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Friday, May 16, 2003  

The Moderate Mistake

Yesterday, the blogosphere was afire with the Democratic Leadership Council's memo to Democrats. (Among those covering the story were Kos, CalPundit, Atrios, and Rantavation.) In the memo, the DLC slammed Howard Dean and promoted a moderate approach.

Rather than defend Dean—whom I'm not clear is a great candidate—let me address the message at the heart of the memo: the DLC wants Dems to go moderate. The argument is sprinkled with terms like "activist" and "elitist" (by which the DLC means "liberal"), and "common man" and "middle class" (by which it means "moderate"). Well lemme tell ya, "moderate" candidates are about as effective in getting Democrats elected as promoting the Bush tax cuts.

Clinton left a strategy legacy that the moderates are the key to the Democratic success. I think it's time to challenge that assumption. First, look at the Republicans. Did their success come by sacrificing everything to moderate swing voters? Of course not. Republicans are successful now because they followed the far right base of their party. Bush is particularly successful at pushing his extreme agenda, despite pandering not at all to moderates. Successful leaders have a strong vision and they carry it through their policy decisions. (See an example in the blog below.)

Now, let's look at the Clinton example. The pander-to-the-moderates strategy was successful for him, but there’s no evidence it’s a winner for someone less charismatic or less good-looking. During his administration, the Democrats lost a lot of ground, and they failed to make it up in last year's midterms (a first for the party not holding the Presidency).

With this memo, the DLC makes the same mistake the Democrats have been making for years: thinking that if they can only win a majority on the policy positions, they’ll win elections. But people don’t apply a mathematical formula to candidates' policy positions when they’re determining whom to vote for, they vote for the candidate who has a vision. (In fact, there’s little correlation between policy and votes at all—voters hate Bush's policies, but they love his leadership.)

Dean may or may not be the candidate for the Democrats. But he has been successful at forwarding a vision and stirring up interest—something no other candidate has done. In attacking his candidacy, the DLC has it exactly backwards. They also have it wrong when they think only moderates will win. Moderates have had control of the Democratic Party long enough to demonstrate their strategy works—it obviously doesn't. People want a vision, and moderates can only offer a position. It's time for the Democrats to embrace candidates with a vision, and that means liberal candidates.

posted by Jeff | 11:02 AM |
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