Who Needs a Unified Message?

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Via Jacob Weisberg’s Democratic-bashing article in Slate (and this wasn’t one of the good Democratic-bashing articles, attacking the minority party on substance for being too filled with pro-corporate moderates who back bad bankruptcy bills, harmful abortion restrictions, and defeating the Kyoto Protocol; no, no, it was one of those bitchy “insider” pieces where we learn that Harry Reid is “colorless,” Nancy Pelosi is “Washington’s answer to Barbara Streisand,” and Howard Dean stands for “incandescent rage”—in other words, sheer wankery), here’s a New York Times piece that talks about the problems with the Democratic Party’s electoral strategy:

From Arizona to Pennsylvania, from Colorado to Connecticut, Democratic candidates for Congress are reading from a stack of different scripts these days.

At the Capitol in Hartford the other morning, State Senator Christopher Murphy denounced the “disastrous prescription drug benefit bill” embraced by his Republican opponent, Representative Nancy L. Johnson.

Jeff Latas, a Democratic candidate in an Arizona race, is talking about the nation’s dangerous reliance on oil imports from the Middle East. Ed Perlmutter, a Colorado Democrat, says he is running against “the arrogance and cronyism” displayed by Washington Republicans.

In this context, the fact that all these Democrats are saying different things is a “problem” because the Democratic leadership in Washington wants to nationalize this race, since that’s what Newt Gingrich and the GOP did in 1994 and, for whatever reason, that’s the model. I don’t know if it will work or not—real political analysts can speak to that—but from a small-d democratic perspective, it doesn’t seem so bad that different (big-d) Democratic candidates are running on different things.

The House, after all, is set up so that each member of Congress represents a single district. I’d prefer we had something like proportional representation, where people really did vote for national candidates, but that’s just not the case, and under the current system, if people in Connecticut have different concerns from people in Arizona, well, then it seems quite natural for representatives to talk about those local concerns. Maybe Christopher Murphy’s constituents don’t care about “arrogance and cronyism” but care a lot about the prescription drug bill. Shouldn’t they be able to elect someone who pledges to fight for that issue? Same with the war—if people have varying views on when and how the United States should pull out of Iraq, shouldn’t they be allowed to elect a Democratic Congress (if they elect a Democratic Congress) that reflects that disagreement, to some extent? Maybe there are counterarguments here, but the obsession in the media with Democrats having a “unified message” seems a bit bizarre to me.


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