A Slumbering Beast Awakens

That grumbling you hear out east is a minority party slowly waking up from its decade-long hibernation :

Key Democratic sources say Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other House leaders are putting the finishing touches on what arguably will be Democrats most detailed “positive” election-year agenda since the party lost power more than a decade ago. Pelosi has been coordinating with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), key Democratic strategists, advisers and outside interest groups on the policy platform as well as the party’s broader 2006 message.
. . .
An early draft of the agenda outlines the specific initiatives House Democrats will pledge to enact if given control of the House. Leaders have been working on the document for months, and have already started encouraging Members to unify around it and stick to its themes.

Among the proposals are: “real security” for America through stronger investments in U.S. armed forces and benchmarks for determining when to bring troops home from Iraq; affordable health insurance for all Americans; energy independence in 10 years; an economic package that includes an increase in the minimum wage and budget restrictions to end deficit spending; and universal college education through scholarships and grants as well as funding for the No Child Left Behind act.

Democrats will also promise to return ethical standards to Washington through bipartisan ethics oversight and tighter lobbying restrictions, increase assistance to Katrina disaster victims through Medicaid and housing vouchers, save Social Security from privatization and tighten pension laws.

This all sounds good, but vaguely familiar. I agree with the vague outline here, but I’d advise against presenting a laundry list without making the fiscal insanity of the GOP leadership a central issue. I’ve seen Democratic leaders propose bold plans like this plenty of times. The problem isn’t the plans themselves, but the fact that the public doesn’t really pay much attention.

Writing in the NY Times today, Walter Cronkite has a good idea on that front. (via MyDD)

The key to a Democratic success in next year’s Congressional election is clearly in the party leadership’s coming up with a campaign that does not concentrate on the Bush administration’s failures but offers alternative programs to fix what it believes is wrong with the Republican agenda.

A suggestion by which the Democratic Party could command the greatest public attention for its positive agenda: It could within weeks call an extraordinary midterm convention to draw up its platform.

The convention would not need to be expensive. The delegates could be those who attended the 2004 convention. Their meeting would be open to the public and of course the press.

In sharp contrast to the secrecy of the Bush administration, it would let the public, if only remotely, share in the construction of the Democratic platform.

Of course that last line is the rub in this particular plan. If the public barely pays attention to the current quadrennial conventions already, why would they care about a lefty pep-rally that the major networks wouldn’t even bother to carry live?

The answer to that is to have the convention a purpose beyond being a stadium-sized cheering section. Publicly play up the minor divisions within the party ranks (ie. how quickly we should get out of Iraq and what method to use to provide universal healthcare) to provide a little suspense in the lead-up to the delegates’ vote to approve the party platform. Use the convention to actually construct (in Cronkite’s words) the Democratic platform. Have the speakers from competitive Senate and House races, along with potential 2008 Presidential nominees, give keynote speeches about the various aspects of the Democratic message. And write off the inevitable complaints from GOP stalwarts as the “bitter complaints of an out-of-touch party that’s been corrupted by a decade in power”.

Most of all, stop being such chickenshits and let everyone talk. The conservative Democrats will still offer more progressive ideas than anything currently coming out of Washington and the super-liberal Dems will at least show than Democrats aren’t completely devoid of emotion. The Democrats have a golden opportunity to offer the public something different. Don’t blow it by focus-grouping your hearts, guys.