Friday, January 02, 2004

It's the Government, Stupid: I've been thinking lately that if the Dems want to win in 2004, they have to make a case for the good government can do in one's life. For about 30 years or so, Americans have learned to distrust government. This came as a result of the bipartisan messes of Vietnam and Watergate. The far-right in the GOP has taken this distrust to heart and made part of their strategy: government can't do anything right, individuals can live pretty well or even better with out goverment sticking it's nose into everything. I think this thought has come to fruition under Bush. During the 2000 campaign, he stuck to the theme that the "government" was taking the "people's" money to do things that we may not want it to do. In the recent debate over perscription drugs, the Administration pushed for private health care companies to negotiate with the pharmacutical industry over drug prices even the government itself has the power and the might to negotiate with the drug companies for drug prices. Why did the admistration ignore this procedure even when estimates show that this would have saved money? Again, because it is an ideological belief that government is inept.

The Dems need to challenge this assumption. So far, they have not done a good job. Democrats believe that they don't need to make this case, that it is evident to anybody who has a brain. Here in Minnesota, the Dems failed to make the case to not cut social programs in the state so much, thinking that after people begin to feel the loss of government programs they will change their minds.

This is a dumb strategy.

Liberals always like to assume that people are rational beings that when presented with the facts will make the right decision. Conservatives know that people are not that rational and can easily get caught up in mob thinking which of course, is anything but rational. Plus, if you tell someone enough times that the government can't do anything right, people will believe it even if you have the best, most efficient government out there. So, it ain't so clear to the general populace that governmenet can be good. In politics as in most of life, perception is reality. If people think that government is inefficient and inept then it is. Democrats have to make the case of why we need government.

In 1991, Harris Wofford was in a race to succeed the late John Heinz. He made a very memorable commercial where he said in effect that if felons in prison could get health care, so should working class families. He made the case that the government was giving health care to people that most of society did not like. Well, if we could help the lowest in society, what about those who live right? In a very insidious way he saying that the market based system was not working, but government could step in to fill the breach. He made the case for government be a key to the solution of the lack of afforable health care.

I think Democrats believe that they don't have to prove anything to people because they have history on their side. They will proclaim that it was under FDR that we were lifted out of the Great Depression. They will point to creation of programs like Social Security, Medicare, and the Endangered Speices Act. (Nevermind that they were passed with lots of moderate Republican help, but that's another story.) The thing is, people's minds are short. People don't care about what happened 30 to 70 years ago, they are concerned about what is going on now. Health care costs are rising and more people are without health care. Companies are finding it harder and harder to bear the burden of health care. Perscription drug costs are the highest in the world, meaning many people can't afford life-saving drugs. Isn't this a place where the government could step in? If the Dems were smart they would mount a massive campaign on this issue stating that hard working Americans should not be have to worry about how the will pay for medical bills and seniors should not have to choose between food and the pills they need.

I'm thinking of a prospective tv spot. It shows pictures of polluted streams. "Will Wal-Mart make your water clean?" Then the picture is of someone getting on a plane. The voice says, "will United protect you from danger?" Next, flash over to an elderly woman taking some medicine. Voice says, "will Glaxo make sure you have affordable drugs?" A family sits down to eat dinner and there are pan shots of the food on the table. The voice says, "will Kroger protect the food supply?" Finally in a montage of all the shots, the voice says, "Government can't solve every problem, but it can make sure that you and your loved ones are able to live full and productive lives. Democrats have had a history of trying to make government work for hard working Americans. In this time of uncertainty, we need the government to protect us from harm. The Democratic Party has had a history of helping people in times of personal and national crisises. From Social Security, Medicare, Civil Rights and the Environment, we have been there to make sure that the American spirit is alive and well. Keep the tradition alive, vote Democrat."

Okay, I'm not an ad person and I'm not even a Democrat, but that is how I would pitch a pro-government record.

Now, if the Dems could get over the "Bush hatred" maybe they could mount a challenging campaign. We shall see.


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