Winning in 2004
By Steve Kirsch (650) 279-1008 email@example.com
Version 48 / January 10, 2002
Democrats need to set out clear goals and lay out the strategies for
achieving those goals. That requires leadership in bringing
Democrats together, being bold, taking risks, demanding unity and being strong
in challenging the President and Republicans. Democrats also need to be
optimistic about America's future, rather than simply dour about the
Republicans. We need to provide hope like Clinton, Reagan, and Kennedy did. That's what
Americans respond to.
As a major supporter of the Democrats in 2000 and 2002, I was very sorely
disappointed in the elections and, along with other significant supporters of
the Democratic party, have engaged in some serious thinking about what it takes
to get us back on the winning path. This document contains information on why a
dramatic shift is necessary and how it can be achieved.
Unless the Democrats start acting as a team (such as uniformly opposing Bush
when he is wrong), we will have no chance of winning in 2004. The sooner
Democrats make a change from
the "business as usual" approach (allowing party fragmentation and
supporting the President even when he's wrong) to a more team oriented approach
that builds party credibility and equity, the better our chances of winning in 2004.
The core concepts are simple. To win in 2004, we must have:
- Shared long-term goals. Democrats must align behind a core set of specific and measurable
long-term common goals. Today, we have not one single shared long term goal
in any key area of importance to Americans (e.g., education, national
security, taxes, etc). Ten long-term goals (one in each key area) would
suffice. It would be our own version of "Contract with America,"
but the set of 10 long-term goals should be developed in a more
collaborative process than what the Republicans used. There must also be
viable and realistic strategies to achieve each goals or they will not be
real. See A process for winning in 2004
for details. To achieve the "echo effect" we need, you
must be consistent over time. That is why stable long-term goals (that don't
change every 4 years) are critical.
- Party discipline and commitment. We need real commitment behind the goals. Democrats must start talking and
voting as a unified party on all key core Democratic goals (and issues denoted by the
leadership as key). There must be party discipline and consequences if you are a member of the
team and decide to vote against the team (just as the Republicans do).
Today, we allow party diversity without any consequence. We have
fragmentation because we permit it. They had fragmentation before Gingrich.
It is like we are a bunch of independent football players each with our own
game plan on each play and we are playing a football game against the New
England Patriots who play as a team and are even introduced as a team. Why
should we be surprised when we lose every point? Enforcing party discipline will mean
some Members may choose to switch to the Republican party. We must not be
afraid to let them go.
- Stop believing we can't do it. We are our own worst enemy because
we believe our own bullshit. I've heard too many Senators tell me about how
the Democratic party is so diverse that shared goals are not possible. This
is a self-fulfilling prophecy... it's only true because people believe it is
true. But consider the ramifications "if" it were true. For
example, if it were true, then what does the party stand for? The answer is
nothing because we can agree on nothing. I can guarantee you that a party
that promises and commits to nothing won't win any elections. There must be
shared goals and the leadership needs to make decisions and get commitment.
Those who want to leave the party have a choice: (a) support the leadership,
(b) become an independent and get nothing done, or (c) join the Republicans
where they will be forced to support their goals. We need a Democratic
version of the "Contract with America." The Republican did it. We
- Effective message packaging and "echo effect" delivery. We can then "package" those core serious goals into something
marketable, catchy, and something that both energizes our base and reaches
out to disaffected voters. Unity and commitment allows us to create an echo
effect so that our message is heard. Without that, we lose every vote and the public will continue
not to hear any Democratic messages. We also need 2-3 strong leaders to
stand up and constantly and consistently send a very strong message for the
party. Finally, and most importantly, we will be able to deliver only one
key message to the voters in 2004 that they will remember. We must define
that one key message and then determine the best time to start delivering
it....over and over again as well as align all our sub-messages (and
critiques of Republican policies) to support it. Can you remember the single
core message of Gore's campaign in 2000? I can't and I was his biggest
supporter. Let's not repeat this
mistake. Also, Members should find out what
the official party position is on issues before they talk with the press.
They don't have to agree with the position, but they should at least
understand and be able to articulate it.
- Leadership that pays close attention to messaging. I spoke with one
of the key members of the Democratic leadership in Congress about the
Democratic response to Bush's January 2003 State of the Union speech. This
is a wonderful opportunity to get our message out to millions of Americans
who are wondering what happened to the Democratic party. I asked what the
key messages that will delivered are. I was told that there was nothing in
writing...it was all informal input. He could not articulate to me what the
message was going to be. If a top leader of the Democratic party in Congress
doesn't know what the key messages we are delivering are, then how is the
public supposed to figure it out? How will we ever echo effect if there is
nothing to echo? To beat Bush in 2004, there needs to be thinking done now
so that there is a specific deliberate strategy to reinforce key messages over time. Each major event
like the rebuttal is an opportunity to move the ball ahead on laying the
groundwork for Bush's defeat as we execute the strategic plan.
- A unified party that is not afraid to oppose Bush when he's wrong. Democrats must start opposing the President when he is wrong as E.J.
Dionne Jr pointed out in his excellent article "Democratic Catastrophe"
referenced below. To do otherwise, builds up the President and reduces our
credibility. Not a single Senate Democrat who voted against the Bush
2001 tax cut was defeated. Tom Harkin openly campaigned on his
opposition to the unfairness of that tax cut - and, facing his toughest
opponent, won by his biggest margin ever.
- A party that offers specific goals and proven strategies for attainment
of those goals, rather than rhetoric. For example, in Bush's proposed
economic recovery plan, the Democratic response was "his plan helps the
rich. Here's our plan: do x, y, and z." That's a really weak response
because (1) we should have pointed out that he had no specific goals (such
as "create X jobs by date Y") (2) by not pointing that out,
we lost an opportunity to again emphasize that he is a poor leader; that
real leaders set goals and meet them and Bush just articulates problems and
solutions and never is held accountable (by the Democrats or anyone else) to
explain how exactly he can justify that his strategies meet any of his (non-existent)
goals, (3) we attacked his plan with a correct, but totally irrelevant
argument because if his goal is to stimulate the economy and if he can show
that tax cuts for the rich are the most cost effective way to do it, then
you can't fault Bush for not solving the problem! We should have focused on
asking him to show the connection between tax cuts for the rich and job
creation or specific improvement in one or more major economic indicators.
You can then bolster the questioning of his logic with data that shows that
his strategies do not in fact achieve the result he is trying to achieve.
Then you are truly focusing on approaches that solve the issue, rather than
focusing on saying that his approach benefits the rich. Who cares if the
rich benefit if the problem is solved? The bottom line is we should have
done these four simple things (and we didn't do any of the four): 1) point
out Bush has no specific economic goals to be held accountable to, 2) point
out that the dots don't connect; that his strategies don't achieve those
(non-existent) goals and furthermore that that it is totally nonsensical,
irresponsible, and the mark of a poor leader to lay out strategies if you
don't have any specific goals that those strategies are designed to achieve
, 3) articulate your goals and explain why those are the right goals to
focus on (e.g., create X jobs by date Y), and 4) clearly lay out to the
American people how much each of your proposed strategies will contribute to
achieving each of your goals so that if all of your strategies are
implemented then the goals are 100% attained.
- A unified infrastructure. Our support infrastructure must also be team oriented. We need a common
core to the DNC, DCCC, and DSCC. That common core should include things like
training politicians and staffs on running their campaigns and the mistakes
of the past, donor development (so we approach a donor once rather than 3
times), technology infrastructure, etc.
- Leadership that stops trying to please everyone: We don't need to move to the left or to the center. The entire platform
must appeal to more voters than their platform to win so there is a wide
latitude for a set of acceptable goals. Some of the 10 goals might be left, some
right, and some middle. My favorite saying is that Democrats use polls to
find out their message and Republicans use polls to find out how to get
their message across. The Republicans are absolutely right on here and we
are flat out wrong. Instead, our goal selection must be focused on what America
really needs, not a calculus on how many votes we will get with each
individual position or on whether a particular goal will be acceptable to
the Blue Dogs, the CBC, and everyone in between. The former is leadership, the latter is followership.
A set of 10 good goals where there is consistency over time and commitment
of the Members is much better than 10 great goals which change over time or
do not have the commitment of the Members. Ten bold, specific goals that
create a better future for America are much better than a set of 10
that make everyone happy. Leadership is all about making tough choices and not
everyone is going to get everything they want. But that's better than
getting none of what you want because you fail to make any choices at all. Candidates should run first as Democrats supporting all
core party issues. Then
the voter has a choice between their team or our team. Our focus should be
on communicating how voters will benefit, and being consistent with our
example, blue collar Democrats in Minnesota told pollsters and reporters
that while they didn't agree with all of Wellstone's views, they voted for
him because he was a man of principle and conviction and a fighter for the common man and
they valued that in their elected officials more than his specific position
on any particular issue. Yet today, on a very clear issue such as the war in
Iraq, the leadership in the House and Senate has not established any
position at all for the party on this issue, despite the fact that more than
half the members of the House signed a letter to give the inspections time
to work and an overwhelming majority of the American people feel the same
way. Our Democratic leaders are acting like they are reluctant followers.
- A single leader who steps up to the plate: The Democratic response
to Bush's State of the Union speech is supposed to be an opportunity to get
our message out. Yet, the speech is created by a bunch of people with input
from a bunch of people. There is no central decision making. So there is no
message (because you'll never get consensus on a message) and there is no
single decision maker so changes are nearly impossible. The result is a
least common denominator speech that says nothing new and sidesteps the war.
And that's what we delivered. We aren't doing anyone any favors....certainly
not our constituents because we aren't even standing up for what they want
(which is a party that will oppose Bush's leading us into war). We need
someone in charge here who will take responsibility and ownership and make
the tough decisions and go after Bush, not make nice like we've been doing.
Without a Democratic President, we act like an army who lost its commander
and puts in place several substitute commanders who follows what the troops
want, rather than leads the troops. The spin room after the rebuttal speech
is a perfect example: different messages from each person. No echo effect.
No strong single message that the biggest threat to our national and
economic security is from President Bush's policies.
- Presidential candidates who share the goals: Presidential candidates should also align behind and adopt all 10 core
Democratic goals. Today, we don't set any long term measurable goals as a party.
Even worse, we shift any goals we do have every 2 to 4 years. Is it any
surprise that we don't get much of
significance done? Imagine a jet plane that tries to fly from LA to NY and
every 500 miles the passengers decide on a new destination. The plane never gets
anywhere. There is plenty of opportunity for differentiation between
policies, priorities, and personality. A good advertising slogan that is consistent and
repeated by everyone over many years is much better than a great slogan that
doesn't get adopted or repeated. We need to have an echo effect to be heard.
That means all our candidates must be on the same team and articulating the
same core goals. We need party unity and we need to walk the talk.
- A plan of action for winning in 2004: Party leaders must assemble a brain
trust to begin working right now on crafting a national political strategy
to win in 2004. We cannot afford to wait a moment longer, the GOP certainly
isn't. Our strategy should begin execution as soon as possible using tactics as
forceful as those they have used on our candidates.
- Our own Heritage Foundation: We must create an organization dedicated to
aligning the efforts of progressive groups behind our strategy and
assisting in message creation and delivery in a tough and highly
professional manner that facilitates media coverage. There also needs to be
a highly professional PR organization that a Member can go to to be heard by
the press on selected, key issues. This organization would work with the
Member on positioning as well as setting up interviews, etc. with the right
members of the press. For example, when one very senior lawmaker was asked
"Did you call Peter Jennings about your position?" replied,
"Do you think he would talk to me?" They should also hold a weekly
meetings to get everyone on board with the key messages on the current top
issues. It should include press, progressive groups, and members of
Congress, just like Grover Norquist does.
There you have it. All of this can be done. The Republicans do it. There is
no reason that we can't do it too but we don't even try. The alternative is
getting nothing done, having less control, and becoming less relevant over time.
The conventional thinking in
Washington seems to be one of excuses...1) the Democratic party is too diverse, we are too big a
tent to have common goals; 2) even if you had specific long term common goals
i.e. "reduce our dependence on foreign oil by 20% by the year 2020",
you can't expect Members from auto manufacturing states to vote in favor of
increased CAFE standards; and 3) Democrats have to be seen to be supporting the
President, especially on national security issues, or they risk defeat at the
polls. But this is only true when there is weak leadership and no party unity.
If Democrats continue to accept conventional wisdom, they'll lose again in
2004 because it will mean that they don't challenge Bush and if we don't
challenge Bush, he'll become even stronger. Therefore, if we are to get anywhere
at all, we must change the mindset in Congress. Our leaders must set goals and
demand that Members stand up for the goals and principles of the Democratic
party. There is no excuse for the party leaders not exercising the strong
leadership the Democratic party so desperately needs and demanding that Members
of Congress act as a team and making sure that there are consequences for
straying from the party's goals and letting the team down. Democrats are the
true party of the people so if we can achieve party unity on our goals and act
as a team, we will win.
If a Member chooses not support one
of the shared Democratic goals, that Member is expected be both clear and consistent with
his position with both constituents and the Democratic leadership, during the
campaign and after election. That way, at least people who voted for this Member would know
exactly what he stood for and exactly why he has chosen to not to support a key
The confirmation of Tom Ridge is an interesting
test case of this. Should he be confirmed? If the research confirms he is mediocre
and under qualified, then
opposing his confirmation is an opportunity to show America that Democrats
really are tougher on national security than Republicans are and make
Bush look like he cares more about his friends than the welfare of
the country. I wouldn't trust my money to someone without a long
proven track record of success in financial management. So why should I trust my
life to someone with no track record and virtually no experience
whatsoever in national security? To make our opposition to Ridge more productive
and not appear "obstructionist," we should suggest a candidate(s) with
the necessary experience in place of Ridge.
If you thought this document was valuable, email me and let me know.
What I'm doing
Beyond asking members of Congress to set goals for the party and start working as
a team, I'm asking 5 to 10 experts in each of the 11 areas for
their best idea for a vision and a single key goal so that I can provide that
list (which can be thought of as a Chinese menu of goal options) to the
leadership in Congress as well as the people running for President.
Overall Democratic mission/Vision
If they pick anything from the list in one or more areas, the country will
Example 1: Sample energy vision, top goal, key strategies (Note:
this is an example showing the form of what I mean by
vision/goal/strategy, not a specific proposal)
||Power the country on 100% renewable, non-polluting sources
|Current top goal
||Reduce dependence on foreign oil by 20% by 2020
||Increase CAFE standards by X mpg by 2010. This will force our
manufacturers to incorporate proven technologies and materials that will
dramatically improve mileage at no increase in purchase price or reduction
in vehicle safety.
Provide special incentives for plug-in hybrids, both to manufacturers
Align government incentives for consumers, manufacturers, and fueling
infrastructure exclusively behind direct H2 powered fuel cell vehicles. Note that focusing a single path, even if it is not the perfect
path, is better than defocusing your efforts; a startup company is a
perfect analogy... you pick the one product you want to do, then put all
the wood behind one arrow. You are more likely to be successful this way
than trying to pursue every good idea. Leadership is all about picking
specific paths, not catering to every path (as we do now).
A government-private partnership on a grand scale with a financial
commitment at least equal to the monies currently being spent on homeland
security and the preparation for war with Iraq. For example, allocate
government funds for investment in startup companies with strategic or
revolutionary technologies (such as Amory Lovin's Hypercar Inc), as well
as strategic fuel cell R&D
Example 2: Sample education vision, top goal, key strategies
||Provide the best K-12 education system in the world
|Current top goal
||Be ranked in the top 10 internationally by 2020
||Provide financial incentives to the states and local school
districts that adopt best practices, whether they be standards,
curriculum, materials, teacher compensation structures, etc. This isn't rocket science at all. You simply copy what
works. You look at the countries which always rank at the top in
international tests and you identify best practices in key areas that are
proven to make a difference (these might be teacher compensation,
principal training, adoption of national standards, curricula, and
assessments, etc). Provide federal incentives to states and local school
districts for each best practice that is adopted; the more best practices,
the higher the total incentive.
Another simple approach is to pick a state that has made the most
progress (such as Connecticut) and provide incentives to other states that
adopt policies consistent with the key policies adopted by the most
Feedback on "Winning in 2004"
A collection of e-mails I've received about this document
Should Ridge be confirmed by the Senate?
A look at the pros and cons
Democratic Catastrophe by EJ Dionne Jr
An excellent concise op-ed on why we lost in 2002 and what we need to do.
A process for winning in 2004
The original version of this document with a lot more detail including 1)
listing of the 10 key areas, 2) examples of vision, goal, and strategy
statements look like, and 3) a workable process for coming up with long term
Democratic goals. Also contains the full unedited "rant" of a core
Some specific goal ideas in the 10 key areas
A collection of ideas for consideration when coming up with the 10 goals
Third party suggestions for 10 key goals
Here are what experts recommended
Ad ideas for winning in 2004
A collection of ideas for PR/advertising campaigns around specific issues
Education goals- 3 guiding principles
A short email listing 3 guiding principles for use in the selection of an
education goal. Linda Darling Hammond said it was "right on!"