manipulating the herd

Robert Reich wrote an interesting opinion piece in the New York Times yesterday: The Dead Center
The dismal fifth-place showing by Senator Joseph Lieberman in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday serves as both reminder and motivator to the other Democratic presidential candidates on what it will take to win in November. For so long now, everyone has assumed that recapturing the presidency depends on who triumphs in the battle between liberals and moderates within the party. Such thinking, though, is inherently flawed. The real fight is between those who want only to win back the White House and those who also want to build a new political movement one that rivals the conservative movement that has given Republicans their dominant position in American politics.

Senator Lieberman's defeat on Tuesday could be a good indicator of which side is ahead. To their detriment, Mr. Lieberman and the perennially dour Democratic Leadership Council have been deeply wary of any hint of a progressive movement, preferring instead an uninspired centrist message that echoes Republican themes.

On the other extreme is Howard Dean, who could be called the quintessential "movement" Democrat. His campaign is both grass-roots and reformist, and is based on the proposition that ordinary people must be empowered to "take back America." Similar threads can also be seen in the campaigns of Senators John Edwards and John Kerry. (Full disclosure: I've been helping Senator Kerry.) It was no accident after last week's caucuses in Iowa that a beaming Senator Edwards told supporters they had "started a movement to change America."

I think Reich is correct. What's always bothered me about the Democratic Party is that there's never been a long-term, consistent platform that identifies the core of the movement and for which members consistently and stubbornly work to achieve over however many years it takes. The Democratic Party disappears between national elections, and, at least around here, has no visibility at the local level. Not even now, in the month or so before the Connecticut primary.

This nation runs on branding. Branding governs everything from our toilet paper to our breakfast cereal to the college we aspire to send our kids to. Republicans long ago recognized this. They are never off message. They market relentlessly.

Because their brand is so strong, people who have gained nothing from Republican programs, or who have fallen behind as a result of Republican con jobs, proudly proclaim, "I am a Republican." My blue-collar brother, my unemployed brother-in-law, each staunchly proclaims his Republican status and citing the three hundred dollars per kid tax break while ignoring the death of a thousand cuts as local and state taxes and fees rise astronomically.

The Republicans view Americans as sheep that can be easily led -- and they are right. They've become masters at manipulating the herd. So the only way Democrats are going to be able to convince the herd to go off in a new direction is to offer them a great money-off coupon to try a new product. Let them know that repealing the tax cuts might lose them that $300 per kid deduction, sure, but that would also mean that they no longer have to pay $600 each for Jilly and Johny to participate in school sports or $250 each to ride the school bus, or pay $20 to renew Fido's dog license or $5 per bag to get rid of your trash or that new $250 sewer "fee."

I don't yet know which of crew running I would vote for. I lean toward Kucinich, but he is not a viable candidate. Lieberman is a Republican and someone I despise (Stanley says since he's not doing his job, he shouldn't be getting paid for being our Senator. The pay should've stopped the day he rented a place to live in New Hampshire.). Kerry strikes me as someone as out of touch with the reality of the everyday life of most Americans as the senior Bush. I like Edwards, but don't trust relentless good cheer -- I want my president to be able to get angry when necessary. I like Dean, but his health care platform doesn't go far enough (I want to see national health care, like they have in the rest of the developed world.) Sharpton is fun to have in the race because he has a knack for puncturing pomposity. And I think Clark is too much of a lightweight and suspect he's only running because Billary asked him to. I also think he's a little too nuts. So I don't know--right now, for me, it's a toss-up between Dean and Edwards.

But the sad thing about it all is that nobody but Dean is attempting to win my vote. And email I get from Dean is generally a plea for money and not something such as an intelligent response to the latest daily outrage or a discussion of an important issue. There is no local Democratic club trying to get me involved. Nobody has inspired me enough to call headquarters and get a sign for our lawn or attend a meetup or send a hundred bucks for the campaign chest. Nobody has shown me how electing him will affect my bottom line. All I know right now is "anybody but Bush," especially since I am much worse off than I was before he was appointed to office. But I wonder if that's enough on which to base an entire presidential campaign.
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