Ringside Seat: I'm Not a Wonk. I'm You.

After Democrats lost the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004, many on the left argued that part of their problem was that they approached politics through an often bloodless perspective centered on issues, while Republicans knew it was all about character. As one of us used to say when talking about this problem, in one election after another, the Democrat would come before the voters and say, "If you read my ten-point plan, you will see that my solutions are superior." The Republican would then point at the Democrat and say, "That guy hates you and everything you stand for." Republicans understood that politics isn't about issues, it's about character and identity.

Today, an RNC committee tasked with figuring out what the GOP can do to reverse its flagging fortunes in national politics released its report. "While Democrats tend to talk about people," the committee said, "Republicans tend to talk about policy. Our ideas can sound distant and removed from people's lives. Instead of connecting with voters' concerns, we too often sound like bookkeepers. We need to do a better job connecting people to our policies."

So what's going on here? Is it just natural that when you lose, you decide that your problem is that you were too concerned with issues, while those slick hucksters on the other side shrewdly tapped into voters' emotional responses? Maybe. And maybe Republicans really are just a bunch of hopeless wonks, poring over policy briefs late into the night. Or maybe it's just hard to make their policies all about people. So let's give it a shot: "There's a man I met not long ago on Long Island named Steve. He's been working hard to build a small business, and he told me that with all the taxes he has to pay and the regulations he has to follow, he's just not sure if it's worth it. When we're writing the laws, I'm not thinking just about lines on a spreadsheet, I'm thinking about Steve and his business. Now, as it happens, he lives in the Hamptons, his business is a hedge fund, and his concern is that we don't close the carried-interest loophole that treats the $40 million he made last year as investment income and not ordinary income. But the point is, we don't need more government!"

Sounds like a winning message.


So They Say

“LGBT Americans are our colleagues, our teachers, our soldiers, our friends, our loved ones. And they are full and equal citizens and deserve the rights of citizenship. That includes marriage. … I support it personally, and as matter of policy and law.”

 Hillary Clinton

Daily Meme: Iraq, Ten Years Later

  • Tomorrow marks the ten-year anniversary of the war in Iraq, and the past weeks have been filled with looks back at the high costs of the ongoing conflict, and what our many mistakes may mean for the future of the Middle East and American foreign policy.
  • The New York Times is collecting memories from veterans in a six-part series,personal stories that bring home the emotional toll that often makes casualties of the war's survivors.
  • On Wired's Danger Room, a former CIA analyst thinks back on his role in hyping up the agency's bad intelligence.
  • Peter Van Buren calls the war the biggest foreign-policy blunder we've ever made. 
  • Paul Wolfowitz admits to the Sunday Times that there were some pretty grave mistakes in the war calculus.
  • John Judis reflects on what it was like to be a dissenter from the very beginning.
  • Time Magazine collects the photographs that most moved the war's most prominent visual documenters. 
  • Foreign Policy had a former army colonel list the ten biggest mistakes we committed in Iraq.
  • While The Nation lists 16 "media outrages" over the course of the war.
  • If by now you need a point-by-point guide on how to reflect on Iraq, James Fallows has it.
  • Many local papers, like this one in Southern Mississippi, are taking note of the war's impact at home.
  • A poll in Britain shows that 55 percent of the populace believes that "a war sold on a false prospectus delivered little but bloodshed," while a Gallup polls shows that 53 percent of Americans think the war was a mistake.  
  • Seymour Hersh sums up the not-so-celebratory anniversary thusly: "Nothing succeeds in Washington like being tougher than the next guy. And woe to those who express doubt. In its article last May, the Times quoted retired Admiral Dennis Blair, the Obama Administration’s first director of National Intelligence, who was replaced after just sixteen months on the job, as saying that the drone and predator strikes were talked about as 'the only game in town'—in a way that 'reminded me of body counts in Vietnam.' Vietnam. And Iraq, and Afghanistan. We have a lot of anniversaries to forget."

What We're Writing

  • Forty-two people were killed in Chicago this January, most of them by firearms. Longtime Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell takes a look at how decades of racial segregation, economic segregation, and socialization have pushed the situation to this extreme.
  • The GOP's 2012 election postmortem has resulted in a 100-page report on how and why the party ought to change before 2016. The analysis is full of helpful suggestions on how to appear less threatening to women and minorities, but Jamelle Bouie points out that attitude change without policy change is no change at all.

What We're Reading

  • Forty years after Gideon v. Wainwright26 states lack statewide public-defender systems.
  •  Congress: "more like the lunchroom scene in Mean Girls than the gym scene in West Side Story."
  • Thomas Perez was just nominated to be Obama's new labor secretary, which could make him the most progressive member of the Cabinet. If Republicans let him get confirmed. 
  • Bill McKibben writes about the Massachusetts special election as a surprising hot zone on the environmental front.
  • Labor is in decline and so are America's creators—artists, writers, newspapermen, architects, musicians. Could a stronger unionization of our creative classes help to save both institutions? Maybe, but it looks like a long shot.
  • The liberals who are (maybe rightly) up in arms about Rob Portman's "hypocritical" turnaround on gay marriage might want to note that his personal journey was nearly the same as the President's.
  • Arkansas is passing on an expansion of Medicaid funding and using that same money to buy private health insurance for the same population. It's a more expensive option, but it's coming from an Obamacare-resistant state, and it's spreading to the others.
  • In an incredibly surprising turn of message, Rush Limbaugh has said that Republicans are getting "bamboozled" and that the problem isn't anything laid out in their report. It's that they aren't conservative enough.
  • There's a new trailer for season two of VeepEnjoy.

Poll of the Day

Americans, according to The Washington Post and ABC News, now favor legalizing gay marriage by an overwhelming margin, 58 percent to 36. Party breakdowns are predictable, with 72 percent of Democrats, 62 percent of independents and only 34 percent of Republicans in favor. Age works the same way—81 percent of young people support legalization and people way too old to have sexual opinions are standing in the way.