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June Cleaver Democrats redux

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June Cleaver Democrats redux

by digby

I happened upon this post this morning and was struck by the fact that I’ve been arguing about the Democratic Party‘s fixation on “kitchen table issues” — and losing on them — for quite a long time:

Monday, April 02, 2007

June Cleaver Democrats

by digby

Matt Stoller does good work here taking this egregious WaPoJonathan Weisman piece apart. He also addresses the one quote that came leaping out at me when I read it:

Leon E. Panetta, who was a top White House aide when President Bill Clinton pulled himself off the mat through repeated confrontations with Congress, sees the same risk. He urged Democrats to stick to their turf on such issues as immigration, health care and popular social programs, and to prove they can govern.

“That’s where their strength is,” Panetta said. “If they go into total confrontation mode on these other things, where they just pass bills and the president vetoes them, that’s a recipe for losing seats in the next election.”

I don’t know about anyone else, but when I read that my immediate reaction was as if he’d said:

“You girls need to stick to the subjects people think you’re good at — cooking and cleaning and childcare. That’s where your strength is. If you try to confront the big boys on the important stuff like national security, war and foreign policy, it’s a recipe for losing seats.”

This, by the way, was the advice coming from the establishment Dems for years. Here’s the memo(pdf) that Stan Greenberg, Bob Shrum and James Carville sent around in 2002 before the Iraq war vote:

This decision will take place in a setting where voters, by 10 points, prefer to vote for a Member who supports a resolution to authorize force (50 to 40 percent). In addition we found that a Democrat supporting a resolution runs stronger than one opposing it. For half the respondents, we presented a Democratic candidate supporting the resolution. Among these voters, the generic congressional vote remained stable, with the Democrats still ahead by 2 points at the end of the survey. In the other half of the sample, we presented a Democrat opposed to the resolution. In this group, the Democratic congressional advantage slipped by 6 points at the end of the survey.


The debate and vote on the resolution will bring closure on the extended Iraq debate that has crowded out the country’s domestic agenda as Congress concludes. But there is substantial evidence, as we indicated at the outset, that voters are very ready to turn to domestic issues. It is important that Democrats make this turn and provide a compelling reason to vote Democratic and turn down the Republicans.

In this survey, we tested two message frameworks – one offers a transition to the domestic agenda (“We need independent people in Washington who will be a check on what is going on and pay attention to our needs at home”) and one focuses on corporate influence (“Washington should be more responsive to the people and less to big corporate interests”). Both frameworks defeat the Republican alternative that begins with support for the President’s efforts on security.

It is worth noting that we lost that election and the vote for the war has twisted presidential candidates up in knots ever since then. This was just terrible advice. There was never going to be any margin in Democrats backing Bush’s war if it went well.  And if it didn’t, voting for it would dog them.

And at the crux of it was the notion that Americans want Democrats to talk about domestic issues and all this national security stuff is something to get off the table. It just doesn’t work that way. The issues are the issues and Democrats have to address them with seriousness of purpose no matter what they are.

Even if you buy into this ridiculous mommy party/daddy party nonsense, as the establishment seems to do, you should ask yourself if “mommy” has any responsibility for keeping the family safe and being a good neighbor or if she’s just supposed to sit at home and care for the grandparents and tend the childrens’colds? No healthy family that I know of divides the labor like that in the modern world and this outmoded stereotype of Democrats as June Cleaver almost killed us.

The 50’s sitcom fantasy of the good wife is not a definition of leadership, whether it’s as a parent or a president, and Democrats who persist in seeing the two parties this way need to take a look at their assumptions. People care about domestic matters and foreign policy and national security and health care and —- everything. These things are prioritized according to circumstances and the times, but the responsibility for the whole panoply of issues falls to every politician who seeks office. You don’t get to take any issues off the table and any party that does that is in trouble.

I would suggest that it was when the Democrats finally took the issue of Iraq seriously that the country began to take them seriously. And it wasn’t because it was a “daddy issue.” It was because it was the most important issue on the table. It still is.

There are a number of domestic issues that are also becoming priorities and people will expect the Democrats to deliver. And they will, I have no doubt. The Democrats are brimming with ideas from all over the political spectrum about how to deal with economic policy, health care, immigration, labor etc. But they are going to have to walk and chew gum at the same time. In fact, after the mess the Republicans have made, they are going to have to walk, talk, dance and levitate while blowing bubbles in order to set things straight. But they have to do them all and they have to do them well. Ignoring the illegal Iraq occupation and the ever expanding list of Bush crimes won’t make them go away.

Update: Greg Sargent reads all the articles in the Washington Post so the writers and editors don’t have to. Unsurprisingly, he finds that their latest poll contradicts everything Weisman said.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Today they are saying that voters don’t really care about the fact that we have an immoral, criminal imbecile in the White House who is changing our constitutional system in ways that are paving the way to a full-fledged authoritarian autocracy because all that concerns them is “kitchen table issues.” 
How’s that been working out for us? 

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