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Communicating Democrats’ Agenda for the ‘Common Good’

May 21st, 2007

All the polls today point to a significant Democratic advantage, both on how the parties are handling the key issues as well as how people will vote on Election Day.

Yet, as early November approaches , Democrats would be wise to understand that they are where they are, not because of their efforts, but frankly in spite of them.

The only conclusion we will be able to draw from a big Democratic win is that Americans are not so much embracing Democrats as much as they are rejecting Republicans.

As a Democratic strategist who helped President Bill Clinton fight his way back from the GOP takeover of Congress in 1994, I have been disappointed that the Democrats have not offered a positive and forward looking agenda for America that expresses how in President Clinton’s words they will address the “common good”.

The 2006 Congressional elections thus far are a missed opportunity for Democrats to lay out an agenda for change that both unifies the party and presents them to the electorate as the logical (and acceptable) alterative to what the Republicans are offering America today.

Unfortunately, the Democrats have simply not done a credible job defining who they are or what they stand for. Their rationale today is simply a litany of individual top scoring policy proposals, and not an agenda to move the country forward by addressing the common good.

Some quarters of the Democratic Party are already calling for an ideological agenda should the Democrats win. This unfortunately isn’t the answer. The Democratic agenda must not tackle ideology. Real results for average people must come first.

Just last week, The Washington Post ran an article about nine Democrats on the ballot who are all former Republicans. They are running as Democrats, not because they now believe in more progressive policies, but because they are rejecting the Republican policies that put conservative ideology over everything else.

This apparent microcosm is important for Democrats to understand. If they should take control of Congress, the country will begin to turn to them for answers to their pressing everyday problems. People like never before are looking for practical answers and results — and real results will trump ideology.

What’s clear is that it’s not that the ideology of the Bush Administration that the American people reject so much, although in the end I think they do, but what is really causing so many voters dismay is that Republican policies are simply not working for regular people.

And the reason they are not working is that their policies place ideology first while the circumstances of reality come second.

In a recent speech at Georgetown University, Former President Clinton explained the ideology problem Republicans face very clearly. He stated: “… if you got an ideology, you already got your mind made up, you know all the answers, and that makes evidence irrelevant and argument a waste of time, so you tend to govern by assertion and attack. The problem with that is that discourages thinking and gives you bad results.”

A few months ago, I conducted a poll for the Aspen Institute’s Ideas Festival. My overwhelming finding was that Americans are not just hurting economically, but that they are losing hope in our economy and country itself.

61 percent of Americans don’t believe they are living the American Dream at all and of that group, 62 percent don’t believe they will ever reach it in their lifetime. This means that currently almost 2 in every 5 Americans have lost all hope that they will one day experience the economic promise of this country.

What is causing this loss of confidence? It mostly stems from the fact that Americans are finding life as we know it is to be too expensive. Healthcare is unaffordable; a college education is now harder and harder to afford; basic needs like housing, utilities and childcare are more and more expensive; and people are forced to rely more on individual pensions than ever before.

In order for Democrats to fully benefit politically from Republican failures and begin to position themselves for success in 2008, their Common Good agenda must address these matters and move away from the pie-in-the-sky political rhetoric that promises healthcare and college for all. The consensus in the minds of the public is to move away from policies that seek to redistribute wealth and pursue market based solutions instead.

This agenda must seek out centrist common-ground solutions that will improve and better people’s everyday lives. The agenda must emphasize consensus and cooperation as a way to achieve results for everybody.

Should the Democrats win, the first 100 days of the new Congress will be a defining and critical moment for them to showcase this agenda for the country.

Failure to do so will damage their ability to shape public policy and lock in Independent swing voters for the 2008 contests. Without a centrist common good agenda, public sentiment can swing back to the Republicans in 2008 as the electorate remains fiscally and socially conservative.
Dr. Schoen is a Democratic political consultant who advised President Bill Clinton and is a founding and former partner of Penn, Schoen, and Berland. He is the author of a forthcoming book on political communications that will be published by Harper Collins.

Posted in Democrat | No Comments »


A Healthcare Agenda for America

May 1st, 2007

With the Democratic and Republican primary campaigns already well under way, the American public is being involved in a major examination of our national priorities and direction for the years ahead including the issue of healthcare.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll in March, after Iraq, healthcare is the single most important issue among American voters today.

And healthcare is an issue that we will continue to face regardless of what happens on the international front. It directly affects all of us, our families, our friends, and our country.

Following the Congressional efforts to introduce government negotiations of prescription drug prices, and as the battles for the nominations progress, the question before us is; “What should be the healthcare agenda for America?”

We as a nation face enormous challenges on the healthcare front. This country is the home to the most advanced medical expertise on the planet, yet many of our citizens have little or no access to affordable health care.

And while our healthcare system has helped more and more Americans live longer and healthier lives, the medical needs of a growing elderly population mean we must discover new and better ways to help our system deliver the kinds and levels of care that are needed.

Americans want real progress on healthcare. They want to see healthcare needs and issues addressed in a spirit of partnership, not partisanship. That’s means developing bi partisan solutions that reflect the best input and ideas from Congress, the healthcare community, businesses, labor unions, and of course the public.

What is clear is that America wants everyone to work together in a constructive manner. If we do so, major progress is possible.

Medicare Part D marked a huge bipartisan step forward in addressing the need for affordable access to prescription drugs for our senior citizens. Medicare Part D has succeeded because of its popularity and because it is working for people.

According to a Wall Street Journal / Harris Interactive poll:

  • 68% of voters across the country said this program is a step in the right direction.
  • 70% of enrollees say the plan has saved them money.
  • 82% of enrollees say the plan has been easy to use.

“Medicare Drug Benefit Helps Most Enrollees Save, Poll Finds”
Wall Street Journal
November 7, 2006

What can we take away from this?

By working together, the members of the two parties were able to bring together the best ideas from both sides of the aisle to create a broad-based program that succeeds in achieving many critical goals.

It provides affordable access for all our nation’s senior citizens, assures that participants will continue to have the opportunity to choose among all the newest drugs (rather than a select, government-approved list), and supports America’s pharmaceutical research companies’ mission to develop newer and more effective drugs to address many of our most urgent medical issues and conditions.

As important as this landmark step is, however, we still have much more work to do to support the healthcare needs of all Americans.

As Americans, polling shows we are all united around basic healthcare principles:

  • Americans should have the opportunity to get the best treatment in the world.
  • Americans should have the freedom to choose their own doctor and primary care provider.
  • All Americans need fair access to healthcare and security from rising costs, particularly costs associated with catastrophic illness.

The public expects real action. 64% of respondents in the Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard School of Public Health survey felt that the president and Congress can do a lot about the cost of health care.

In terms of what should be done, the Kaiser poll found expanding coverage for the uninsured is at the top of the list of voter concerns. An overwhelming 85% want the government to do more to help provide health insurance for more Americans. People from every part of the country want progress on controlling health care costs, assuring access to medical care, and providing the highest possible quality of care.

67% want the President and Congress to increase spending on medical research for treatment and cures of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

Polling has also shown strong support for:

  • Providing health insurance for all children.
  • Supporting steps to improve implementation of medical technology to control costs and reduce medical errors.
  • Training and locating doctors in rural areas and in economically deprived urban areas so that no one is shut out from getting needed care because of where they live.
  • Increasing funding for medical research to help keep our country as the world leader in medicine and medical treatments.

Healthcare should not become a partisan issue. We all have too much at stake to let real progress get bogged down in political gridlock. This campaign season is the ideal time to put the emphasis where it belongs, and demand real, practical, and cost-effective solutions to the healthcare challenge facing our nation.

Douglas E. Schoen is the author of the recently published book, The Power of the Vote: Electing Presidents, Overthrowing Dicators, and Promoting Democracy Around the World (Morrow, 2007).

Posted in Health Care | No Comments »


Guiliani Attacks Democrats’ Strength on National Security

April 27th, 2007

Just as significant as the decision by the House yesterday to approve funding of the troops in Iraq with the setting of a deadline for withdrawal, were Rudy Guiliani’s comments in New Hampshire on April 25th.

In what the New York Times called one of the harshest partisan attacks by the Republicans on the Democrats, Guiliani said that the Democrats simply did not understand the full nature and scope of the terrorist war against us and made it clear the U.S. would suffer “more losses” if the party reclaimed the White House.

The Democratic response was strong and unwavering, but it also reveals that national security could well be the achilles heel of the party as it goes forward into campaign 2008. As I argue in my new book The Power of the Vote: Electing Presidents, Overthrowing Dictators, and Promoting Democracy Around the World, the only way the Democrats can lose the next Presidential election is if they apper to be weaker than the Republicans on national security.

Such was the case in 2004 when Senator John Kerry and the Democrats led George Bush and the Republicans on virtually every important issue facing the country–save for the war on terror and the struggle for Iraq. By the 2006 mid-term election, the gap on these two critical issues had disappeared and the Democrats were able to win a landslide victory, not only because of dissatisfaction with Bush administration policies both here and abroad, but also because the Democrats were perceived as being superior on the key domestic issues facing the U.S.

That is why it is important for the Democrats to try to achieve two goals simultaneously with the fight in Congress over continued funding over the war in Iraq. First, as is very clear, the Democrats need to do exactly what they are doing; pressing the case that in their view future funding should be tied directly to the setting of a timetable for withdrawal as well as goals to be achieved along the way–political reconciliation, equitable sharing of oil revenue, and the development of responsive local government institutions.

But the Democrats also have to make it clear that if President Bush pursues his ill conceived policy of opposing any sort of timetable or goals for withdrawal, they will not leave the troops and the war effort unfunded. To be sure, the President, however wrong he may be, is still commander-in-chief and must have the final say on matters like continued funding of the troops already on the ground in Iraq.

I well understand the vehement opposition this last statement attracts, and am sympathetic to those who hold an alternative view. But that being said, the best way to make the case John Edwards made yesterday: that the U.S. is less safe and secure in the fight against terror is by not giving the Republicans any opening to attack the Democrats on national security.

Ultimately, this is a tactical judgment which, however frustrating it may be for many, reflects the fact that we cannot abandon our troops and we cannot allow the Democratic party to once again be perceived as weak on national security.

If we are able to avoid having the Democrats portrayed as weak, and to avoid having Senate leader Harry Reid become a focal point for opposition to Democratic foreign policy positions, the party will be much stronger going into election 2008.

This positioning will also help the party press a vigorous argument against the Republicans on national security and terror when it really matters most–in the run up to the 2008 vote.

Posted in Democrat, Iraq War | No Comments »


Why Democrats Should Fund the War

April 12th, 2007

Democrats will be making a profound mistake if they follow through on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s insistence that the party will refuse to provide any funding for the war in Iraq, absent some benchmarks for withdrawal of our troops at least by September 2008.

To be sure, as everyone knows, the American people quite strongly support the notion of cutting off funding for the war in the absence of achieving benchmarks of success for the war in Iraq. And at this point, given the failure of our efforts in Iraq to either stabilize the situation on the ground or to provide the basis for political reconciliation, this is an entirely understandable reaction–one that I share.But as a matter of policy and politics it is simply the wrong judgment. If as is expected, President Bush vetoes the Democrats’ legislation that sets a timetable, a stalemate will inevitably result. President Bush will argue, as he already has begun to do, that American troops are being put at risk and the military campaign jeopardized. He will argue that the Democrats are undermining the war effort, as well as national security. The failure to negotiate in good faith, he will maintain, proves the Democrats lack a commitment to protecting our troops and doing what is right.

And while in the short term, the president’s arguments can be rebutted, the longer term presents real problems for the Democrats. If the party proves to be intransigent about continuing funding for the war and refuses to even meet the president to discuss the subject, they provide the Republicans with an issue that can be used against them in the run up to election day in 2008.

It is the so called “clean bill” simply providing funding for the war that offers the greatest hope to Democrats going forward. By compromising with the White House–even if it be largely on the president’s terms–the Democrats will be able to maintain the high ground with swing voters. At the same time, there is every reason to believe that Democrats can–and indeed should–continue to criticize the prosecuting of the war for its failure to promote political reconciliation, end sectarian violence, and develop an equitable distribution of oil revenue. They should give the President the funding he seeks now, as Senator Carl Levin has suggested, so that there can be no claim that Democrats are undermining the war effort.

Sadly, the most likely result is that the war will continue to go badly. And while that is a very bad result for the United States and our troops, it will take away the only potent argument Republicans have against the Democrats: they are too partisan, they are unwilling to compromise, and that they have jeopardized national security.

Rest assured, the appetite of the American people for this conflict is well beyond its limit. And by working to provide funding for the war with no strings attached, the Democrats will avoid allowing the Republicans to distract the American people from the failed policies of the Bush administration. To be sure, if things do not take a turn for the better on the ground, it is only a matter of time before Republicans as well begin defecting from the White House line. And that matter of time is measured in months not years.

So rather than risking confrontation with the Commander in Chief, the Democrats should provide the funding the White House is seeking for the war effort all the while making it clear that they have not in any way abandoned their commitment to a specific timetable to conclude the war effort as well as benchmarks of success that should be reached along the way.

Posted in Democrat, Iraq War | No Comments »


Democrats–Will Al Gore Run?

April 4th, 2007

There are a lot of reasons to think that Al Gore just might ultimately run for President this year. Many in the Democratic party still feel strongly that he was cheated out of victory in 2000, having won the popular vote. The success of his film, An Inconvenient Truth, and the Academy Award he recently won, have only galvanized many Democratic activists into thinking that the time is ripe for his re-entry into the political arena. Mr. Gore, after all is a nominee for a Nobel Prize and will be sponsoring a world wide concert to raise awareness about global warming this summer.

Nonetheless, I still believe it is unlikely the former Vice President will run. First of all, there are three strong candidates for President–Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and former Senator John Edwards–who command large amounts of support from Democratic primary voters. When polled, those primary voters say that in large measure they are satisfied with the choices before them. Moreover, when Gore’s name is added to national trial heats, he polls in the low single digits, well behind Senators Clinton and Obama and at about the same level as John Edwards.

Finally, while enjoying near universal name recognition, former Vice President Gore does still have a somewhat negative rating with the electorate–a rating it will be difficult to fundamentally alter unless he were to raise a very large sum of money very quickly for the intense media blitz that would be necessary to do this. There is no indication the Vice President is planning to enter the race anytime soon, suggesting to me that there is only one circumstance where I believe he would enter and immediately could become a viable candidate.

Should Senator Edwards be unable to continue his campaign for the Presidency–and given his passion and commitment as well as the obvious courage displayed by his wife Elizabeth I very much hope this does not happen–then there would be an opportunity for the Vice President to re-enter the scene.

Edwards’ constituency would also certainly become Gore’s under those circumstances as both now appeal to a liberal, more upscale segment of the primary electorate which is both most ideological, anti-Bush, and of course anti-war.

It is a scenario I am reluctant to speculate about given the strength and passion both John and Elizabeth Edwards have demonstrated. At the very least, hopefully, the Edwards’ national display of grace and determination will galvanize Democrats, indeed all American political leaders, to do more to expand access to high quality health care–before the 2008 election.

Posted in Democrat | No Comments »


Whither McCain?? Emerging Fred Thompson???

March 27th, 2007

The news is superfically very bad for Senator John McCain. This weekend he announced he would be below fundraising expectations and could well have less than the $35 to $40 million in campaign funds that pundits expected he would raise in the first quarter of 2007. At the same time, his national poll numbers continue to erode as Michael Barone has shown in a post on his own blog on U.S. News & World Report. The Real clear politics average shows that at this point former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani has better than a double digit lead among likely Republican primary voters–a lead that has been steadily growing over the last three to four months.

At the same time, the news is not all bad for the Arizona Senator–who I called the frontrunner on the GOP side in my new book The Power of the Vote. The polling of Iowa caucus goers and New Hampshire primary voters shows that McCain is within striking distance of Guiliani as they appear to be in a statistical tie in both states.

Moreover, current polls show that Republican primary voters nationally say that they know very little about the New York Mayor–particularly his stand on key social issues like abortion, guns, and stem cell research. And there is some evidence that they will defect from his candidacy one they learn his positions on these typically key issues in Republican primary contests where self described conservative voters usually form a majority of those casting ballots. Further, it remains to be seen what impact, if any, the various news reports about Guiliani’s family, his and his current wife’s three marriages, will have on a segment of the electorate that places a high values on traditional family values.

But Guiliani’s weakness does not necessarily mean good news for Senator McCain. The results of the recently completed Ohio straw poll in Summit County show a significant amount of spontaneous support for former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson who finished a strong third behind Guiliani and McCain. Thompson has only done one national interview about a prospective candidacy and already the national polls as well as this straw poll, show that his entry into the race could shake things up fundamentally.

This is not to count out either former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney–who should raise around $20 million this quarter–or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. At the same time, Thompson has none of the political baggage Gingrich would bring to the race nor the issue of political flip flops on the key issues of abortion and stem cell research that Romney has already begun to face.

Posted in Republican | No Comments »

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