Now Is The Time For Democrats To Discuss Their Plans

The New York Times, along with the Washington Post, summarizes the statements of the Democratic candidates on the war before the Democratic National Committee. I’ve already posted on this based upon earlier media reports, but there was one more general quotation which caught my eye from Barack Obama:

Mr. Obama spent little time on Iraq, instead arguing that the biggest opponent candidates face this year is not one another but cynicism.

“It’s a cynicism that asks us to believe that our opponents are never just wrong, that they’re bad; that our motives in politics can never be pure, that they’re only driven by power and by greed; that the challenges that we face today aren’t just daunting, but they’re impossible,” he said. “And if this is true, then politics is not a noble calling, it’s a game; it’s a blood sport with folks keeping score about who’s up and who’s down.”

Mr. Obama suggested that in this environment, people should not look to campaigns for dry lists of programs. “There are those who don’t believe in talking about hope. They say, ‘Well, we want specifics; we want details; we want white papers; we want plans.’ We’ve had a lot of plans, Democrats. What we’ve had is a shortage of hope.”

I hope that Obama is not following the course Edwards also started of running a feel-good campaign while avoiding specifics on the issues when it is specifics that we need to hear from the two candidates who have the least experience in government. Concentration on general principles but lacking specific answers has also been my major criticism of Obama. I fear they have learned well how to fight the last battle but are not ready for the current one. This also raises questions as to whether they are ready to govern.

In past years Republicans did win based upon the general feeling they created about the parties rather than on specific issues. In 2004 Democrats should have won in a landslide based upon polling results on the issues rather than the personalities. However it is no longer 2004. Since 2004 the country has seen the failings from Katrina and Iraq. Voters are ready for people who actually have plans that work, even if they weren’t willing to listen to Democratic plans in the past.

I already commented on this weeks column from David Brooks where he labels the Republicans the “impractical, ideological party.” He reaches this conclusion based upon papers written by Duke students on their political philosophy:

For many students, the main axis of their politics is not between left and right but between idealism and realism. They have developed a suspicion of sweepingly idealistic political ventures, and are now a fascinating mixture of youthful hopefulness and antiutopian modesty.

They’ve been affected by the failures in Iraq (though interestingly, not a single one of them wrote about Iraq explicitly, or even wanted to grapple with the Middle East or Islamic extremism). But they’ve also seen government fail to deliver at home. A number wrote about the mediocrity of their local public schools. Several gave the back of their hand to the politics of multicultural grievance.

Brooks quotes a student who is now a Democrat but also says, “However, I’ll switch to the Republicans in a heartbeat if I believe my ideas are better received in the G.O.P.” The same is true of many voters, including myself.

We’ve heard generalizations and empty rhetoric from politicians for years. Voters are finally sick of it and want real answers to questions. Seeing the failures by the Republicans, voters are now willing to vote for the Democrats but want to know specifically what the Democrats will do differently. Vaguely calling themselves the party of hope will not guarantee these votes, and will not reassure voters who have heard years of Republican smears about big government, tax-and-spend Democrats.

If Democrats fail to provide a good answer as to what they will do they in office they leave an opening for a rapid return to office by the Republicans. Republicans are searching for ways to convincingly say that they made mistakes but still offer the best path forward. If Democrats avoid offering concrete answers voters may return to the Republicans by default. In past years the voters were not willing to listen to the specific laundry lists of plans which Democrats regularly came up with. Now, when voters are finally ready to listen and looking for answers, is not the time to rely on vague rhetoric.

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