Over at The Prospect, Michael Tomasky has a very interesting piece worth reading. He makes the argument that values issues trump economics, but national security trumps both. I have two basic problems with this argument:
1) for most Democrats, economics is the most important issue. I realize that we have to reach out to other voters, but can the party please not run away from the issues that matter to the loyal supporters of the party (and can we stop denigrating ourselves with the term ‘the base’)? One of the reasons for the heated debate within the Democratic party about the next DNC chairman is that many Democrats (including the Mad Biologist) think that the issues that matter to them the most are marginalized. I’ll admit that this is not an entirely accurate view (e.g., Joseph Lieberman, who talks like a conservative and votes like a liberal), but we would like to hear from our political leadership some validation of the values (yes, we have them too) that we hold dear. We need to be proud, and should be proud of what we stand for.
I’ve made this point elsewhere: in John Kerry’s convention speech, one of the best parts was when he embraced the civil and women’s rights movements, and didn’t treat all the liberals who fought for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as pariahs. I hope the Democratic establishment will realize that the battle is not only strategic and tactical, but also ideological.
2) What the public deems important will change, sometimes quickly, and sometimes slowly. 25 years ago, the so-called values issues weren’t front-and-center. The right, particularly the Christian conservatives, worked very hard to place these issues on the national agenda. We have to work as hard to place our issues on the national agenda. The ideological war matters.
3) I think national security as an issue is overhyped. The people who are at the highest risk for terrorist attacks (i.e., urban areas) voted against Bush. The national security issue was much more about the acceptance or refusal of the personal narrative of George Bush. We lost this issue in 2002, when, in the name of unity, the Democrats decided to unite behind the President, even though the Republicans were planning to use this as a campaign issue days after the attack. It still escapes me how presiding over the largest civilian massacre in U.S. history turned into a badge of courage and not a mark of shame. That’s when we lost the election, when we refused to apportion blame where it was due.
Tomasky’s article is still worth a read.