Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Ned Lamont: "Good judgment is an essential part of good governance"

One of the cardinal rules of writing is "Know your audience." Penning an op-ed for the conservative, business-oriented Wall Street Journal, Ned Lamont wisely focuses on his credentials as an entrepreneur and stresses how these principles shape his policy positions. He leads with his fiscally conservative views, and later folds his support for social programs and his opposition to Bush's continuing policy in Iraq into these fiscal views. He carefully weaves in the I-love-America theme throughout, and overall goes for a "See? I'm a moderate, not a radical" subtext. Even when he attacks Bush (and by association Lieberman), rather than invoking lies and deception, his accusations focus on their poor management and judgment:

Good judgment is an essential part of good governance. But we're bogged down in Iraq, and hamstrung in the war against terror, by leaders who lacked judgment, historical perspective, openness to other cultures and plain old common sense. We offer something different.

The one sentence in the op-ed I find a bit annoying is that in the run-up to the primary election, the people of Connecticut spoke to Lamont "every day with a simple eloquence and urgency about the country we love." "Simple" eloquence seems to be a "jes folks" pander that's a bit insulting, and might not go over as well with the blueblood crowd in Connecticut, nor the working class if it's taken as condescending. But this is a quibble. Bloggers, activists and Lamont supporters of all shades are not likely to take offense.

We'll see how Lamont delivers, assuming he wins the general election in November. And we'll see how his op-ed is received. However, his language in the op-ed is carefully crafted, hardly the rhetoric of a "burn the castle!" radical. One of the best methods for selling effective social programs such as universal health care and education to the conservative crowd is by selling the business angle - it will save them money in the long run, and without it they'll lose their competitive edge against foreign companies. Of course, the purpose of education in particular is not to train better workers for companies, but if that's a byproduct and if it gets the business community to support better education, hey, that's good politics.

Moving beyond Lamont, most Americans favor Democratic positions on policy matters, but many will still vote against their own economic interest and put social and psychological factors first ("Do I feel safe?" "Are the gays and immigrants encroaching?" "Is this politician a Christian like me?" "Can this politician be trusted to protect me?"). Republicans have long put all their energy into building a juggernaut of a political machine, focusing on image and public relations, although a few of the most honest in the party have confessed (mostly anonymously) that their party as whole doesn't know how to govern. The Democrats have their share of scoundrels, too, but as a whole know how to govern, and have done a far superior job on fiscal and social issues on the national stage. Just as the Republicans very badly need to focus on actual performance and job competence (assuming they care about their constituents and not just corporations), Democrats badly need to get better at the politics. Ideas do not sell themselves, and having a better policy does not guarantee victory. Democrats need to speak the language of compassion and human impact with voters (paint a picture of the minimum wage worker and how the refusal to raise the minimum wage affects her), and of enlightened self-interest with the business community. But Republicans long ago realized that many voters choose their candidates due to legitimate but intangible reasons, or due to truly irrational factors. The person, the candidate expressing the ideas, matters a great deal. The Democratic party has some fine talent, but there's not really anyone dominant on the national stage with the raw charisma and eloquence of a FDR, MLK or JFK. Howard Dean is wisely employing a 50-state strategy of resurrecting and cultivating the Democratic party in "red states" that had previously been largely abandoned (he is also targeting more funds for specific, key races). Yet even while Dean sagely works for the party's future, and Lamont and other candidates focus on winning local, specific elections, the Democratic party would do well to consider better cultivating its talent and crafting a winning message of "intangible" appeal.

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