Does Pelosi Really Get It?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Does Pelosi Really Get It?

The Boston Globe's Derrick Jackson was among the group of African-American newspaper columnists who recently sat down and talked with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Jackson writes:
The House minority leader said, "This is our moment. I can't answer for how anybody did it before. This is how we're doing it." Pelosi said this, knowing how the party's dentures dropped out in 2000 and 2004.

... "The way they've come at us in the past has been gays, guns, and God: abortion, gay marriage, and guns, and they've had some success with that with people whose personal interests are served by voting Democratic," Pelosi said.

"I maintain that's because they've not heard a Democratic economic message that addresses their needs. They haven't heard anything with the clarity that they need .... With no criticism of the presidential candidates, I don't know if the message they had reached these same people whose interests are served by a Democratic agenda but voted Republican for president."

She added that there were parts of the country in 2004 where voters did not "know anything about the Democrats except Kerry and windsurfing."

She said, "In the absence of a strong Democratic message, they [gays, guns, and God] play bigger. You're down in Appalachia [Kerry lost Kentucky, West Virginia, and Indiana by between 13 and 21 percentage points], you don't hear anything about how you're going to get a job, how your kids are going to get a better education, or how you're going to get health care. So the Republicans come in and say [the Democrats] are going to take your gun away, take their Bibles away. What they did was clever."
It's hard to disagree with these comments by Pelosi. But I still wonder if Pelosi understands that what ails the Democrats is greater than the message itself.

Effective messages require repetition and reinforcement. A political party has to communicate these messages regularly -- not simply every 2 years, between Labor Day and Election Day. Democrats must have a structure in Ohio, West Virginia, Nevada, Missouri and other battleground states that is active 52 weeks of the year. This is why state-level parties are so crucial.

Democrats must define their goal for 2006 in ways that go beyond simply winning the U.S. Senate and U.S. House. Winning more governships and state legislatures has got to be viewed with more importance than it has been in the past.

Messages have to be broken down to soundbites that speak to Americans' core values -- fairness, opportunity, security, etc. And the Dems need to put some real, tangible ideas behind their soundbites. One example: Pledging to launch a major public-private R&D project to make America energy independent by 2018 -- or whatever year seems realistic. Bitching about Exxon-Mobil's profits isn't good enough.

But the Dems are unlikely to get much traction from '06 if they gain seats in Washington while making no progress at the state level.

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