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a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

The road back isn’t all that long

Posted by Thomas Nephew on November 12th, 2004

51-48. Four more years. Gloom. Doom.

The defeat last week looms large, because of the bare-knuckled way the victors will cash in, if experience is any guide. It was heartbreaking to come back from so far down, to appear to be within reach of a win — and then lose after all.

But it was still just a three point loss; Kerry came within one state of winning the whole enchilada, “moral values” voters or not. There’s no need for Democrats to rend their garments and gnash their teeth. There’s just a need to get those three points. (Well, and six Senate seats. And/or a ton of House seats …. rend … gnash. Where was I?)

Tim Burke — a sociology professor whose “Easily Distracted” blog is always worth your while — wrote an impassioned article last week titled “The Road to Victory Goes Through the End of the Democratic Coalition.” Contrasting his approach with his friend Russell Arben Fox’s (alleged) vision of an “anti-capitalist, protectionist, anti-globalization” coalition, Tim Burke’s road “gives up on the red-staters, or at least on the people trapped in old dying rural communities.”

Well, that wouldn’t be hard, because as far as I can tell, a lot of Democrats never even got started with people and communities like those, let alone do anything to give up on. My point is, let’s not give up on people in the red states and counties of this country — at least not on all of them. Detailed maps of the 2004 election results — corrected for population density and shaded for percentage instead of winner-take-all blue or red — show that there were a lot of Kerry votes in nominally red states and red counties.* We needed a few more, that’s all – just 3 percent more nationally , even less than that in Ohio.

And the time to get busy with that is right now, all across the country. I kind of agree with Diana Moon that it would have been better if Kerry had waged a national campaign. (In a subsequent post — an excellent reader e-mail from Texas — Moon noticed that Howard Dean appears to agree.) I made a similar point to hers in my volunteer feedback to the Democrats:

I’d also say that [Kerry and Edwards] nearly backed themselves into a minority presidency. I realize resources are limited, but spending time in CA or NY might have jacked up the votes [especially turnout in CA — ed.] there to make it even closer than 51-48 — maybe even 49-50. And running ahead in the national polls is worth something, just as being a minority president is worth a little less than otherwise.

Of course, being a minority president is also worth a lot more than being a defeated candidate. I’ll just point out that these things are rarely that cut and dried; once you see your guy is behind in the national polls, you start to pay more attention to why, and things start slipping in the Ohios and Floridas, too.

Anyway, the beauty part is right now that doesn’t matter any more — we have the freedom to wage a national campaign, and we should now. Let’s not wait until 2006 or 2008 and be tempted or “forced” to concede whole states and regions to the GOP again.

What I’m not for, and what I sense in a number of “whither Democrats” articles I’ve read, is despair and exhaustion. I sense a tired willingness to give up on a truly national party, and/or a willingness to throw folks off the Democratic sled to keep ahead of the GOP/Christian right wolves — whether they’re gays looking for full equality, exploited employees looking to organize themselves, or other groups we may not yet even realize are on the menu. The wolves will feast — and then they’ll keep chasing the rest of us in our weaker sled. Democrats would deserve to go extinct if that happens.

All that said, I’m actually a centrist too on a number of these push-button domestic issues. I prefer cultural evolution to cultural revolution; negotiations to strikes or boycotts; a right to abortions that are safe, legal and rare. The thing to do is see where some give and take is possible on these issues, without either selling out the relatively powerless or conceding whole swathes of the nation to the other side.

The way to do that is to get out there and talk with people, particularly in red states and counties, and prove to more of them that Democrats and liberals are on their side on issues that matter. I’ll be sharing some ideas about that soon.

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* Via cousin Kate and blogger Iris; thanks!

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