Rick Perlstein argues in The Stock Ticker and the Superjumbo: How the Democrats Can Once Again Become America’s Dominant Political Party that Republicans control the current political landscape because Democrats’ obsessive short-term focus on winning “swing voters,” instead of cultivating loyal party-liners, has relegated them to political stagnation. In his book, Perlstein offers a thorough critique and proposes a plan that he believes will restore the Democrats to power.
He has kindly allowed me to offer an excerpt here.
Stanley Greenberg is the Democratic pollster most closely associated with the argument that the Democrats need to focus on the traditional core of their liberalism — economic fairness — in order to prosper electorally. His new treatise The Two Americas: Our Current Political Deadlock and How to Break It presents the remarkable finding that no less than three quarters of Americans favor a federal mandate “requiring business to offer private health insurance for their employees” — a radical reform by today’s policy standards. But what is striking is that in this entire book, Greenberg only makes a few substantive, specific policy prescriptions, and the most prominent is a recommendation for an individual health-care mandate, that government should require citizens to buy their own health insurance “much as drivers have responsibility for acquiring auto insurance.”
It reminds me of the time Nelson Rockefeller, upon his inauguration as governor of New York in 1959, tried to mandate that every New Yorker spend about $2,000 in today’s dollars on a home bomb shelter. He was shocked when his advisers told him how many citizens would balk at such a piddling and crucial expense.
Where does this come from, this astonishing lack of political will that finds liberal pollsters, armed with liberal poll results, thinking with the economic arrogance of billionaires? To begin to understand this, it behooves us to talk about liberalism and the baby boomers….
I understand why it might be hard for baby-boomer Democrats to shed the sense that they have to look a little more like the Republican Party in order to restore voters’ trust: getting spurned by Reagan Democrats was the shock that defined their political lives. Bill Clinton is an outstanding example of this reaction: from his gubernatorial loss in Arkansas in 1980, he drew the lesson that he could not actively push a liberal agenda in the face of a dominantly conservative and racially polarized state. Same for Joe Lieberman, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh (now DLC chairman), who watched his father get strangled by Ronald Reagan’s coattails, and Stanley Greenberg, who, holding focus groups in Macomb County, Michigan, in 1985, found voters raging that “blacks constitute the explanation for their vulnerability and for almost everything that has gone wrong in their lives” and that the Democratic Party was in thrall to them. No wonder he’s careful not to offend those same folks now.
But Greenberg presents no evidence in his latest book that any of that vituperation remains. Instead, when Greenberg asks voters to describe the Democratic Party, he doesn’t get back a description of the party of hippies, welfare queens, and gays; he gets a description of the party
of . . . nothing at all:
“I think they lost their focus,” says one informant.
“I think they are a little disorganized right now,” answers another.
“They need leadership.”
“On the sidelines.”
Which brings us back to the question of stock tickers and superjumbos. Who wants to identify with an unfocused, disorganized, leaderless, sidelined, fumbling, confused, losing, scared organization? Vote with it sometimes, maybe, but identify with it? No one I know. Even if that institution happens to offer more of what people say they want. If people don’t know what you stand for, they won’t identify with you. Change your message to try to win each passing election, and soon you may start losing them all….
If you’d like to read more before you buy, go to Washington Monthly for a different excerpt.