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Can Democrats Learn From Blair?

My family was a Democratic voting machine up until my father reached his late 30's. I remember as a youngster the debates between my grandfather, my dad, and one of my cousins during the campaign for the presidency in 1980 between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Over 20 years later many people seem to remember this as a landslide victory that was a Reagan steamrolling, but in the popular vote and pre-election polls it was in fact a very close right up to election day.

The Electoral College victory was landslide win for Reagan: 489 EV's to Carter's 49 EV's. The election of 1980 signaled a shift in power from traditional Democratic strongholds in the Northeast and Midwest to the New South and Sun Belt where the population had been migrating for some time. I found an interesting site for those too young to remember or those just longing for a little election history, called The Living Room Candidate. The 1980 Election Page there is worth a visit.

Now on to my point about Tony Blair. Democrats lost the middle class beginning in the 1984 election between Reagan and Mondale. Mondale choose the McGovern campaign strategy of focusing on core constituencies, such as labor unions and minorities, rather that fighting Reagan in the New South and Sun Belt for the suburban middle class vote.

This excerpt from Tony Blair's speech to Congress typifies the type of candidate that the Democrats used to run for president.

So America must listen as well as lead. But, members of Congress, don't ever apologize for your values. (Applause.) Tell the world why you're proud of America. Tell them when "The Star-Spangled Banner" starts, Americans get to their feet -- Hispanics, Irish, Italians, Central Europeans, East Europeans, Jews, Muslims, white, Asian, black, those who go back to the early settlers, and those whose English is the same as some New York cab drivers I've dealt with -- (laughter) -- but whose sons and daughters could run for this Congress. Tell them why Americans, one and all, stand upright and respectful. Not because some state official told them to, but because whatever race, color, class or creed they are, being American means being free. That's why they're proud. (Cheers, sustained applause.)

As Britain knows, all predominant power seems for a time invincible, but in fact, it is transient. The question is, what do you leave behind? And what you can bequeath to this anxious world is the light of liberty. That is what this struggle against terrorist groups or states is about. We're not fighting for domination. We're not fighting for an American world, though we want a world in which America is at ease. We're not fighting for Christianity, but against religious fanaticism of all kinds. And this is not a war of civilizations, because each civilization has a unique capacity to enrich the stock of human heritage. We are fighting for the inalienable right of humankind -- black or white; Christian or not; left, right or merely indifferent -- to be free -- free to raise a family in love and hope; free to earn a living and be rewarded by your own efforts; free not to bend your knee to any man in fear; free to be you, so long as being you does not impair the freedom of others.

That's what we're fighting for, and it's a battle worth fighting. And I know it's hard on America. And in some small corner of this vast country, out in Nevada or Idaho or these places I've never been to but always wanted to go -- (laughter) -- I know out there, there's a guy getting on with his life, perfectly happily, minding his own business, saying to you, the political leaders of this country, "Why me, and why us, and why America?" And the only answer is because destiny put you in this place in history in this moment in time, and the task is yours to do. (Sustained applause.)

Democrats were the keepers of the moral flame

This quote from Joe Lieberman at the NAACP dog and pony show does not reflect well on the state of the Democrats:

"We didn't realize at the time, Al Gore and I, that we not only needed Kweisi Mfume fighting for justice here in Florida counting votes," Lieberman said, according to the New Republic. "We need him on the Supreme Court where the votes really counted. Maybe that'll happen some day."
When one of the most electable of all the Democratic candidates for president suggests appointing a non lawyer to the Supreme Court there is still clearly cause for concern. If anything the demographic shits have magnified the importance of places like California, Texas, Florida, Georgia, etc. The ultimate irony is the the Democratic candidate most suitable to win a general election, may in fact be the least likely to navigate the special interest laden Democratic primaries.

If just one of these candidates would sit down and study the Prime Ministership of Tony Blair, the British equivalent of a Democrat, then there might be a glimmer of hope for the Democrats.

Update: New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman agrees.


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Comments (5)

I agree with all of this wi... (Below threshold)

I agree with all of this with one minor quibble: I'm not sure why one has to be a lawyer to sit on the Supreme Court. Justices have law clerks to research the precedents and the statutes. The job of SCOTUS is to interpret the Constitution and to reconcile conflicting statutes. Lawyers seem not to be all that good at it. Maybe we should start appointing political scientists. Or, medical doctors, engineers, businessmen and others with intelligence and broad experience. Lawyers are, as a class at least, quite bright. But I'm not sure "thinking like a lawyer" is the best thing for the top appelate court.

Point taken. It might well... (Below threshold)

Point taken. It might well be an improvement. I've met Mfume and always thought him to be an upstanding leader. I've been quite disappointed with him this week however.

Yep. As I blogged yesterda... (Below threshold)

Yep. As I blogged yesterday, I was always impressed with him when he was in Congress. Didn't agree often, but found him highly articulate and reasonable. The NAACP James Byrd ad in 2000 permanently turned me off of that organization and, by extension, its leader.

I think the lessons from To... (Below threshold)

I think the lessons from Tony Blair are difficult ones to apply to what is, after all, a vastly different country. The Conservatives became unpopular because of the economy, and not because of high unemployment or the fact that they had squandered our North Sea oil wealth or destroyed our manufacturing industry.

Tony is popular because he speaks very eloquently, and from the heart. He gathered around him some of the best media manipulators around, in order to fight the Tory spin machine. He took care in the beginning to court the "middle classes" while not alienating his power base - the activists - too much. Unions over here, while important in terms of money, do not provide much input in terms of ideas or people on the ground.

Mostly our activists were energised by the fact that we could win, and that finally the long, dark Tory years were over.

Lessons for the Democrats? Listen to your focus groups. Radical ideas are not bad ideas (whoops) and bully, coerce and co-opt the media until they are onside. Perhaps reminding them that you will be in charge again at some stage will focus their minds?

But most of all: get out there and canvass like mad!

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