When I worked for Howard Dean, in the 2004 election, he used to like to quote Harry Truman in his stump speech:
“If it’s a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time.”
The point, when Howard Dean said it, was that far too many Democrats were trying to be like President Bush, in 2003, when the President’s popularity was soaring, but Dean was offering a real alternative. Yet, it could just as easily apply to the many Democrats, especially in the South, who became nearly indistinguishable from Republicans, not just on issue, but in tone.
Lo and behold, the slow burn of so called Blue Dogs completed in 2014, and voters voted for genuine Republicans, across the board.
Finally, it seems like Democrats are finally taking the right lesson away from these losses. In the past, they always seemed to answer defeat by moving more to the right, assuming the country wanted conservatism. But, in the past few days, it is becoming apparent that, finally, Democrats realize they need to offer a real choice – a progressive choice.
First, news began to leak about two likely hires by Hillary Clinton. According to reports, she dumped her 2008 pollster, corporate-shill Mark Penn, in favor of Barack Obama’s pollster, Joel Benenson, who seems to understand the pulse of the country a heck of a lot better. But more importantly, it seems like she is ready to hire Rob Mook as campaign manager. For why this is a key hire, and a hint of change to come from the traditionally centrist Clintons, I turn it over to Markos Moulitsas:
But the hire that excites me is Robby Mook, last seen guiding Terry McAuliffe to victory in his gubernatorial race in the tough off-year elections of 2013. Indeed, that was the first time the party occupying the White House won Virginia since 1973, and excitedly—he did so by running an explicitly liberal campaign.
Note that this is Virginia, and Democrats were wedded to the idea that they had to run Mark Warner-style campaigns to win, wooing downstate white rural voters with gimmicks like NASCAR sponsorships and the like. But Mook ignored such advice and focused on a base mobilization strategy, working hard to excite, motivate, and turnout core supporters (younger, browner, more educated) in the DC suburbs of northern Virginia.
Indeed, Terry McAuliffe ran a progressive campaign. More importantly, he’s now governing the way he campaigned. It can’t be stressed enough that, in the past, McAuliffe was one of the main proponents of cozying up to ‘centrist’ business interests. His shift, as a former chairman of the Democratic Party, was big. If it leads to a shift from the Clintons – the original advocates for mushy centrism – it is huge.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Democrats are going big. Look at this headline from the Washington Post, which couldn’t have been written better, from a Democrat’s perspective:
Democrats, in a stark shift in messaging, to make big tax-break pitch for middle class
In short, when Republicans propose tax breaks for the elites who are lobbying Congress for a tax break, Democrats are going to offer a completely different vision – offering tax cuts targeted to the middle class, largely paid for by fees on the kind of shaky Wall Street speculation that sank our economy for the past several years.
In the past, it would have been very easy to see Democrats splinter, with a good chunk supporting the GOP proposal, and the remaining Democrats offering up no real alternative. Not anymore.
It isn’t just the prospect of a progressive alternative being offered that is exciting, but also that the proposal itself is right on target. In this post, I talked a bit about why Elizabeth Warren’s messaging is so strong – it better defines who progressives are standing up against. It isn’t just the rich. It is the rich who get rich by using their wealth to rig the system in their favor, and to our detriment.
The House Democratic plan understands the heart of that message.
The key, now, is for Democrats to stick to this kind of messaging, and get everyone aboard. That’s crucial in establishing a national brand, so that even if a voter isn’t familiar with a particular candidate, they know what that candidate’s party will deliver. If Democrats can do that, their prospects for 2016 and beyond are incredibly bright.