple answers, Democrats complicated solutions. Republicans argue that “a robust economy will be
essential to dealing with the risk of climate change
.” Basically, “don’t worry, things will take care of themselves.” Democrats argue for “stronger international institutions.” In other words, “this is something we have to work hard at.”

The Republican trump card is their “culture war.” A large piece of that is abortion. Democrats are entrapped by their complicated argument — “The Democratic Party stands behind the right of every woman to choose, consistent with Roe v. Wade, and regardless of ability to pay.” But the Republicans boil it down to “defense of life” and the Constitution: Faithful to the first guarantee of the Declaration of Independence, we assert the inherent dignity and sanctity of all human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. While the Democrats argue for the rights of adult women, Republicans argue that Democrats want to kill babies.

The simple, emotionally-charged argument wins every time.

The Democratic Party has to decide what it stands for in simple terms. To adopt the view that government is necessary and performs useful functions requires people to think hard about many complicated things, instead of relying on a few pat answers. But that does not mean that the Democratic message itself need be complicated. In fact, in order to be successful, it needs to be simple. By making that message simple, the tent will certainly become somewhat smaller, but that smaller tent will also be more manageable and more understandable to the average person. As it stands now, the Democratic Party tent has continually enlarged to accommodate all those who have been expelled from the Republican tent.

It’s a difficult situation that I don’t see a way out of. But it seems to me a place to start is to replace congresscritters whose positions conflict with the party platform.


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