Democratic Underground  

It's All in the Image
December 13, 2002
By Ronald Gerughty

It is said that perception is reality. And the reality is that the Democrats are perceived as rudderless and floundering, seeking a way out of the morass. Recently, there have been a plethora of articles on how the disorganized, disappointed, and discombobulated Democrats can recover and reverse their losses. Numerous theories have been advanced as reasons for the debacle; however, blame seems to center on the lack of message and on the conservative bias of the mainstream media-although true, they miss the mark. It's all in the image.

It's the bully in the schoolyard syndrome. The primary reason for the devastating performance in election 2002 was the image the Democrats created in the minds of the public as gutless, intimidated, weak-kneed, hapless characters being pushed around by a fearsome ideologue. It rapidly became apparent that they had no desire for dueling with a formidable foe, Bush the bully. Gone was their passionate love for principle, replaced by insincerity, acquiescence, and an all too obvious attempt at self-preservation.

Although few actually like or admire a bully, most follow his lead as they perceive strength and conviction, however misplaced. Concurrently, there is little respect for the victims--they are perceived as too weak to stand up for their rights. There usually is sympathy and some degree of empathy, but other than their close friends, there will be no following.

The Bush administration excels at the politics of fear and most of the Democrats fell for it in its entirety. Abandon the message, disregard the constituency, protect our asses became their modus operandi. Don't object too strenuously to the massive tax cut for the wealthy, give in to the Iraq resolution, ignore the unconscionable contents of the Homeland Security bill, and maybe he'll not target us. These actions created an image of Bush and gang bullying the Democrats and the Democrats providing no response. They were mugged in the schoolyard and simply snuck off to lick their wounds and soothe their egos. Consequently, the Democratic base was angered by this wimpy, self-serving approach-disgusted and ashamed to be associated with a Party that would tolerate, let alone encourage, such actions. The result was predicable-stay home and let others vote.

The Democratic Party has effectively alienated and diminished its base. By failing to oppose Bush's policies that they knew were wrong and would harm their constituents, they failed to acknowledge the needs and desires of those within the base, they created a no-win strategy. Alas, Democratic voter turnout in most states was abysmal. We cannot cast the blame on the media or on the Bush juggernaut. We have no one to blame but ourselves. There was a major disconnect between the people and their representatives-a failure to act responsibly. There was no moral opposition. No Democrat had the intestinal fortitude to challenge the bully, to expose him for what he is: a fear-peddling, warmongering iconoclast determined to take over the minds of all Americans and forever change the nature of our country. If individuals who represent the people cannot or will not stand up for themselves, they certainly will not stand up for us. The image narrows the options: vote for the perceived strength or do not vote at all.

Is all lost? Is the Democratic Party dead? Not hardly. But changes must be made. First and foremost, our representatives must rediscover their backbones and assert their principles with moral clarity and depth of conviction. No whining and cheap sloganeering, it's counterproductive. They must, once again, go into the field and truly listen to their constituents, to communicate with them the perils of the Bush administration. Don't try to force-feed the Party rhetoric, but give them the tools they need to open their eyes and make an informed decision. They have been traumatized by the Pennsylvania Avenue bully and are afraid for their lives and those of their families. They do not understand that George W. Bush poses a greater threat to their lives and way of living than Saddam Hussein could ever dream. Little do they realize that war with Iraq will most likely result in increased activities from al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations against them here in the United States. Importantly, provide them with resources where those who desire further information can find the data to objectively weigh both sides.

To refute the perceived image, a trust has to be redeveloped and a sensitivity to those represented must be demonstrated. Responsibility must be restored. New and effective leaders must be cultivated--leaders who can articulate a message based on democratic principle and fight for the health, safety, and welfare of all Americans. They must be able to take the fear instilled by Bush and turn it into anger-anger at being lied to, manipulated, and taken for fools too stupid to know the truth. Transcend the fear and channel the anger into a grassroots surge to regain our freedoms. Form alliances between the Democrats, Progressives, Libertarians, and moderate Republicans who respect the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, and rule of law to fight to regain what Bush and Company have taken from us.

When the Democrats reverse their image, when they appeal directly to those who support the principles of the Democratic Party and democracy with a coherent, realistic message, victory can be sweet. The results in Louisiana demonstrate it can be accomplished.

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