On her program tonight, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow urged Democrats to get their act together and stop campaigning in fear. Maddow argued that Democrats can win based on their accomplishments, “Imagine what it would look like if they started to campaign on the actual accomplishments they accomplished.” In short, Democrats need to grow a pair.
Here is the video from MSNBC:
Maddow explained how Republicans have convinced Democrats that health reform is bad, “According to the common beltway wisdom for this year’s elections health reform is supposed to be an awful thing Democrats must run away from, an awful, terrible burden Democrats sad he would themselves with, an albatross that will sink them on Election Day, run away fast. Whenever the President mentions health care on the stump, he does so to huge applause. Other Democrats like Russ Feingold have started running ads on health care reform and it polls really, really well. How is it the common wisdom Democrats have to run away from it? It’s the common wisdom because Republicans have tried to make it that. Trying to keep as many Democrats silent about health care reform as possible.”
Later she urged Democrats to actually run on their successes and accomplishments, the TARP, health reform, and the stimulus, “Instead of denigrating them as swear words, instead of running away from them in the election year, imagine what it would look like if they started to campaign on the actual accomplishments they accomplished, on the good things that big Democratic supported programs have done, things like TARP and the stimulus. What would that look like? not only for the crop of Democratic candidates against Republicans trying to get away with characterizations of these programs that don’t contain the facts, what would it look like when Democrats campaigned on what they were capable of doing when policy made sense. What would that look like? There are 29 days left to find out.”
Rachel Maddow is the first person to ask the question, how did the Republicans convince the Democrats not to run on all of their accomplishments? In fact, it is even worse than that, Republicans have managed to convince Democrats that their successes are actually failures. This might actually be big news if Republicans hadn’t been using this strategy for the last 30 years. In every contested election that the Democrats have lost since the Reagan era, you can trace their defeat back to the GOP’s success in framing Democratic accomplishments as failure.
The most notable recent examples of this strategy occurred in 2000 and 2004. In 2000, Karl Rove was able to convince Al Gore’s presidential campaign that despite a high approval rating, Bill Clinton was a liability. Gore bought into the Republican framing of Clinton as a liability, and ran away from both the Clinton/Gore record, and Bill Clinton himself. The result was that Gore became the first modern candidate and the first candidate since 1888, to win the popular vote, but not the presidency.
In 2004, John Kerry won the Democratic nomination and was all set to run a campaign based on his military experience, but a little bit of swiftboating later and Kerry was not only defending his military record, but opening running away from it by the end of the campaign. As in 2000, the result was the same. George W. Bush won another close election. Maddow is correct. Democrats have a strong record of accomplishments, and with the exception of Republicans, their achievements have grown in popularity over time. By not running on what they have accomplished, Democratic candidates all across the country are allowing elections to be contested devoid of issues. This is a landscape that heavily favors the ideology over issues GOP candidates.
Democrats could learn a lesson from both Obama and their fellow Democratic candidates who are having success this year. Democrats who transform themselves into Republican lite by running away from their own party are setting themselves up for huge defeats. The way to beat the Teapublicans is to make them talk about issues.
This is a group of extremist Republican candidates, who are hoping to hide just how out of step they are with the country, but Democrats can’t be satisfied with exposing weak Republican candidates, they must also present a sensible alternative to the non agenda of the GOP. In order to present that alternative, Democrats must embrace their record, not hide from it. Maddow is right. There is no reason for Democrats to be afraid. They should embrace their record and shift the playing field away from ideological fantasy and back to reality. Democrats only stand to lose by embracing the GOP frame. The path to victory for Democrats involves acting like Democrats.