Winning Without Gains

So back to the Democracy Corps poll (no Josh Marshall-esque, never-ending cliffhangers here!). Let me go through the relevant results and then get to thoughts. The Republican party rates about 4% higher than we do, while Bill Clinton rates a smidge higher than the Republican party and George W clocks in at .4% above him (yes, I know we're leaving statistical significance here). Weirdly, when asked who they'll vote for in the 06 midterms, a Democrat or a Republican, respondents chose the good guys over the not-so-good, 46%-45%. When thinking about the presidential, Hillary beats Jeb, 50%-47%, and the hypothetical Bill v. George match-up gives Clinton the easy edge, 51%-46%.

When asked what direction the country should be heading in, Bush's or something totally different, totally different won effortlessly, 52%-45%. From there we go to comparative polls, the graphs of which I posted here. They show, basically, that the Democrats win on specific domestic issues, but Republicans win on general attributes ("know what they stand for", etc). Foreign policy wasn't a major focus of the poll.

So what we've got is a party whose individuals do just fine (remember kids, we've won the popular vote in three of the last four presidentials, and we would've made congressional gains in 2004 save for a bout of illegal redistricting in Texas) but the party itself, as a standalone structure, may well be more hurt than help to those carrying its flag. That is, of course, a problem. In some ways it returns to the argument I was having with Matt a few days ago. Democrats, right now, are doing an excellent job of foiling Bush's legislative strategy and thus protecting Americans from privatization. But that success is not conferring benefits on the party itself. Maybe that's just because few Americans are tuned in, and when we run against privatization in 2006 we'll see the gains. In fact, I'd bet there's an element of that in the mix. But when total success is doing you no good whatsoever, you know there's a problem.

So what's the answer? Blah blah party-building blah blah blah. But in the specific, we really have to be more overt about tying our opposition to our party, which is to say embracing what we oppose and what we support as characteristics of Democrats rather than the battle lines of a particular congressional battle. That's why we need some general Democratic media representatives like Dean really pounding away at the connection between this fight and the Democratic/Republican philosophies. Beyond that, that's why we really need to increase the coherence between the Democratic thinkers (like the national security experts at Democracy Arsenal, which has now been recommended by everyone but me) and ordinary Democrats. Beyond that, it's back to Bill Bradley's pleas to build a stable pyramid of our own and create an institution where our party is stronger than its candidates.

Yeah, I know, this is all standard. And I hate to be a Cassandra about all this, but I fear we're getting so excited about defeating Bush's Social Security plan that we're not noticing how little good it's doing our party. What we've got, thus far, is just a good first step. We've put the President on the defensive and found a ripe issue for the election. But you know what? We've had good first steps before. It's all part of our inverted pyramid: rather than building a solid foundation for the next election, we just hope that whatever's going on at the moment will be enough to take down the right. It rarely is. What's going on at the moment has to also boost us. Gingrich understood that, and used the defeat of health care as a starting point to nationalize and sell a Republican message about limited government and establishment hubris. We're being presented with the same opportunity, and we need to approach it with the same vision. This poll should be plenty of evidence for that.