Thursday, June 22, 2006

Democrats decide they need some new ideas

Republicans have for years been making fun of how Democrats keep recycling their old ideas and now it seems that some Democrats agree. They have idea-envy of conservative think tanks and journals that generate new approaches to old problems and want some of that good ol' thinking thing to work for them too. So, as the Washington Post reports, two groups are starting two new Democratic journals to try to generate some new approaches for their party. First they had to convince themselves that there was an actual need for new ideas.
Doug Hattaway, a Democratic communications consultant who worked for Al Gore's presidential campaign in 2000, recalled a moment of epiphany during a focus group of Democratic operatives and marketing professionals he attended last year. The participants were asked to say what Democratic accomplishments they were most proud of. Their responses filled several pages on a flip chart set up in the focus group facility. "We all realized there was nothing there within the past 30 years," Hattaway said.
I'd love to see that flip chart and try to match up their list of accomplishments with what those programs had actually accomplished and whether the unintended consequences of some of those solutions had actually created more problems than the solutions. But that's another story.

Having realized that there was nothing from the past 30 years that they were proud of, they decided that there was a need for a new journal. Such Democratic thinkers are rather fed up with their elected representatives.
Baer offered a sharper critique of the politicians, criticizing as poll-driven and uninspired the 2006 campaign agenda issued by congressional Democrats. "You could go through it line by line and write the poll questions that generated each line," he said.
Let me assure you gentlemen, Republicans across the nation are familiar with feeling that way about their elected representatives.

I welcome the efforts of the Democrats to try to come up with new approaches to old problems. They may even find that some of the proposals that conservatives have come up with from their think tanks and journals have some merit. There is no reason, other than politics, that a liberal thinker should automatically oppose such ideas as school choice or personal health accounts. Once you get past the pressures from various interest groups, liberal and conservatives may actually find that they have similar goals, such as helping students in failing schools get a better education, and be willing to assess proposals on their merits rather than on their politics.

However, as David Broder writes today, these two new journals, Democracy Journal and The Democratic Strategist, the new so-called new ideas seem to be mostly the same old ideas.
They declare that "The Democratic Strategist will be firmly and insistently based on facts and data. It will seek strategies rooted in empirical research from the fields of public opinion research, political demography and other social sciences and will avoid empty rhetoric and abstract theorizing."

Would that it were so. That kind of intellectual discipline is sorely needed in Democratic debates. But the first issue is filled with pieces in which familiar Democratic names take up familiar positions, with few of them bothering to adduce any evidence to support their views.

Thus, we have blogger Jerome Armstrong, a Kos partner, arguing for mounting campaigns everywhere, no matter the odds; Robert Borosage of the leftist Campaign for America's Future inciting Democrats to take on Big Oil and all of corporate America; civil rights activist Donna Brazile plumping for cleaning up elections; and the Kennedy School of Government's Elaine Kamarck arguing that Dukakis-style "competence" should be the Democrats' battle cry.
Sounds like the same old, same old.

Broder has more hope for the other journal, Democracy Journal. At least some of the articles seem to be genuinely new if impracticable.

I welcome these Democrats to the world of ideas. Wouldn't it be marvelous to see our politicians debate the efficacy of proposed solutions rather than demonizing each other for their politics? Perhaps, something will trickle down to the Democratic politicians such as Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid who are struggling to enunciate a platform for 2006 and are just recycling old slogans or jumbling up the same old poll-tested phrases. These thinkers might also want to take a glance at the big issues of our time and see if they have anything to say about terrorism and the war in Iraq.