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Good Answers to Good Questions

Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution participated in an online chat on The Washington Post website yesterday, where he answered questions about Tuesday's election results--many of them on the minds, I would imagine, of those who visit this site. All Mann's answers are lucid and perceptive; I strongly recommend you checkout the transcript of his chat as an aid to your reflections on the election.


i think that if any one person in america is responsible for the election defeat, it is the mayor of san francisco. the gay marriage issue was handed on a silver platter to the right wing religious zealots and rove. and when you give rove something to work with he always makes the best of it. the issue brought out millions of right wingers who may not have come out. if the issue would have been put on the back burner untill after the election, kerry would have had four years to figure out how to deal with it.

Everyone should read this article from the New Democrat (the DLC blog):


They point out all the advantages Democrats had this time and

This summarizes their conclusions:

"The second obvious problem for Democrats was a "reform gap." Having lost control of every nook and cranny of the federal government during the last two elections, Democrats were perfectly positioned to run as bold, outsider, insurgent reformers determined to change Washington, and the public was ready to embrace such a message and agenda. While Democrats did made a strong negative case against Bush, we never conveyed a positive agenda for reform. Indeed, Democrats often reinforced the idea that the GOP was the "reform" party by trying to scare voters about every bad or deceptive Republican idea for changing government programs, instead of offering our own alternatives for reform. In the end, we relied on mobilizing voters who were hostile to Bush instead of persuading voters who were ambivalent about both parties, and about government. Since Republicans did have a simple, understandable message, it was an uneven contest: message plus mobilization will beat mobilization alone every time."

. . . .

"There will be a powerful temptation for Democrats to simply go to the mattresses, fight Republicans tooth and nail, and hope for a big midterm sweep in 2006. That would be a mistake, just as it was a mistake to believe that Bush's weakness would be enough to produce a victory in 2004. It's time for Democrats to clearly stand for values, principles, and ideas that will earn us the opportunity to become the majority party of the future."

This argument is right on the money! The one thing Kerry and the Democrats failed to do is to make a serious reform agenda the centerpiece of their campaigns. We desparately need to coalesce on a central reform strategy and beat it like an army mule come rain or shine -- just as Newt Gingrich did starting in 1992. Remember the Contract on America?

We need something similar that all Democrats can rally behind and really push. One thing that we never seem to talk about is PAYROLL TAX reform. When was the last time you heard either party talk about how much $ are taken from your weekly paycheck in the form of payroll taxes? We need to oppose Bush's idea of ending all taxation on unearned income with our own tax proposals that will help workers, not millionares -- payroll tax relief. This issue divides the Republicans from their base. Let them explain how they're for every form of tax cuts, except payroll taxes. We need to be explicit about this and hammer away despite all the ranting and lies about it from conservatives. Ordinary people would be with us on this.

But it can't be point 32 of a 62 point plan. We would have to hit it hard and repeat it endlessly to force a national debate on this issue.

I think Mann's parallel with the 1920's was pretty accurate. I myself have been struck by the parallels between Al Smith and Kerry: Northeastern moderate Catholic attacked for religious reasons. Moderate position on social issues (prohibition or gays/abortion) characterized as totally off the board. And the '28 election was followed by the Roosevelt and the New Deal. Unfortunately it took the stock market crash and the depression to make it happen. The sad part isn't that the Repubs will fall flat; it's that there will be a whole lot of suffering before that happens.

Maybe by losing the election we really won. Given Mann's dead-on assessment, could anyone come outta this smelling good?

Q: What do you see as Bush's biggest challenge over the next four years?

Mann: Coping with the consequences of his first term: staggering budget deficits, federal revenues at their lowest level as a share of the economy in a half century, intense spending pressure for defense and homeland security, a mess in Iraq with no happy ending in sight, and serious security threats across the globe, from North Korea to Iran, from loose WMDs to terrorist organizations with little sympathy or affection from the rest of the world.

I agree with Cugel: payroll tax reform is an idea that is long overdue. Dems should play it up big!


I think the impact of the 'e voters' was huge. I have experienced this, these 'informational' emails from Republican voters, which are circulated widely.

The Democrats have a lot of work to do at this very grassroots level.

(interview with Ken Mehlman on Fox)

MEHLMAN: They did a very good job. Here’s the fundamental difference, here’s the question. You’re sitting at home, you’re not sure how you’re going to vote. Who is more compelling to you, a paid worker you’ve never met who shows up at your door with a video for you to watch, or a fellow member of you PTA, a volunteer who tells you why you and she, who share a passion for education, votes to support the president? Fundamentally, the difference is we took a gamble. Our gamble, we said that we think millions of grassroots volunteers, who strongly support this president, are going to be compelling to people that they’re peers with as compared to just some paid worker who shows up at their door. And so we had I think a much larger number of people involved. We had 1.2 million volunteers that were out there working the weekend before the election. We had 7.5 million e-activists.

HUME: E-activists?

MEHLMAN: People who have and forward e-mails to their friends with directions to the polls. We were — the campaign was sending that out. They were forwarding it to people to encourage them to vote. So if you are looking at a target audience and you’re saying, in the target states, these undecided people, about who they’re going to vote for or whether they’re going to vote, if they hear it from someone they know and they trust, that’s going to be a lot more compelling than a stranger coming up to them, who’s being paid to come up to them and knocking on their door.