Five Simple Rules for Coming Back

By Paddy McGuire of Portland, Oregon. Paddy describes himself as a "washed-up political hack." [Yeah, but he's much more than that - former leader of the state Democrats, Clinton appointee, and our deputy secretary of state. -Editor.]

I despair for my party. We got beat fair and square and I have to wonder if we can elect a Democratic President in this country.

But rather than wallow in the anguish of this day and of the mandate that the President received yesterday, I'd like to offer my thoughts on what it takes for us to win in four years. Here's the start of my list:

1. Enough of the Massachusetts liberals. John Kerry, Paul Tsongas, Michael Dukakis, Ted Kennedy. Not a good streak. The Republicans have figured out how to demonized New England liberals in Middle America and we have to stop playing into their hand.

2. Look South. The last three Democrats to win the White House were moderates from the Confederacy. When we begin a national campaign by conceding 134 electoral votes (the Confederacy without Florida), we make the margin for error in the rest of the country incredibly small.

3. Figure out how to appeal in Middle America. We know how to win here on the left coast and the Northeast. But let's face it: Michael Moore scares people. Average Americans think that Moore, Barbra Streisand and their Hollywood buddies control our party and that scares them.

4. Being pissed off is not enough. We have to give people hope. Regular people in the middle of the country believed that Bill Clinton cared about them, understood their problems and would work to make their lives better.

5. Likeability matters. Regular people have not liked our last two nominees. They believe that George Bush is like them and understands them.

We have to figure this out -- we must.


  • (Show?)

    Paddy, does this mean that you think John Edwards--a Southern populist with high "likeability"--would have been a better nominee?

  • Jason Evans (unverified)

    I agree, Paddy. However, people said the same things before Kerry was nominated. We knew what we needed and we ignored it in favor of presenting a tough image to counter Bush.

  • cab (unverified)

    I don't know if we need a guy from the south. We won't win those states. What we need is a likable guy with acting abilities and charm surrounded by a strong team of policy wonks. People don't want to admit it, but its just a popularity contest.

  • (Show?)

    I'm thinking of joining a conservative Christian church, perhaps I'll find the next candidate there.

  • brett (unverified)

    Word! Let the Clintonistas back in the house. They are responsible for the only successful Democratic presidency since JFK. This is exactly what it would take to bring ex-Democrats back into the party. Ditch Michael Moore, no more Northeastern liberals, forget about Hollywood, and find a candidate with some charisma for God's sake.

  • Becky (unverified)

    Excellent points.

    I think a Dean-McCain race would have been so much more fun. I think then you could have seen how people really felt.

  • John Davis (unverified)

    I am split. On the one hand, I favor the southern moderate approach, but on the other, I say let's blow up the DNC. Deconstruct the party, exactly what the republicans want. Give it to them. A one-party state raises the question of whether that party is necessary. Once we get the population questioning the necessity for political parties, we can start framing politics in terms of issues, not morals. Regardless of the approach, I think the key is developing the type of infrastructure the Naz, er, republicans have in place. They are training people early on to think conservatively.

  • (Show?)

    2. Look South.

    How about West? We keep re-fighting the civil war and losing. I believe the South is lost to us for the next several years. What we need is a prairie populist or a westerner who doesn't fit into that Massachusetts/Arkansas dichotomy. In order to rise from the south, I believe a candidate has to sacrifice too much. I believe a nice, sunny Western liberal is what we need.

  • mjones (unverified)

    "Regardless of the approach, I think the key is developing the type of infrastructure the Naz, er, republicans have in place." er,this is why you will continuue to lose,the Nazis were National Socialists,in other words,leftists not conservatives! You don't know your history,you will repeat your mistakes. Join the Socialist Party,they are you.

  • Adam Zielinski (unverified)

    Clinton won in 92 and 96 in large part because Ross Perot was on the ballot and siphoned more Republican leaning voters away than Democratic leaning voters. Clinton probably wouldn't have won without Perot in 92, and it would have been very close in 96 against Dole. If you don't believe me, look it up. Check out the margins of Clinton's victories in the states he won, and the percentages Perot won. Al Gore was from Tennessee and that didn't help him in 2000.

    I don't think we need to nominate a southern conservative Democrate to win the White House. We'll turn off half the base, which will bolt for the Green Party. We need a western democrat like Kitzhaber to run, someone who wears boots and has a big belt buckle. Look at Salazar in Colorado. Or Schweitzer in Montana. The south/bible belt is lost and not worth trying to win back. The west is more libertarian and not quite as fire and brimestone as the south. It can be won.

  • (Show?)

    I have no illusions about winning Mississippi or Alabama. It's not going to happen. But we have to be competitive in the border states, in West Virginia, in Georgia, in Louisiana. Yes, Leslie, I do believe that Edwards would have done better.
    I don't disagree with the "look west" philosophy, it's just untested by our party while the "look south" philosophy is tested and proven.

    Adam, if you believe that all Perot voters would have been Bush or Dole voters in Perot's absence, you clearly do not understand the Perot phenomenon. As you say, look it up.

  • Bubba (unverified)

    Somebody needs to shut this Paddy guy up. He makes entirely too much sense. Thank god most of you will be too blinded by your irrational hate to think clearly, or listen to your more rational moderate element. You should have stuck with Dean. You probably would have still lost, but at least it would not have required the mandatory trip to the shower you needed after the Aristocrat from MA.

  • Adam Zielinski (unverified)


    Of course many Perot voters wouldn't have voted or gotten involved at all. The bottom line is that of those that would still have voted, more of them would have held their nose and voted for Bush than for Clinton. No one can prove it definitively one way or the other, but that's just my take. Maybe Clinton would have won anyways, but it would have been a lot closer, just like 2000 or this year. Clinton never did get a majority of the vote.

    My parents happen to be among those who voted for Bush this time, as they did in 2000, and they voted for Nader in 96 and Clinton in 92. They agree with Nader on most issues except Iraq and terror, but voted for Bush because they didn't like Kerry's flip flops on Iraq and didn't like his aristocraticness. My sister voted for Clinton both times, and for Gore in 2000, but voted for Bush this time. She's a classic security mom. So I know a lot about swing voters because my family is filled with them. It's not about having logical and rational positions on the issues, or ideology, for them. It's more about gut feelings and making a connection with voters. Being more lefty or socialist won't win them over. Being more religious and socially conservative definately won't win them over either. That's the only thing they don't like about Bush. Being a regular guy they can relate to, with moderate but clear and strong stands on the issues will do it.

  • GA - Keith (unverified)

    Or, you can find someone who can explain why education, healthcare and good paying jobs is more important to the moral backbone of the middle class, than guns.

    Also nice to have: 1) A majority in the Democratic leadership willing to openly stand for equality for all Americans -- even (gasp) Gay Americans. 2) A desire to develop new, forward-thinking ideas that get votes, rather than adopt the conservative ones just because -- right or wrong -- they get votes. 3) Can use the word 'Liberal.'

  • Adam Zielinski (unverified)

    The southern strategy is tested, and worked a few times, with the help of Perot, but past success does not guarantee future results. We can't afford to keep re-fighting the civil war, or keep re-fighting the last war. This is the Pacific Century, it's time to lose the "eastern bias" and look west. Democrats are better off trying to be more libertarian than in trying to become more religiously conservative, and turn off our base in the process. The western strategy is the strategy that has the best chance at both holding our base while appealing to middle america.

  • Joe Hill (unverified)

    Ah, yes. Let the recriminations begin.

    I could not possibly disagree more. The LAST thing we need is to move to the right. God, I thought we learned that.

    Michael Moore (meaning the populist left as a genre) is the answer, not the problem. We did not have a nominee who was against an unpopular war. We did not have a nominee who was committed to single payer health care. Instead we had a nominee that was in bed with a different (and probably less toxic) set of rich people.

    That's not going to feed the bulldog.

  • (Show?)

    I only give permission to ditch Michael Moore if we also ditch people like Tom Daschle (who, while it sucks we lost a Senate seat, I am not sorry to see leave the scene) and the people who run the DNC, and the people behind the DLC, and all the other pansy-ass people running this non-opposition party.

    Some dumbass on I think CBS last night, talking about Daschle's relationship to Bush, described it as "trying to block Bush's agenda at every turn". She must have been talking about some other Tom Daschle, because the Tom Daschle I've seen running around these past four years is a stuffed-shirt pantywaist.

  • Elizabeth Cage (unverified)

    It's all fine and good to theorize about what sort of candidate should be nominated but in our system of candidate self-selection and self-funding the voters in early primary states will decide for us. There's no system which will prevent an abitious politician, with a lot of friends and good money sources from running. Given the current primary system the only way to gaurantee a John Kerry fails to win the nomination is to keep him out of the primary race to begin with. I mean who's gonna tell Hillary Clinton not to run because if she gets the nomination in 2008 we'll lose? (I love Hillary but have seen up close the hatred she generates in the heartland, we might as well nominate the Devil himself).

    Here's the radical solution -- we must change the primary system, it's the only way to end up with a candidate palatable to "mainstream" voters. How about if the first round of primaries were held in the states with the closest margins of victory yesterday? And what if they were open primaries -- any registered voter can participate? I don't know who Ohio would have voted for in an open Democratic primary back in the spring, but I reckon he'd have had a better shot on Election Day.

  • (Show?)

    Bravo, Cage. I'm not sure about the open primary business -- but the folks in the closest states are certainly going to be the ones who pay very close attention to winnability. Also, I'm noticing how well Kerry did in New Hampshire and Iowa -- two of the only states where he actually had a real election before Tuesday.

  • (Show?)

    Also, a fascinating piece from the Christian Science Monitor - Is the red post-election tinge a mandate? Don't bet on it.

  • Not Saying (unverified)

    This is a result of the ongoing culture war, not a problem with "Massachusetts liberals." I don't see that the two coasts (and the upper Midwest (thank you btw)) are compatible with the rest of the country. I think it's time to seriously consider dissolving the "Union." I could see us (as the Northwest) being much more free to pursue our own agenda without the “bison states” dragging us down. I don’t want Diebold making decisions for me.

    My ideal “state” would involve a region that was made up of the lands from Vancouver BC down through Seattle, Vancouver WA, Portland, Salem, Eugene, and down to San Fran. We’ll call it Cascadia. If the f*ckers in eastern Oregon don’t like our “values” than they don’t need our tax dollars either to pave their roads, run their schools or make sure they have police and fire fighters.

    Just my opinion…

  • The Prof (unverified)


    Good to see you in here. I am also an Edwards fan, and it's not because I think he'll gain us states in the South (though as you say, he'd play a lot better in the border states and probably Florida).

    And what folks here seem to forget is that a lot of "middle america" is closer to Vicksburg than to Pittsburgh (an old Illini joke). A southern drawl plays well in Western PA, southern OH, IL, IA, all of MO, KS, etc. etc.

    And yes, what Edwards brings to a ticket is the moral and, yes, religious center that Kerry lacked. Read the exit polls, folks.

    Michael Moore? Sorry, the screech factor may have fired up the college campuses, but that route is a loser. You'll never drive "half the base" to the Greens. The Greens are a non-entity. Never in the history of this nation, save the Civil War, has this happened.

    By the way, Elizabeth, just an aside: contrary to what Phil Keisling suggests, there is no evidence that open primaries result in more moderate candidates.

  • (Show?)

    Another interesting take can be found at Brief excerpts:

    Bush's message speaks directly to the heart of the emasculated modern man: stick with me, and we'll stand tall, provide for our families, and kick terrorist ass.

    One thing's for sure: If the Left wants to get back on its feet, it had better grow a pair—or at least start acting like it has.

  • (Show?)

    I'm not ready yet to start handicapping the next political race. I'm still in mourning, and more than anything I'd rather talk about tactics to protect our remaining civil rights over the next four years and mitigate some of the inevitable Bush administration damage. But. When I got my "sincere thanks" e-mail from John Kerry and the DNC today, this is what I wrote in response:

    I, like so many, am despondent about the turn this election marks for our country. I hope that Democrats everywhere will take this outcome as a call to protest. I need you to stand up for me, for my civil rights and for my right to choose. I need you, now more than ever, to stand up to the Bush administration on privatizing Social Security, on blocking right-wing activist judges from the Supreme Court bench, on making sure that my friends among the 45,000,000 uninsured get health coverage they can afford. I need you to begin recruiting candidates that can win back the House and Senate in two years time. I need you to begin grooming a democratic candidate for President that can start to breach the divide in our nation and win back the White House. I need you to stand up for progressive values, for tolerance, for international cooperation in these troubled times.

    Most of all, I need the Democratic party to continue to mobilize the new voters we brought to this election and keep them engaged--by listening to them and following through with action that proves our party can make good on its promises. Don't let me down.

  • Elizabeth Cage (unverified)

    Prof -- I wasn't necessarily suggesting that an open primary would result in more moderate candidates simply more electable.

  • David Wynde (unverified)

    John Edwards?

    Last time I looked Kerry-Edwards lost in North Carolina. If Edwards couldn't sway his home state to the ticket, I'm not sure how he would have been better.

    I'm still too disappointed to come up with the answers, and I'm flying to England today so I'll be stuck for the next two weeks having to explain how this country could vote for Bust for another 4 years.

  • brett (unverified)

    Michael Moore (meaning the populist left as a genre) is the answer, not the problem.

    If he is the answer, I don't want to know what the question is. That way lies ruin, and a major schism in the Democratic Party. Fine by me -- we're in dire need of a credible third alternative, and I sure as shit don't mean the Greens.

  • (Show?)

    I don't disagree with the "look west" philosophy, it's just untested by our party while the "look south" philosophy is tested and proven.

    In a sense, the argument defies generalities because a gun-toting libertarian-leaning populist from western Mass (or more likely, Vermont) might play a lot better than a dull Southerner. Politics on the national stage is all about personalities.

    But it raises the question of strategy, and this is more where I was aiming. Winning the South right now means playing by rules Karl Rove owns. West Coast populism comes from a progressive past and yet appeals deeply to individualists in the wide open spaces. Oregon has an opportunity to model this kind of populism if liberals here reach out effectively to rural districts. If they attempt that through the Christian, moral-values model, I believe they'll take a bath. That's a table the GOP has set, and it's one we lose at.

    We need a new table. The West offers one.

  • (Show?)

    I simply do not believe that a "gun-toting libertarian-leaning populist from western Mass (or more likely, Vermont)" will be credible. John Kerry is a real-live decorated war hero who owns guns and likes to kill birds, yet Rove et al. managed to sissify him. The sight of Kerry duck hunting was a joke, almost on the level of Dukakis in the tank because American knew that he was a sissy by then. People in the middle of the country believe that people in the Northeast are pinheaded intellectuals (and we are latte-drinking snobs) that look down their noses at people in the middle. The Republican party used to be the party of elites, but people believe that we are the party of elites: Hollywood elites, media elites, intellectual elites. Where a candidate is from, his or her personal story really matter. I grew up in Olympia and I went to school with kids like Bill Clinton (way smart, from a screwed up family, destined for greatness or self-destruction). I didn't go to school with anybody like John Kerry and didn't even meet anyone like John Kerry until I went to an elite college in the Northeast. I just don't think that it will ever be credible for a candidate to say to middle America that he or she understands their problems and wants to help them if those middle Americans have never met anyone like that candidate.

  • the prof (unverified)

    Can I ask a question raised in another thread: why the handwringing about social security? Don't we all think the current system is broken and something new needs to be tried? If not partial privatization, then what?

  • Al Kelly (unverified)

    Here are some reflections on what the Dems have to do in the future to get Hillary and Edwards or Obama and any other dems elected:

    Here is what should be added to Paddy McGuire’s recommendations:

    1. Any time a Dem candidate, esp., male candidate, is asked "are you Pro Life?" the answer should be "yes" (which means get us out of Iraq, stop the killing of ours and theirs) and if they continue on the question of pro choice, the answer should be "that is between the woman and her god and her doctor (who, of course, often thinks he is her god)". Plus, "I nor you nor the government have any reason, right of privilege to tell a woman to have or not have an abortion which is between her and her god." This way those nutty evangelicals will think you really are on the side of "GOD" for after all they care very little about the woman anyway.

    2. If campaigning in the South, or from N. Dakota to Texas, one should invoke god a much as one can--even Jesus if need be. Get them at their own sick game.

    3. In the same areas carry a concealed weapon and show it at their rallies--they'll really like that. If you can conceal an AK-47 and whip that out -- so much the better.

    4. Michael Moore should be held up as a hero, a sign, or a billboard for what the Democrat Party should stand for, i.e., courage, fortitude, compassion, common sense, forthrightness and even "righteousness"--all these words are what the religious right think they are. Of course Michael Moore scares people--to me he is totally correct.

    5. For gay rights--accent how god loves everybody, and we are all bros and sisters, and how we're not supposed to judge the other--for that is what "GOD" (pronounced GAWWD) does, etc., etc... It is really strange and sad how the Pope and the Bishops run around in dresses and condemn homosexuality.

    Now remember get this to all future Dem. Candidates.

    P.S. so Paddy from Haa-vard please add the above thoughts to your mucchy ones.

    Of course we are angry--Privatization through 100,000 private contracts; we (my tax dollars – your tax dollars) killed 100,000 Iraqis and 1100 of our own folks and continue to do so in a totally unjust war built on lies; the total economy is given to corporate greed; we have a megalomaniac (infantile feelings of Omnipotence) in the White House; the insurance companies are so invested in the pharmaceutical industry and their patsy, the medical community, is totally atrophied with the M.Ds. rolling in money from both those sources... ; kids can't get into college because of outrageous tuition (public education is supposed to be free-legislators forgot this); the billionaires and millionaires are wallowing in Select Bush tax cuts while single moms work two jobs at minimum wages.... and every middle class person who invested in the stock market lost 40% of their money or pension over the last four years---yes we are angry--it is a just and good anger... so that is my humble opinion about Paddy’s recommendations--which by the way have been on NPR and even commercial radio and T.V. in reference to "fixing the Democrat future" the last two days. Actually, I like my recommendations a lot better. Peace!!. Al Kelly

    Al Kelly is a former County Commissioner (Dem.); he has his Masters in Theology from one of the oldest Universities in the World – University of Louvain in Belgium; a Masters of Public Health from Tulane University; he managed two successful Colo. State Senate Campaigns and a District Att. Campaign; he participated civil rights movement and in the anti-war movements against Vietnam and Iraq; and is Executive Director of a Health Non Profit for the last 26 years.

  • Brian Kuehl (unverified)

    Per the "look West" discussion:

    Check out

    Also, consider this:

    While Democrats had a miserable election nationally, we gained a Governors seat in the West, picked up a Senate and a House seat in the West and gained control of the Colorado House and Senate and gained control of the Montana House (pending a recount in one race) and the Montana Senate. Many western states saw Democratic legislative gains.

    Hmm. Maybe there's something going on here . . .

    Look WEST!

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