In baseball, there are two offensive philosophies - small ball and the power game. With the power game you try to hit the ball as hard as you can and create as many runs as you can. With small ball you bunt, you steal bases, you hit and run, you do all the little things that you can to try to get at least one run every time you get someone on base. I'm sure everyone's heard that Babe Ruth struck out umpteen thousand times in addition to his hitting 714 home runs. If you go up to the plate and swing for the fence and connect, great. If not, you often strike out.
In the 2004 elections, the Democrats went with the power game. They got the biggest hitter they could up to the plate, and banked everything on him. And he struck out. Big time. 2002 marked the first time in umpteen years that the party not controlling the white house lost seats in congress during the midterm elections. 2004 the Democrats managed somehow to lose 4 Senate seats. The loss of seats in the House was a foregone conclusion with the Texas redistricting. But the Democrats hurt themselves in 2004 with the way they acted in 2002. In 2002 in my district, the Democrats didn't run anyone for congress. My choices were a conservative Republican in Tom Davis, and a guy running on the Constitution party ticket who said that Davis was not conservative enough. In 2002, Senator John Warner was up for re-election. He ran unopposed. In 2004, the Democrats did not oppose Republicans in every district in Virginia. Why then did they have the gall to expect that the state might support John Kerry?
We stepped up to the plate in 2004 needing a home run, and Sen. Kerry struck out. If we're going to be more successful in 2006 or 2008 we need to start playing small ball. You can win lots of games playing small ball - don't let the word "small" deceive you.
Here are my suggestions for 2005 and beyond.
1. As soon as possible, get ballot initiatives in states that allow it to eliminate gerrymandering. The only people benefited by gerrymandering are sitting congresscritters. The constitution was written to make the House of Representatives the body that truly represented the people. 7 incumbents lost seats in 2004. That's a new modern era record. It was 8 in 2002. That was also a record. Iowa does it right. They have a panel of non-partisan judges create 3 plans, and present the plans to the state legislature. The state legislature picks the plan they like best and if they can't choose from the 3, then the non-partisan judges pick a 4th plan and that becomes the plan - the legislature has no choice. The judges are not allowed to use party affiliation of the electorate when they are crafting districts.
2. Another ballot initiative - this one regarding balloting. Every ballot should involve the creation of a paper trail, either by voting on paper ballot or by having a touchscreen machine that prints a receipt. The voter should be able to look at the paper and verify that the paper represents the vote as the voter wishes to cast it. The paper should then be placed in a ballot box. After the election, each party that was represented in at least one race on the ballot should be able to choose one precinct in each city/county/town that will have a recount of the paper ballots, with each party being allowed to send a representative to supervise the counting. If the hand count deviates from the machine count by more than say 1/4 of 1 percent, then another precinct gets audited. And so forth. This should be done even in races that aren't close. The purpose is to make sure that people have faith in the accuracy of the numbers reported. Publicly-traded companies have to be audited, so should balloting.
3. Democrats need to focus on retaking state legislatures. To do this, they need to successfully market their product - the party itself. The 2004 election was marked by Republican attack ads that painted Kerry as a "flip-flopper" or a "traitor," taking words and votes out of context and flat-out making stuff up. The media obligingly reported on all of it, lending it legitimacy. Then there was an anecdotal story posted on dailykos where a Nebraska senior citizen who is living off of Social Security and Medicare said she could never vote Democratic because Democrats have never done anything for her. That's pretty silly considering the Democrats were behind Social Security and Medicare. The Democrats need to have a campaign starting now all about what the Democrats are for. It's not enough to be anti-Republican. The right-wing corporate media has managed to turn the word "liberal" into a pejorative, and paint "Democrat" as a negative word associated with communists, gays, baby killers, and "lazy welfare moms." The Democrats need to get out there with a positive message about themselves. They also need to attack the Republicans and pull no punches.
4. The Democrats need to challenge every race. From school board and city council up to state legislature and congress. If nothing else, a sacrificial lamb in an overwhelmingly Republican district/city will generate a few stories in the local media, which are opportunities to get the message out.
One of the problems with this is that for whatever reason, the Democratic message varies across the country. In Oklahoma the candidate for Senator was farther to the right than George Bush. Of course, Senator-elect Tom Coburn is even farther out there - saying abortionists should receive the death penalty (this from a man who has performed abortions, as well as committed medicaid fraud and sterilized young girls without consent). When the Senatorial debates were on meet the press, the races were all in "red" states and made up of Democrats who were trying to out-conservative the Republicans. Won't work. Those types of things hurt the Democrats elsewhere. There need to be certain things that Democrats are for that don't waver.
Unfortunately, I don't have those things. I don't have the message. It's easier to point out the problem than fix it sometimes. However my four suggestions can be followed anyway. The ballot initiatives are a great start - I think they will pass overwhelmingly because they appeal to everyone's sense of fairness. And if Republicans come out and contest it then the Democratic candidates running against them should just rail about fairness and making every vote count at every opportunity. Let's find a wedge issue to use against them.