November 21, 2004

The Colorado Model

The Colorado approach sure sounds nice:
Colorado Democrats say their success carries a lesson for the national party. "We campaigned on pragmatism," state Democratic Chairman Christopher Gates said. "We set ourselves up as the problem solvers, while the Republicans were hung up on a bunch of fringe social issues like gay marriage and the Pledge of Allegiance.

"The notion that moral issues won the 2004 election was disproven in Colorado," Gates continued. "We offered solutions, not ideology, and won almost everything."
Two big things, it seems clear, worked to neutralize the traditional Democratic advantage on domestic policy in 2004. First, the Dems were ultimately the conservative party in this go around. Kerry's health care reinsurance scheme was radical and clever, but his plan also relied too much on Medicaid (which is, let's be honest, a dismal little program). His innovative "pay-for-performance" teacher plan never got much airtime. So that left a bunch of things Democrats were against. Against tax reform. Against slashing Social Security. Against NCLB in all its underfunded glory. That needs to change, and luckily the big-name pundits are already on it.

The second major problem—and Christopher Hayes' deserves credit for this discovery—is that most swing voters simply can't make the connection between their day-to-day problems and policy-oriented solutions. In Hayes words, voters acted "[n]ot in disbelief that [Kerry] had a plan, but that the cost of health care was a political issue. It was as if you were telling them that Kerry was promising to extend summer into December."

Now if the national Democrats wanted to follow their Colorado counterparts and frame themselves as problem solvers—and this seems like the way to go—they'd have to start by convincing voters that government can actually solve problems. Not just that "government is the answer," but even that government could conceivably be one in a range of solutions. On this score, Clay Risen's thoughts about using the deficit as a major issue are worth reading. The next step is to start cranking out clever fixes. Stygius claims that Andrew Romanoff in Colorado was a workhorse in this regard—though I'd like to hear more about exactly how Colorado Dems actually made their solutions attractive.

Lil' Update: I see that Digby, who is doing far more interesting writing on this subject, is somewhat against having the Dems merely offer "an argument and a program." His post is worth pondering, no question, but it's also entirely possible that the Democrats haven't been offering an "argument and a program", or not to the extent that the Colorado Dems did, and that's what's hurting them. I'm not convinced that the various voting blocs that comprise (or could comprise) the Democratic party can be wrapped up into a "tribe" as easily as the Republican blocs can--though a lack of imagination might be my problem here.
-- Brad Plumer 9:06 PM || ||