One of my favorite political cartoons shows a pollster calling a woman, asking: “If the race were held today...” Before he can finish the sentence she replies: “I would be very grateful.”
The sentiment of this woman captures how many of us feel about politics and campaigns. We just cannot wait for them to end. Unfortunately, with the endless campaign cycle it seems elections never end. No sooner had the 2010 elections ended the 2012 election cycle began. Michele Bachmann, even before being sworn in for new term in Congress a couple of weeks ago, already floated a presidential bid. Rumors persist who will run for president, polls are being done on the Minnesota Senate race, and other calculations are being undertaken regarding what will happen in 2012. For Democrats, especially in Minnesota, the hope is that 2012 will be a kinder year for them than 2010 when they lost control of the state legislature for the first time in a couple of generations. All this may be barking at the moon.
I say this because the other day I was talking to one of my friends who lives in Minneapolis. He recounted a conversation with two DFL legislators there recently. When they were asked what it was like to be in the minority, they both responded that they will be back in power as the majority after the 2012 elections. By that, they are counting on the coattails of Obama and Klobuchar and overreach by the GOP to turn a miserable 2010 Republican year into a good 2012 Democrat year. Don’t bet on it.
This is a naive strategy. It is effectively one that says when the voters regain their sanity they will again vote for Democrats. This is a purely defensive and passive strategy. It depends on the steps and missteps of others in order to get elected. This is the fundamental problem with the Democrats for the last 40 years. In 1972 McGovern’s slogan was “Come home America.” Notice how well it worked. In 1984 Mondale’s was “America needs a change.” It did not work. The failure of both candidates was in part the inability of Democrats to offer a compelling narrative to counteract that of the Republicans. Democrats cannot always count on disgust with the GOP and missteps by the latter to get elected. They need to offer a narrative, to provide a set of policies that serve as an alternative. They need to stand for something.
Additionally, Democrats need to fight back if they want to win. The Republicans know how to do that. The Democrats don’t. After 2008 the GOP developed a plan, a message, recruited well, and they took advantage of the Democrats screwing up or failing to define themselves and the GOP. Right now I see little sign that the state DFL is doing any of that.
Maybe the GOP will falter nationally and statewide. Maybe they will overreach. Maybe Obama and Klobuchar will do well and get reelected. But do you want to trust your fate in variables beyond your control? That is what the state DFL and the legislators seem to banking on as a strategy.
Yes, the opposition making mistakes creates an opportunity. But you need to do more than that to win and then to govern effectively. Begin now defining the narrative and themes for what the party stands for. Do focus groups, recruit candidates, and develop a game plan now regarding how you plan to take back the legislature and govern.
There is no guarantee of Obama and Klobuchar wins and coattails. Don’t bet on it for an electoral plan for 2012.