Thursday, September 29, 2005

''Briefing From Governor Dean''

"I attended a briefing this evening by Governor Howard Dean for DNC contributors. I summarize his remarks below. I am relating his comments in his voice, but these are not necessarily direct quotes.

'The Democratic Party has been out of date for 30 years. For 30 years the Republicans have been building an infrastructure that exists between election cycles and allows them to maintain a constant prescience. For years the Democratic Party has assumed that a charismatic candidate will come along and overwhelm the Republican machine with his personality, another JKF or Bill Clinton. The Republican organization is so good that they can get any imbecile elected (witness Bush). When I came in as head of the DNC, Terry left me with a good budget and a really nice building full of up-to-date technology. What I didn't have was an organization on the ground and a database.

During the last election the local parties, ACT and others built incredible databases, but nobody knows where they are anymore. With every election cycle we have to start over because the DNC didn't keep the lists. We need to do that now, we need a database. We won't fundraise from it, we'll give it back to all of you so you can organize and fundraise for each local and state election.

I am bringing in a new strategy. We can't win if we run in 18 states, we need to run in 50 states. The first thing I did when I took over at the DNC was go to Mississippi. No Democrat had been there in years, they thought the people there didn't welcome northeastern liberals. Well, they were wrong. There were 900 people at this meeting, we ran out of seats we ran out of food, we had to order pizza for people spilling into the streets. Every former Democratic governor, every former and current legislator came. That told me that these people were hungry for help and they want to win. So I'm going to help them. We may not win the presidential election in Alabama in 2008, but we may win the governor's seat. In Mississippi, a small Democratic majority in the state legislature is all that is keeping 50,000 kids from losing their health care. These are important moral issues. It is our moral obligation to stand up for our beliefs and the people we have always spoken for every where in the country. We cannot cede territory to the Republicans. We need for people there to hear our side, someone to give our message voice.

When I came to the DNC, the Mississippi Democratic Party had 1.5 staffers. We just sent them 4 more, we tripled their staff. As of today we have at least several fulltime staff paid for by the DNC in 35 states. In two weeks that will be 43 states. By the end of the year that will be 50 states. That what your contributions are paying for. To build a permanent organization on the ground. We are getting there now and we are staying there for 2006, for 2008 and beyond. We need stability and we need lists. We need lists to give back to people, it's part of the organization, lists of people we can call on to work, to vote.

The Democratic Party needs a national message. We are smart people, we know how to fix every problem, but a list of policy positions is not a message. For 8 months I've been working to develop a message. But that message is not going to be handed down from people in Washington. People in Washington with political experience lost us the last two elections. So I spent the summer traveling around the country listening to Democrats in local communities and asking people what they care about, asking candidates what they want to talk about in their campaign.

Everywhere I went I heard the same core issues. People care about 4 things: 1). Jobs and economic development; 2). Health care; 3). Education; 4). National security. But 4 issues is not a message. We have been talking to people's heads, explaining things to them, when we need to talk to their hearts. We are working with people who are not politicians but who are really good at messages. By the end of the year we will have a coherent message to use nation wide that will resonate in any part of the country. The biggest challenge may be getting the politicians in Washington to stick to the message. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are with me. When the others see the message working they will use it too. If it doesn't work, they'll toss me out.

A message is a statement of values and principles, not a set of policies or positions. When we tell people we want to give them universal health care, no child left behind and such, what they hear us say is that we want to raise their children for them. If you look at our positions on issues from abortion to the Iraq War to education, polls show that people agree with our positions. It's the way we frame the message that matters. George Bush figured this out long ago. He talks about values, except he uses gay marriage and abortion as the metaphor. When the Republicans call us pro-abortion and we start defending abortion, we have let them frame the issue. I was on the board of Planned Parenthood in Vermont for 5 years and I don't know anyone who is pro-abortion. We cannot let them frame the debate and go on the defensive. We should talk to people more about values and morals because people agree with us.

Our message will be about community, honesty in government, and we will have our own version of the Contract with America. It will be a clear message that distinguishes us from the Republicans. We'll have it by the end of this year.

We are also developing an email list of 10,000 activists. Every week the list will get an instruction to write a letter to the editor and to call their local talk show hosts, even the conservative ones, and they will have talking points to discuss. The Republicans have been doing this and we need to get our message out there. You won't get on Rush, but you will get on your local radio program. They may ridicule and denigrate you, but you will get out our message. It will part of the messaging and branding of our party.

We've been a party defending a 70 year old system. And we should defend what is good about our system like Social Security. But we've had a problem articulating new ideas, bold ideas. I will be mean, tough, and I will often say things people wish I hadn't. But what I won't do is stoop to their level of greed, indifference to the country and the American people, and uncaring. Having said that, my political models are Gingrich and Rove. Gingrich came to power with a clear message and took advantage of corruption in Congress, We have a similar opportunity now. We do not need to move the party to the right. We only need to stand up for what we believe in.

Governor Dean was asked about the national security issue. He said we are in a tough spot. He believes we lost the last election over security issues. He said he thought Kerry made a big mistake by not immediately defending himself against the Swift Boat attack, that it gave people the impression that if he couldn't or wouldn't defend himself, then how could he defend the country. He said that most of the Democrats in Washington want to get out of Iraq, and the majority of people also want to, but maybe not right away. It is difficult to formulate a position to convince the public that we are strong on defense, that we will "pull the trigger" when needed, while advocating for a pull out from Iraq.

He was also asked about taking advantage of the scandals and incompetence the Republicans have demonstrated in spades recently. He said that Democrats are out there every day talking about these things. He said he also wants to be patient, because he wants Bush to be the story, not the Democrats response to Bush. He said we have no power, we cannot enact any change, we have no role in running the government now. As such, it can hurt us more to speak out at times than to let the Republicans swing in the breeze. The Democrats have only one job right now, to get rid of Bush and the Republicans. We cannot influence anything until we return to power. This frustrated a lot of people in the room, who felt the Democrats should be constantly pushing agenda items. The governor said that strategically, that doesn't work, that we cannot influence anything right now and it can hurt us to become the story and be put on the defensive."-from Ramsey's Diary on Kos, tipped by Howard-Empowered People.

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