Tuesday, June 07, 2005

June 6, 2005

Is It Time To Run A Ticket?

It’s an old Will Rogers joke; “I don’t belong to an organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”

I never thought it was terribly funny and find it even less so now – not because it’s an untrue slur on my party, but because it’s true. Democrats have lost their groove. If the Democratic Party were a company analysts would say it lost brand recognition. This happened in part because it failed to adjust to changing demographics and market conditions. The Democratic Party brand was allowed to fragment and fade, even as its only competitor, the Republican Party, grabbed a growing market share.

In less than a decade the party of the common man, which since the Great Depression enjoyed mass-market appeal, dwindled to a niche player. Republicans, once the stogy Oldsmobile of national politics, built mass appeal. Today Republicans are the political equivalent of Microsoft/Intel to Democrats Apple Computer party. It was the triumph of marketing, style over substance, form over function.

Every day I get email from fellow progressives desperately floating names of Democrats who might be able to win office in the next general election. It;s an exercise in desperation and it entirely misses the point. The Democrat Pary has become so many things; it has become nothing in particular. And just putting up another pretty face or good-talker is not going to bring the Democratic Party back into the mainstream. No, this time it will take something revolutionary.

What Democrats need is nothing less than a product re-launch. In the last general election Dems hung their hopes on “ABB,” Anybody But Bush -- and we know how well that worked. This time those same geniuses at the DNC are hoping that by the time 08 rolls around voters will be so sick of Bush and his party they will vote Democrat by default.

It won’t work. I don’t care if they resurrect JFK, it still won’t work. Consumers no longer know what they are voting for when they vote for a Democrat. The party’s old knee-jerk labor and minority voters are largely gone. Big labor has been decimated by it’s own corruption, globalization and cheap illegal workers. Welfare reform meant Democrats could no longer buy minority votes with government handouts and programs.

So Democrat politicians have spent the last few years desperately trying to find new political footing, issues they can peddle for votes. It became every man and woman for themself, and the Balkanization of the Democratic Party. As a result the Democratic Party is now all over the political map. If you like the war in Iraq you have your Hillary or Liberman. If you hate the war in Iraq you can vote for Harkin, Biden and (belatedly) Kerry. Do you like your politics conservative? Then you can vote for members of Democratic Leadership Council. If you're married to gay politics you have Barney Frank. And, if you are to the right of the Dick Cheney you can get your fix from Zell Miller.

It's reached a point now that voters no longer have a clue what they would get if they elected a Democrat President.

Which is why I believe the time is ripe for Democrats to revitalize their brand with a revolutonary campaign in 2008. Instead of running an individual for President, they should assemble and run a ticket. Instead of asking voters to trust a single candidate, they should assemble a complete ticket, President, Vice President, a complete cabinet as well as key appointee posts like SEC and FCC commissioners, etc.

This ticket would not run on personal qualities of the individuals involved, but on a hardcopy platform. And not the kind of phony platforms both parties put forth now. (If traditional party platforms were subject to Federal Trade Commission rules both parties would have been locked up for false advertising decades ago.) No, The Ticket’s platform would be detailed and real. It would outline exactly what voters could expect if The Ticket won office. It would spell out exactly what they would do on environmental, social, fiscal and international affairs. So this time voters would not be voting for the people, but the platform, a platform every voter could hold, read, keep and hold The Ticket accountable for if elected.

I understand that we have a primary process to select candidates for President. And that process has, traditionally, focused on choosing individuals. But there is no law that says that a group of Dems could not create an entire administration-in-waiting instead, a ticket headed by a presidential candidate of their choosing. Then a vote for that person would be a vote for The Ticket - and, more importantly, its detailed platform.

Such a scheme would not preclude individual Dems from running in the primaries too. In fact, I hope they do. Hillary, Kerry, Biden. Let ‘em run as individual candidates. The Ticket's candidates will be selling their platform while individual candidates try to sell their personal qualities, real or imagined. Democrat voters could then choose between voting for the folks who come bearing a blueprint for change or for another pig in a poke individual candidate.

Running a ticket would not only solve the Democrats branding problem, but would have fringe benefits for an electoral process that has devolved into a something less than a scholarly debate on critical issues. Confronted by The Ticket’s detailed policies, opponents would be forced to debate those issues instead of personalities. Swift Boaters and their ilk would find little appetite for personal attacks as voters ponder The Ticket’s platform and look to the other side for thoughtful responses. The politics of personal destruction, used so effectively by the GOP, would find very little traction against the clearly defined policies of a blue ribbon ticket.

Imagine what a terrific general election that would be! A campaign in which an entire would-be administration canvassed the country selling their platform to voters!

Would such a ticket please every Democrat/liberal/progressive? Hardly. There will always be purists on the right and left who demand everything they want. I call these folks the Masada Democrats. They would rather jump off a cliff than give an inch on pet issues. But The Ticket could reassure enough former Democrats (like the Reagan Dems and those suckered to the GOP by so-called “value” issues,) to put the party back in the running. With the Supreme Court up for grabs, the environment in decline, and economy a hollow hulk just waiting to be blown over by the first major shock, a carefully assembled ticket that not only promised change, but described it would be – well, just the ticket. I can almost hear the refrain now, "I'm voting The Ticket this time."

Before you dismiss this idea out of hand, take a moment to try and imagine it. Imagine the impact it could have! Come on; let’s visualize it for a moment. I am going to put together a pretend Ticket. But don’t yell at me if I pick people you don’t like. This is just for pretend. Okay? I only want to put some flesh on this idea so it’s easier to imagine. Remember, the whole idea of The Ticket is that it’s not about the people as much as it is about a clearly stated platform that they would run on. And this is no time for us to be meek. The state of our union is critical, so it’s time to think big, and time for America's intellectual, political and business heavyweights to put aside their personal egos and ambitions and step up to the plate -- time to do their patriotic duty.

So here we go:

The Save-America-as-We-Knew-It Ticket

* President: George Mitchell
* Vice President: John Edwards
* Secretary of State: Richard Holbrook
* Attorney General: Elliot Spitzer
* Sec. of Defense: John McCain
* EPA: Al Gore
* Commerce: Warren Buffet
* Interior: Gov. Bill Richardson
* Treasury: Robert Rubin
* HHS: Donna Shalala
* Ambassador to the UN: Bill Clinton
* FCC Commissioner: Bill Moyers
* Homeland Security: Lee Hamilton

Okay, you get the idea. The Ticket would run as a unified candidate. A vote for Mitchell for President, for example, would be a vote for The Ticket – the whole ticket. A ticket with a plan – no, not just a plan … a contract. One might call it, a “contract with America.”

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