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The 1994 Fallacy

I"m on record expressing skepticism over Democratic "Contract With America" nostalgia, and go into some more detail in an article just published in The American Prospect online.  My argument is basically that 1994 is a bad model for Democrats, simply because in that year there were a good number of congressional districts (53) that had been voting Republican in presidential elections for years while not shedding their allegiance to a Democratic member of Congress. We overstate the magic of the Contract and Gingrich"s language. "Nationalizing the election" for Gingrich was just a matter of activating those voters" long-established partisan preference in the congressional election, in which he got some help from the backlash against Clinton.

I argue in the article that a better model for Democrats than 1994 is 1974, when 75 new Democrats won office, but won not with a national message but as individuals, with exceptional political skills and individual passion both about their own districts and the issues of the day, which included corruption/reform and our country's entanglement in an unwinnable war. The class of '74 had much in common but did not operate from a centralized agenda.

One response to the article has been, sure, that's probably true, but polls show that people don't know what Democrats stand for and we need some sort of core message to be shared by all candidates. I think the answer to that is that people will know what Democrats stand for when they see a Democrat, either a national figure like Barack Obama or Hilary Clinton or their own congressional candidate or their governor, say what he or she stands for. I think those national figures are doing a good job of it, and they're not all "on message," and the best thing that can happen next year is to have candidates of similar quality and willingness to speak their mind.

Since there are no comments on the TAP site, I'd welcome any discussion of the article here or at TPM Cafe, where this is cross-posted.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on November 8, 2005 | Permalink