Excerpt: Interview with Arianna Huffington
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HAZEN: You have said that there is a need to rescue, resuscitate, reanimate, remake, rebrand, and redeem the Democratic Party. How can the D's refashion, reinvent themselves for success in the future?
HUFFINGTON: In 1992, the Republican Party found itself in very much the same position as Democrats do today: out of power (with the opposition controlling the White House and both houses of Congress), lacking a compelling core message, and facing the prospect of becoming what any number of pundits at the time deemedâ€”all together nowâ€”"a permanent minority party." John Ashcroft, then governor of Missouri, wrote in The Washington Post , "The Republican Party needs to shake itself loose from topdown management, undergo a grassroots renewal and adopt a vigorous, positive agenda that flows from the priorities, views and values of citizens who involve themselves in that process. ... Our party needs to frame its priorities more in terms of what we're for rather than what we are against." These are precisely the sentiments now being echoed throughout Democratic circles.
HAZEN: That's an interesting historical analogy. But what about the mechanics? How do you do it?
HUFFINGTON: These days, with cable TV and the internet working 24/7, getting to the tipping point can happen faster than ever. With the right message and the right strategies, Democrats can rapidly turn public opinion on its head, doing in 2006 what Republicans did in 1994. But if they are going to achieve a similarly spectacular reversal of fortune, the Democrats need to take a page out of the GOP playbook and ignore all siren songs urging them to lurch toward the victors. Instead, they must reclaim the party's true identity and return to the idealism, boldness, generosity of spirit, and core values that marked the presidencies of FDR and JFK, and the short-lived presidential campaign of Bobby Kennedy.
HAZEN: OK, they shouldn't go to the center. I understand that. But in a lot of politics, the devil is in the details ...
HUFFINGTON: Yes, I agree, here are some practical steps. Make sure that there is never another election held using electronic voting machines that don't leave a paper trail, or [with] voter suppression caused by long lines and not enough polling places in poor neighborhoods.
The D's shouldâ€”to paraphrase Shakespeareâ€”kill all the consultants, and while they're at it, do away with the bullheaded pollsters, too. The party needs to find and develop campaign teams that can run winning races in the 21st century, not keep rehiring the same professional losers election after election. Shouldn't there be an "eight strikes and you're out" rule?
Democrats also need to retool their party infrastructure. Conservatives have spent the better part of the last 30 years building a potent message machineâ€”a network of think tanks, policy centers, and media outletsâ€”that spends more than $300 million a year to promote its agenda. Democrats need to open their wallets and build their own well-funded message machine.
The Kerry campaign took in more than $82 million in online donations. Before that it was Dean. MoveOn was the pioneer. This combination of cyber savvy and sophisticated marketing must be used to help Democrats spread their message and build citizen participation.
The party needs to forge ahead with nascent efforts to recruit, train, and fund a better crop of candidates. As one film-director friend of mine put it, "It's ultimately about casting; I'm tired of voting for some guy who isn't right for the role but got the part anyway."