Saturday, November 13, 2004

Election redux: moving on

It has taken me a over a week and half to be ready to write this post. Not only have I been extremely busy, I've been trying to recover from my period of intense political junkyism.

Hi, my name is Eric, and I'm a Democrat.

Nah, it's not like that. Whenever big elections are over, the parties do a lot of hand-wringing about which parts of their coalitions seem to be controlling the agenda. There's a battle for the heart and soul of the victorious Republican party brewing that's just as fierce as the battle between the drive-center Dems and the wave-your-liberal-flag-higher Dems.

I'm not having any of it. I don't think it matters. The number of people who ideologically identify with one party or the other is not enough to hold a permanent grip on the direction of this big country. We Dems have taken a few licks here, but there's no reason to panic. That said, I have to hope that we'll see some changes in the way liberal/progressive/reality-based campaigns will be conducted, and right soon.

First, we have to pick exceptional candidates. I have great fondness in my heart for Gore and Kerry. For that matter, Dukakis is a Swarthmore guy, and so I have to stand up for the alma mater. As much as I'm personally drawn to really smart candidates, in the world of perceptions, we need to start showing more of our candidates whose convictions seem to stem from some place south of their noggins. Why did so many Democrats fall in love with Barak Obama this summer? He's a smart, well-educated, well-spoken politician. But he also spoke about core Democratic values with unswerving conviction.

Second, we have to end our political estrangement with rural voters. Just because Republicans stopped caring about the pluralistic communities in American cities generations ago doesn't mean that we have to stop caring about the country. When you look at the county-by-county tallies in swing states, you become aware of how dependent the Democratic party has become on compact geographic regions.

Finally, the outside organizations showed the party the way to manage grass roots voter turnout. I'm not exactly sure that I will be involved in MoveOn election work ever again, but I do believe that they and ACT made it clear how we're going to have to proceed to expand our community of voters. I spent six weeks going door-to-door in a long-time Republican ward, talking to new and infrequent Democratic voters and swing voters. Trust me, you cannot advertise through television, radio, and print more than these suburban Philly voters routinely endure in big elections. And yet, so many of these folks were unlikely to vote. You have to build a relationship that goes deeper than handing a somebody a pamphlet or harassing them with pre-recorded messages from political stars. You have to hear from them what they care about. You have to confirm for them that you care about many similar things. You have to remove all obstacles to voting. (Many people I talked to thought that they had to re-register for every election, or they didn't know where their polling place was.) And you have to reaffirm for them that their participation will be/is/was important.

In nearly every Philly suburban precinct, I had counterparts building these neighbor-to-neighbor relationships. As I was talking with voters all day on November 2nd, one of the long-time ward Dems commented to me: it's funny, you seem to know all the people I don't recognize.

And that's sort of the point.

But honestly, I'm not exactly thrilled about throwing my heart and soul into sustaining 527's and political action committees. I'm just not sure that the Democratic machinery is really sophisticated enough right now to coordinate such a focused and sustained effort like the ACT's and MoveOn's were capable of doing.

In our little ward, by the way, of the over 1000 votes cast, Kerry won by a margin close to 180 votes. County-wide, Kerry won by a wider margin than Gore in 2000.

A candidate with $20,000 and 90 days managed to claim 40% of the vote against an entrenched Republican (Weldon) for his congressional seat...pretty much just for showing up.

While we're all so worried about our candidate's inability to connect with voters in some places, take note that the there are some formerly Republican zones where the Democrats are gaining steam.


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