R-E-S-P-E-C-T Key to Dems' Future
by Pete Ross
You can't get it on line, but Jeffrey Goldberg's article in the May 29 New Yorker, "Central Casting: The Democrats Think About Who Can Win in the Midterms --- and in 2008" is a good read for victory-seeking Dems. One theme that resonates in Goldberg's piece is that Dems have to do a better job of communicating respectfully.
Goldberg describes a wince-provoking incident in 2004 in which a well-intentioned Theresa Heinz Kerry urges a gathering of Missouri farmers to consider going organic as emblematic of the sort of comment that gives Dems an elitist image. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri state auditor who is currently in a close race for U.S. Senate explains the problem this way in Goldberg's article:
I think it's a tone thing. It's the 'We know better' thing. Some of it is completely unfair, but there's a critical number of people from the East Coast or West Coast who don't think that people in the heartland are smart.
The concern pops up several times in Goldberg's article. He quotes former Virginia Governor and likely '08 Democratic presidential candidate Mark Warner on the perception of "condescencion" from Dem leaders:
Part of this is just showing respect. Respect for culture, faith, values. You know, not everybody wants to live in a big city...Sometimes the Democrats advocate tolerance, except for the people who don't agree with them.
Echoes Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, frequently mentioned as a possible Democratic presidential candidate in '08:
We have to respect regional differences...Democrats are losing elections because they're less likable sometimes. They want to explain the whole book, and voters want the Cliffs Notes.
In a sidebar interview avalable online, Goldberg notes:
...National security and so-called “values” issues like abortion and gay rights are only part of the problem for Democrats. The other part is stylistic. There’s a feeling among Democratic professionals in these red states that Democrats tend to condescend to voters in the heartland...the problem with likability comes from a feeling that Democrats are lecturing voters about what’s best for them.
And Princeton historian Sean Wilentz concludes the article:
The impulse behind the people who run the party is humanitarian, and humanitarians have a problem in American history -- they're always trying to perfect you, make you better...Acceptance of human imperfection would do a lot to help the Democratic Party.
No doubt most Democratic leaders are sensitive to the respect issue. But it only takes one blunder to make a destructive headline. It might not be a bad idea for the party to offer "Respect in Communication" workshops or at least a "Do's and Don'ts in Communications" guidebook for candidates and their spokespersons. It's not about being 'Nascar Man,' but showing more humility and respect.