The Democratic Party doesn’t need cohesion. It needs better marketing.

August 4, 2006 | By | 4 Replies More

The Democratic Party’s “lack of unity” has become an oft-cited criticism of conservative pundits. The Republican right has successfully exploited intra-party dissent—primarily regarding the Iraq War—and cultivated the image of the Democratic Party as weak, faltering, and therefore ineffective. Republicans have artfully crafted a fear of uncertainty, and suggested on no uncertain terms that a divided party accomplishes nothing, and the divided Democrats would run the Iraq War and America into ruin if given the opportunity. As we all know, the Democrats have finally begun to recover from the GOP’s fear-mongering tactics, but the complaints of lacking cohesion remain nearly as strong as ever.

Analysts say that the Democrats need to create a new image, and they need to do this by creating a unified front. A few gained House seats won’t last if the Democrats continue to look weak and vulnerable. The talking heads seem to see cohesion as a wholly beneficial aim, something to achieve and advertise on the part of the Democrats.

Let’s inspect that assumption for a moment. Polls throughout the decades have indicated that most voters don’t fully subscribe to a party; they instead tow-the-line in the moderate middle. An independent “American Moderate Party” exists on the fringe, but allow us to face reality: most Americans feel they have but two choices when they go to the polls. In most cases, they really do only have a Republican and a Democrat candidate from whom to choose. And when an independent candidate does provide that supposed third choice, most people feel that such a candidate doesn’t stand a chance, and hence doesn’t even merit consideration. Ralph Nader of course comes to mind.Left with no other option, the typical nonpartisan voter chooses the “lesser of two evils”- the candidate that comes closest to their own personal views, or perhaps just the candidate that seems more amicable. Swing voters love the likeable “lesser of two evils”, which explains why the media adores the seemingly moderate John McCain and mocks the rather intense Howard Dean.

When a party unifies completely, the vital swing voters immediately have fewer choices. Take the recent buzz over Democratic candidate Paul Hackett. Hackett, an Iraq War Veteran, challenged Ohio Senator Mike DeWine with vehement language, and adamantly expressed his disapproval of the War’s continuation. Hackett reports that Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid asked him to bow out of the race, and that the Party sabotaged his fundraising efforts because of his energetic presentation. Let without his party’s support, Hackett withdrew from the race. Unfortunately for the Democrats, Hackett had a strong standing in pre-election polls. The Daily Show, with its typically biting wit, mocked the Democratic Party’s attempt to make outspoken candidates innocuous and “cohesive” with a bland party message. You can watch the segment here.

The lack of outspoken candidates strikes me as tragically antidemocratic. The crux of representative democracy lies in the range of choices that the voting populous has. If the powerful party machines crush internal debate and create one of two available, universal “platforms”, the power to keep candidates in check becomes vastly limited. Imagine going to the polls and having to choose between pro-war Republicans, and a party comprised of moderate, innocuous Democrats like Joe Liebermann. Either way you would have to vote pro-war. Party unity can both quash democracy and make parties less appetizing.

Analysts have finally begun to stipulate that the Democratic Party could use its internal dissent to its advantage. The head of the centrist group NDN, Simon Rosenberg, looks at the Democratic Party’s “lack of direction” as a sign that democracy has attained the “debate of ideas” vital to the success of the political system. With such a wide array of opinions, why should the Democrats alienate any potential voters?

I don’t often agree with dead-center moderates. Their opinions tend to favor maintaining the current norm at any cost, which I think often indicates either a discomfort with change or general apathy. But when it comes to the stance– or stances— of the Democratic Party, I couldn’t agree with the centrists more. The Democrats need not silence discourse; they could instead market the range of choices they have to offer.


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Category: American Culture, Current Events, Iraq, Media, Politics

About the Author ()

Erika is a PhD student in Social Psychology living in Chicago. Here on DI she most often writes about current events, psychology, skepticism, media and internet culture.

Comments (4)

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  1. Tim Hogan says:

    Erika repeats a mantra of the right which like all Big Lies bears fruit by its frequent repetition. "The Democrats lack unity", we hear it all the time. But, what's the truth? Democrats believe that government may be a solution to problems of a tainted environment, unfair labor practices, educational and job opportunities, access to health care for the poor, elderly, disabled and veterans, and to provide basics like food and shelter.

    What's appears to be lacking is the kind of demonstrative leadership which fires up the base and inspires confidence in the future for those looking for change. I assert that John Edwards of North Carolina and his One America operation have such shown such leadership. Edwards has been largely ignored by the media, which is right wing owned and operated. A recent poll in Iowa showed Edwards to be the candidate with the most support.

    When I look for consistency, values and a committment for the future of all Americans, Edwards hads shown by his ceaseless travels in support of local, state, Congressional and Senatorial candidates that leadership which may bind us all together to make the difference in the future. Edwards has supported minimum wage initiatives in a number of states, and supported private educational, health care and rebuilding after Katrina when our government has done nothing.

    What is needed is an acknowledgment that the Democrats as a party have many things to which we are dedicated. By focusing upon some areas of honest disagreement, the right has been allowed to escape its accountability for the debacle in Iraq, post-Katrina failures to keep promises to rebuild, the Abramoff affairs and related scandals, and spying on innocent Americans. I could go on but, it's time to feed the kids.

  2. Erika Price says:

    The right has largely based its "no direction" message on the dissent over Iraq, no dispute there. Compared with the Republican party, which faces internal disagreement on issues such as immigration and minimum wage, the Democrats really don't have an abnormal amount of disagreement at all. And aside from Iraq, most of the party agrees on numerous issues. But the party has an abysmal public relations strategy that leaves it open to the Republicans' attacks, always on the defensive, never opposing Republican failures to full advantage, and never highlighting their positive attributes and most likeable candidates- like Edwards and Obama, both of whom the American public seem to love. Instead, the party seems dead set again on defensively responding to the Republican attacks, by creating the visage of a "unified" position on Iraq.

  3. grumpypilgrim says:

    I think Erika is right on target. Indeed, one of the greatest strengths of the Democratic Party is its inclusiveness — the willingness to invite everyone to the table so that diverse viewpoints can be expressed and considered. In a multi-cultural world — and an increasingly multi-cultural nation — that's a great asset. Unfortunately, in a nation that prefers to thumb its nose at the rest of the world, and at its own domestic minority groups (the poor, the elderly, the non-Christian, the non-White, the non-heterosexual, the anti-war, the women of child-bearing age, etc.), the value of that asset is largely ignored.

    It is truly unfortunate that so many American voters fell for Republicans who flung their "no direction" charge at Democrats, as if it is better to have one catastrophically wrong direction than multiple directions that get labelled as "no direction." True, war is not always compatible with group decision-making, but the "war on terrorism" was a relatively small operation until Bush escalated it into a full-blown, and unnecessary, invasion of Iraq. It is also unfortunate that Bush's lies about Saddam's WMD's painted Congressional Democrats into a corner — forcing them to choose between an invasion that had no connection to 9/11 versus a President and Congress that had the power to go to war without them. It's very hard to bet your political career against a president who declares that he "knows" a potential enemy has WMDs and is an immediate threat to America's national security, even when there is no concrete evidence to support that declaration.

    Because diversity is one of the Party's great strengths, what has stymied Democrats for the past six years (indeed, since the Republican's 1994 "Contract with America") is not a need for better cohesion, but better marketing. Republicans have done a masterful job of whitewashing their lame, blind, stupid horse and convincing voters it's a stallion. But the voters are finally realizing they've been duped: sold nothing but a bill of goods with a $300 billion price tag. Only now are they realizing they've bought a money pit…and a grave yard for loyal, hard-working American troops. Troops who can't take month-long vacations at their Crawford ranch, where the only threat is Cindy Sheehan shouting insults at them. When Republicans can frame Bush as a war hero and Kerry as an unpatriotic wimp, it is indeed a sign of superior marketing.

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    I don't want to seem like I myself lack a range of opinion. I do seem to express this same thought every couple of days. It always seems to be on my mind.

    I worry whether our electorate has numbed and dumbed itself too much on mindless amusement to recognize the power of internal dissent. In a single human, we consider this tendency to be the capacity of being self-critical — a self-critical person think pre-attacks his or her own ideas–and therefore internally forges better and stronger ideas.

    I agree with you that a self-critical party, one that invites, generates and tests its own ideas, one that actually promotes dissent, will come up with much better ideas. We now have a great example of what happens when a political party does the opposite: it points at anything it doesn't like, it calls that thing "bad" or "evil" and it attacks that thing using ignorance, demagoguery and, ultimately, violence.

    I am personally attracted to organizations that are truly big tents. My worry is whether the electorate any longer has the capacity of recognizing the great power possessed by a party that cultivates such diversity and invites self-criticism.

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