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Sunday, January 21, 2007

On Winning, Or, Democrats, Meet Joe Wood

In a recent conversation (“On Shrinking the Tent, Or, Why Third Parties Don’t Elect Presidents These Days”), I posited that the bloc of voters who have drifted away from being reliable supporters of the Democratic and Republican Parties to the middle (I call it the “gap”), are not fertile hunting grounds for a potential alternative party candidate.

History has shown us however, that these voters are often the crucial difference in election after election for established party candidates. To put it in stronger terms, no Democratic Presidential candidate has a chance in winning in 2008 without successfully piloting these waters.

If you are considering running as the Democratic candidate for President in 2008, I humbly offer you the following navigational chart.

I’ve never personally met Joe Wood, but it’s fairly easy to get to know some things about him.

Mr. Wood has a blog on the TPM Café website.
Here’s an entry:

From taking the time to read what he says, we can learn the following:

Mr. Wood is quite conservative regarding values and morals issues.
Mr. Wood supports an aggressive national security posture.
Mr. Wood is very comfortable with the commingling of Church and State.
Mr. Wood has opinions strongly at odds with the available, demonstrable facts from time to time.
Most important of all, and the source of his feelings above, I believe, is that the central and defining component of Mr. Wood’s belief system is his faith in the Christian God.

In all these areas Mr. Wood and I hold diametrically opposite positions.
(Except one: frankly, I’m completely wrong about things from time to time, as well.)

Despite all the opposites, Mr. Wood and I have plenty in common:

We both strongly support this ongoing American experiment in Democracy.
We both fear, however, that Government no longer works for all its citizens as it should.
We both want to reduce homelessness, and poverty, and crime.
We both want to breathe clean air and drink clean water.
We don’t like flag covered coffins.
We are both concerned about our economic futures, and those of future generations.
We are both willing to listen to and respect reasoned, cogent, civil argument supported by facts.

What did Bill Clinton do that Al Gore and John Kerry couldn’t that allowed him to grab a decent chunk of the gap?

I submit he spoke to the God in the gap.

That he was willing to go to churches and talk about social justice with passion, and in a way that reminds Christians that Jesus was a social justice crusader.

A big, big, big “L” Liberal.

It worked, too. Twice he was able to keep the core Democratic constituency on board, while grabbing enough of the gap to get over the top.

Never got the universal health care passed, and also missed on other big L social justice reforms; but there’s an argument to be made that winning elections and governing are two different forms of political calculus.

However, I digress.

On how to apply the lesson offered above:

If you want the votes of Evangelical Christians, and other social conservatives, aim for the weak points in the Republican platform.

Have the guts to walk into a megachurch, stand there facing Mr. Wood and the other congregants, look them straight in the eye,
and ask this question:

“What Would Jesus Do?”

If Jesus was President, would He be fighting “the terrorists”, or Islam, or whatever we’re calling it today?
If Jesus was President, wouldn’t He be trying to create an Axis of Love?
If Jesus was President, wouldn’t we be fighting homelessness?
If Jesus was President, would 40,000,000 Americans have no health care?
If Jesus was President, would the number of working families stuck in poverty be increasing or decreasing?
If Jesus was President, wouldn’t His Administration respect His Father’s creation, the Earth, in ways it isn’t respected today?

Maybe these aren’t your exact preferred questions, but the concept is clear: show Christians in the gap that this Administration is as far from Christ-like as you can get.

John Kerry might tell you that if you try this, you’ll get Swiftboated.
So what?
That just means what you’re doing is working.

James Carville might tell you that you absolutely must respond to a Swiftboating in the same news cycle.

The problem with that is you allow the opposition to define your “brand”, and you don’t promote your message.

Here’s another possible approach: call ‘em on their desperation, respond to charges, but at the same time…

…The best defense is a good offense.

Never let the gap forget this Administration’s policies (and presumably, any likely R opponent’s) are less reflective of the Christian belief system than yours.

That the Rs are the moneychangers in the temple.

That your platform, while respecting the separation of Church and State, is still more reflective of the Ten Commandments than your opponent’s.

Remind everyone who will listen that Jesus was a Liberal.
God willing, the opposition calls you one.
Embrace the title with gusto.
Then, once again, remind everyone who will listen that Jesus was a Liberal, too.

Here’s the best part:

While Senator Obama and the Reverend Sharpton have plenty of Jesus cred, and have a sort of “home court advantage” here, you don’t have to be Christian or a religious person of any sort at all, for that matter, to use this strategy.

All you need is respect for Mr. Wood’s point of view, the willingness to engage him in a way that’s compatible with his belief system, and some good ideas that reach for the common ground you and I and Mr. Wood share.

(A side note: if your platform concentrates on the issues above, the strategy also works for Buddhists, Hindus, and followers of Islam; as virtually all the members of those communities also like breathing, good health, a place to live, and food on the table. Bonus!)

I’ll make the last thing I say today the first thing I said today:

Democrats, meet Joe Wood.
You’ll be glad you did.

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