Fighting to Transform Politics, Not to Lose

Cross posted from The Carpetbagger Report:

Having three of us guest blogging for Steve is bound to create a different atmosphere here than usual over the weekend, allowing for a variety of impressions of the same events or articles. Steve M. started off with his views of Francis Wilkinson’s op-ed in The New York Times.

Steve M. certainly has a point in his disdain for this op-ed. Wilkinson writes, “If Mr. Huckabee and Mr. McCain continue to set the tone for the Republican side, Mrs. Clinton would find it hard to escape the partisan past she unwillingly symbolizes.” From what I know of both Huckabee and McCain, it would be a serious mistake to believe they have buried the hatchet. More likely they are just holding back for just the right moment to stab their Democratic opponent in the back.

It is probably true that Huckabee and McCain would run a less negative campaign than the demagogic warmonger Rudy Giuliani. Mitt Romney has already been planning to run against Hillary Clinton by the ridiculous tactic of equating her with France. Even should McCain or Huckabee win the nomination it would be incredibly naive to believe that the right wing noise machine is going to just pack up and shut itself down. A democratic candidate must be able to respond to their attacks.

I’ve never been a great fan of Hillary Clinton, but I must admit I did respect her for not mincing words when interviewed on The Today Show back on January 27, 1998:

Matt Lauer: “You have said, I understand, to some close friends, that this is the last great battle, and that one side or the other is going down here.”

Hillary Clinton: “Well, I don’t know if I’ve been that dramatic. That would sound like a good line from a movie. But I do believe that this is a battle. I mean, look at the very people who are involved in this — they have popped up in other settings. This is — the great story here for anybody willing to find it and write about it and explain it is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president.”

There were also times during the campaigns of 2000 and 2004 where the old Clinton war room sure would have come in handy.

If Wilkinson really advocates unilateral disarmament this would be a terrible mistake. However I see more in his op-ed and there is an element of truth in what he says. To build a new majority, as opposed to scraping by with a narrow win along the old red/blue divide, a Democratic campaign must concentrate on why people should vote for them, and not just what was wrong with George Bush. As Wilkinson wrote, “If this fragile moment endures, the next president will be the candidate whose person and politics make the sturdiest bridge across America’s political divide.”

Many Democrats mistake the repudiation of years of incompetent and often corrupt Republican rule in 2006 as embracement of all their positions. In reality, Democrats have not solidified this support. Democrats won partially due to the support of independents, along with “Starbucks Republicans” who rejected the social conservatism dominating the party, as well as their disastrous foreign policy.

The 2008 election has the potential to transform politics. We’ve become so accustomed to the red/blue state divide that most forget how recently this version of the electoral map was drawn. Although John McCain would be a formidable opponent, few are very eager to remain in Iraq for another one hundred years. Hillary Clinton has an excellent chance of winning should she be the nominee in light of the overall disdain for the Republican Party at present. However such a victory would likely come from picking up Ohio and a few other red states. In contrast Barack Obama has the potential to reach across the partisan divide and create a new Democratic majority as Franklin Roosevelt did.

Even Wilkinson concedes that this “strange and wonderful civility, with its hint of an underlying commonality of purpose” might not endure. Democrats need a nominee who can both respond to the right wing noise machine when necessary as well as present a message which will bring in the votes of those who are repelled by the partisanship bickering. It will take a candidate with considerable oratorical skills to pull off both of these somewhat contradictory goals, as well as draw in the votes of those who do not typically vote Democratic.


  1. 1
    rufus says:

    As a left-leaning independent, it’s fairly simple to me- if the Democrats nominate Obama, I will vote for him. If they nominate Clinton, they had better hope that the Republicans go with a candidate as lousy as Mike Huckabee!

  2. 2
    Steve M. says:

    As Wilkinson wrote, “If this fragile moment endures,…

    Well, I’m not convinced this fragile moment even exists.

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:

    Agree Wilkinson does overstate the case for such a moment now existing. What is more important is that voters desire such a “moment” and a candidate who appears willing to move beyond petty partisanship has a tremendous advantage.

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