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Image May Not Be Everything….


On my plane ride yesterday I also read Part I of the American Prospect article by John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira on closing the "identity gap" for Democrats.  I urge everyone to read it.  But this part in particular grabbed me:

Additional 2005 qualitative research among disaffected Bush voters in “red states” revealed that despite ongoing image problems on cultural and social issues, the central challenge for Democrats is more basic: “their elected officials, and by extension their entire party, are perceived as directionless and divided, standing for nothing other than their own personal enrichment.” 9 The following insights from these disaffected Bush voters summarize the Democrats’ challenge concisely:

I would like to believe that they [Democrats] represent the interests of working people and the middle class but they don’t. Not anymore. I don’t think they do. They’re just out for their own personal gain, the ones that are there. (Denver, older college woman)

Their leaders always seem very weak and unprepared. I am never confident in a Democrat that comes up that he can handle the political issues that come up. Especially internationally or anything. I have just not been impressed at all with their capabilities. (Appleton, younger non-college woman)

I think they’re in complete disarray and there’s just no forward momentum to the Democratic Party right now. There’s a total lack of leadership. (Louisville, older non-college educated man)

The identity problem is not a relic of poorly run campaigns of the past. The lack of discernible vision and leadership continues to plague progressives and Democrats today. Asked to identify the two negative traits that best describe the Democrats in Washington, voters in a March 2006 poll selected “no leadership” (34 percent) and “don’t know what they stand for” (24 percent) as the first and third most cited criticisms, with “too liberal” (28 percent) coming in second and “weak on security” well behind the top tier criticisms (13 percent).

I would argue, however, that the problem for the Democrats is not that disaffected red state Bush voters feel that way — it’s that I feel that way, and so do large numbers of the activist base who show up at this and other progressive blog sites.   It’s a direct product of the "don’t rock the boat" politics of the DSCC, the DCCC and everyone running for President in 2008.  I remember when the Feingold censure resolution came up and we were told that the Dubai Ports matter was polling really, really well for the Democrats and nobody wanted to take the focus off that with something so risky as censure.  That’s great, they want to follow where public opinion polls are going.  The key word here being follow — you know, as opposed to lead.

By the time the Democrats jumped on the Dubai Ports issue, all the air had gone out of it — it was energetically dead.  While it was still alive, John Edwards went on Meet the Press and refused to push the Republicans on the topic’s sore spots.  Nobody really seemed to care about stepping out in front of it; they were all happy to shout "me, too!" once it was already off the stage.

I contacted two of the 2008 campaigns right after the Seymour Hersch article appeared in the New Yorker, asking if they had any position on Iran.  They didn’t.  I fully expect to hear back from both the minute that some poll tells them it’s politically efficacious to say something. 

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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