Well, this thing has brought out a lot of passion, understandably. (To the guy who wrote in under the subject heading: ‘Print THIS, you dumb asshole!’ I say: if you include your real name, I will!)

Some of you are furious that the Democrats lost, and have clear prescriptions for how we could have won. Others, pleased with the election results, are sick of my ‘whining.’ (It’s always ‘whining.’)

Several of you took offense at my line about not ‘getting it,’ pointing out that it was I who had not gotten it. (I had simply said that yesterday’s election was terribly important – surely, if for no other reason than the courts – and that, judging from the tens of millions of eligible voters who chose not to vote, not everyone ‘got this.’ At least, that’s what I meant to say.)

Several picked up on the ‘slimeball’ discussion of the last couple of weeks as clear evidence that character matters little to people like me. (They, apparently, would rather sacrifice the Supreme Court for 25 years than, say, vote for a guy who had cheated on his taxes.)

And a lot of you were angry that the Democrats failed to articulate a simple, compelling message.

Peter Amstein: ‘Regarding the message, here is what I think the 240-word version could be. Now how to distill it to five words? If I figure that out, you will be the very first to know, I promise . . .’

The Dem’s are the party of fairness, of ‘the level playing field.’ The R’s are the party of ‘whatever you can get away with is fine as long as you don’t get caught.’ A level playing field benefits everyone. A field that allows cheating ultimately fails. Look at any country in the world with a lot of graft and corruption: I guarantee you their economy is in the tank. There is a direct correlation between how honest a country’s government is, how ‘well regulated’ its economy is, and how prosperous it is. Without exception. In many third world countries, corruption is just accepted as the way of life and the citizens pay dearly for it.

Not that we don’t occasionally have graft and corruption here. We do. But the difference is this: in America, it’s a scandal! We are horrified! We throw the bums out, maybe even put them in jail. Whatever their party. And that is what we must now do.

Think of baseball, GW’s favorite sport. You could argue, “baseball is way over regulated – all those umpires – and it has way too many rules.” Let’s get rid of the umps and toss out that thick rule book. Now we’re playing ball! The pitcher is using sandpaper? Who cares! Plus if we don’t have to pay for umpires, the tickets can be cheaper. But of course the game would quickly descend into chaos, and it would be no fun for anyone, fan or player. It is to prevent this chaos that we invented the umpires in the first place!

That is the Republican plan for America: fire the umpires, cut the SEC budget, cut the IRS, toss out the rule book, make the tickets cheaper, and damn the consequences. Is that what we really want for this country?’

My wise older brother: ‘People want to hear from people they think they can trust. (Good lawyers know that their personal credibility is their one big asset. Judges and juries don’t like to be manipulated.) Far fewer Minnesota voters agreed with Wellstone than supported him; they elected him to the Senate anyway because they got that he cared about them – the common good – and about his credibility much more than he cared about political advantage, his own * or * his party’s. People dislike both parties these days, dislike most politicians, and mostly loathe politics. That’s because they know politics is supposed to be about the common good but it’s largely about power for power’s sake instead. That’s why most of them refuse – or just can’t be bothered – to vote. And that’s also why, internationally, America as leader is loved and admired but America as hegemon is feared and disliked.

‘I guess we ‘liberals’ can’t run [columnists] Paul Krugman or Tom Friedman for office. Or [West Wing creator] Aaron Sorkin (him, though, we could maybe hire?). Let alone George Washington or FDR. But we can listen to them better as a party and come together a lot better on where America should be going. The only way to do that is to talk to one another with the common good in mind first . . . and private, personal, partisan advantage a distant second.’

Darren McDonald: ‘The time has come for new Democratic leadership. The existing leaders have failed to communicate a message to the core voters. You can’t campaign against a tax cut if you helped pass it. Democratics allowed themselves to be painted in a corner on far too many issues.’

☞ I agree that we’ve been painted into some corners. I hated the tax bill, and feel strongly that, while we should make the tax cuts permanent for the ‘bottom’ 98% or so, we should freeze the cuts that apply only to the top 1% or 2% until we can afford them. But the Democratic Party is a big tent, and I have to admit of the possibility that some of our folks may actually have believed that, on balance, the tax bill was a good thing.

Even if not, the reality is: (a) tax cuts are popular; and (b) at the time, before Jim Jeffords’s switch, we lacked the votes to block this one So, yes, some of our people doubtless chose to make the popular vote rather than risk reelection to vote against something certain to pass anyway.

Likewise, many Democrats, while helping to push the administration to go more slowly and carefully, paying more heed to the U.N. – which I think was an important contribution to the process – may at the same time genuinely agree with the Bush administration that the world has become too dangerous to allow Saddam to develop weapons of mass destruction. My own hope is that by talking very tough, we may get inspections without having to attack.

Paul: We need to give people some compelling reasons to vote for Democrats and not just ‘me too’ our way through elections. There would have been something honorable about losing as badly as we did if we really offered a clear alternative that had been articulated from the top down. As Paul Begala kept saying last night as we watched the blood bath, ‘You’ve got to stand for something or you fall for everything.”

☞ A few weeks ago I heard Begala arguing passionately that we should call for freezing the tax cut for the top 2% so we could pay for prescription drugs and balance the budget. Our pollster said no. Whenever we allowed the debate to go to taxes, he said – no matter how compelling our position – we lost, because tax talk automatically triggers pro-Republican sentiment.

For the most part, I think the Party chose pollster over policy. Tim Russert would ask our candidates whether they favored a freeze for the top 1% . . . I would be screaming YESSSSSSSSSS!!!!!! into the TV . . . and our guys would dance around the answer. Made me nuts.

But is it a sin to listen to some of the best pollsters in the country when, as a practical matter, your party cannot possibly freeze the tax cut for the top 1% anyway because the President would veto it? I disagree with those who think this question has an easy answer.

Brett Delfino: ‘I preface this by saying that I voted Democrat down the line as a protest against Bush policies. That said, if a majority of voters want to elect people who will continue to enrich me at their and their children’s expense (I am in a high income bracket), then let them. We should try to educate people about the mess that Republican policy is making, but in the end we can’t force votes. The triumph of the Republican party is that they have managed to dupe a large portion of the electorate who will never benefit from their policies into believing that they will. In these voters’ honor, I am thinking of buying a second home and naming it ‘Poor Republican Voter,’ as it is their gift to me.’

Dave: ‘I am bitterly disappointed. I don’t understand. Budget surplus to budget deficit. Tax breaks primarily for the rich. Cleland – a disabled veteran, a hero, a moderate – painted as soft on ‘homeland defense.’ Visigoth judicial candidates waiting in the wings. An economy that is in the tank. Unemployment rising. How did we lose? I’m not getting any younger, but if Lautenberg is ready to keep fighting, so I am I.’

Let’s take tomorrow off. Have a great weekend.

 

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