Regroup, rethink, refund
The Democratic party is now roughly in the same position the Republicans were in in the mid-1970s, when I came of voting age and began paying close attention to politics: They control neither the presidency nor either house of Congress, they have been soundly repudiated at the polls and they do not have a program. What did the Republicans do in the 1970s? They went back to their roots and created institutions for the long-term.
They spent money on think-tanks and local organizations and decided to build a new party from the ground up that appealed to conservatives. They elected Ronald Reagan in 1980, and the party they built then is the same party that Karl Rove is orchestrating today. The fringe-y think tanks of the ’70s — like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute — now provide an endless supply of talking-head and op-ed support for right-wing policies. And, give them credit, they’re just full of ideas.
If the Democratic Party today wants to move out of the wilderness it needs to learn from the Republicans of the 1970s. It needs to take most of that “soft money” and stop spending it on worthless campaign ads and instead start building the framework for an intellectual revitalization of their side of the aisle. It’s not as if there aren’t tons of areas in which an effective alternative to Republican policy wouldn’t strike a chord with large numbers of Americans: Health care policy. Tax fairness. Corporate ethics. The vanishing middle class. Voting rights. You can keep going. The Democrats just lost the Senate because they had no ideas and no program. (Even when Al Gore offered a spirited attack on Bush’s economic policy he failed to put forth any ideas of his own.)
Of course the party faithful didn’t rally — there was nothing to rally behind. Voters need to be inspired by a vision, and until the Democrats find one they will continue to get kicked in the teeth. [Scott Rosenberg’s Links & Comment]