Beyond The Consensus

Beyond The Consensus

Democrats Agree on How to Play Defense, but What Are They Fighting For?

It’s quiet out there, too quiet. Though Democrats suffered a shattering defeat in last November’s election, they’re not arguing with each other as they have after other devastating losses. On the plus side, that means that they’re not as fiercely divided as they’ve been in years past. On the minus, that means that none of them has a clear idea of what to do.

John Kerry’s was not a factional defeat, after all. Democrats were unified last year as they had not been in decades; the prospect of four more years of George W. Bush concentrated the Democratic mind. As with the election, so now with the post-mortems: Labor is not bashing the Democratic Leadership Council (indeed, labor is bashing labor), the DLC is not savaging liberals, minorities are not complaining that the party’s voter mobilization efforts were insufficient. The Democrats may not be one big happy family, but all wings seem prey to the same basic bewilderment.

After all, 2004 was the year when the party seemed to get a lot right. It raised more money than anyone had dreamed of, and in a way that Democrats had dreamed of but despaired of ever actualizing: from small donors, through the miracle of the Internet. It registered more voters than ever before, got them to the polls, got a record turnout in the ghettos and barrios of the battleground states. And it wasn’t enough.

Some of the Democrats’ problems were Kerry-specific, of course, but Kerry was surely the strongest candidate in the Democratic field last year. Besides, Kerry was hardly the only Democrat to lose: the party suffered a net loss of five Senate seats spread across the red states.

One point on which all Democrats agree is that the party needs a red-state strategy. In olden days, the DLC might have made this argument, to the strenuous opposition of social liberals. These days, labor has embraced a proposal from the Teamsters that the movement should focus its organizing in battleground and red states. These days, no less a Hollywood liberal than David Geffen has argued against nominating Hillary Clinton in 2008; her cultural baggage, said Geffen, is too heavy for the party to schlep.

Consensus reigns. We are all Democrats; we are all cultural moderates. Abortion, as Hillary herself has declared, is no longer a question just of women’s rights; it involves moral complexities the party had damned well better acknowledge. And when we argue for justice, we’d do well to invoke the God of justice-the only God that most Democrats can invoke without sounding ridiculous. Though the killer issue in last November’s election, we know, wasn’t really moral values; it was national security. And we need to be for that, too.

Will that get us back into the majority? For the really disquieting thing about the exit polling was that it showed that the number of self-identified Republicans equaled the number of self-identif...


Duggan | University of California Press Gardels