Since they lost the 2004 elections, Democrats have been giving each other a tremendous amount of free advice. There will be a slew more as the 2006 midterm elections approach - plenty of expensive advice, too.
Nobody has asked for mine. That is about all the motivation I need to offer some, on the house. I think the Democrats should shelve all the fancy thinking about how they need to develop a new "values vocabulary," reframe old issues in news terms, learn how to use God-talk, be more daddy and less mommy, capitalize on the Abramoff scandals or become the post-Katrina party of "competent government."
Democrats need to do two simple things: look at the 2005 party fundraising reports and read the speech Karl Rove delivered last Friday to the Republican National Committee. A whole lot will get real simple if they do that. They'll realize they need a boatload more money and some knockout punch lines for campaign debates.
Let's start with the easy stuff: money. Everyone said Howard Dean would have trouble raising money as the party chair and everyone was right. The Democratic National Committee enters 2006 with $7.3 million in the bank, the RNC with $31.9 million (figures from the Center for Responsive Politics). That's a problem.
The DNC raised $167 million to the RNC's $238 million. Proportionately, Dean has done a little better in 2005 than his party did in 2003 and 2001, but worse than 1999. It's not that Democrats aren't in a giving mood. Under Charles "Microphone Moth" Schumer, the Democratic Senate committee has raised $6 million more than the GOP's committee.
This appears to be a Dean-specific problem. The boom of Internet, little-guy fundraising he promised hasn't yet materialized. He has installed a new moneyman and hired professionals in all 50 states – something new, oddly enough. Still, despite what seems to be a tsunami of Bush-hating in the blue world, the Democrats will go into the midterms underfinanced against a party that really knows how to spend campaign money in smart ways. You don't have to be a linguist or a neo-anything to know that's a bad thing.
But is Dean the role model they want for 2006? Certainly not. No money, lousy spokesman: so why did they pick him again?
War chests matter less than zeitgeist. But if the Democrats have the wind of history at their back this year, the wind is not being funneled into anything visible to mere mortals. The Republicans don't have that problem of clarity and simplicity of message: witness Mr. Rove's address.
The 2006 GOP/Rove platform can easily be put on an index card, if not a Post-it note. It reads something like this: we are at war against foreign terrorists who want to kill you and your society and we'll do what it takes to stop it and the Democrats won't; we will cut your taxes and give you money and Democrats won't. Every Republican candidate in the country can spit that one out.
The controversy over domestic surveillance without warrants illustrates the efficient, black and white clarity of the Rovian message. Rove said, "Let me be as clear as I can: President Bush believes if al Qaeda is calling somebody in America, it is in our national security interest to know who they're calling and why. Some important Democrats clearly disagree."
Please draft a two sentence response that will work in a TV ad; my guess is it will sound as convoluted as John Kerry explaining why his vote for war was a vote against war.
Democrats thought the domestic surveillance revelations were a boon; if that were the case, why would the administration be devoting this week to a public campaign to trumpet the issue? Simple: because they think they have the gut punch: we'll protect you, they won't.
Top that with some Jack Abramoff shtick, I dare you. Give me a 'heck of a job, Brownie' gag line that will trump that. Go ahead, make my day and rehash the WMD-lies arguments of Campaign 2004.
The Republican soundbite hasn't changed since September, 2001; the Democrats have a new mantra with every news cycle. The Republicans have more dollars than the Democrats. Those are facts. My advice to Democrats is simple: face the facts.
Dick Meyer, a veteran political and investigative producer for CBS News, is the editorial director of CBSNews.com, based in Washington.
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By Dick Meyer