01 October 2006


Blair's Memo

DLC president Bruce Reed, here in Slate, on Tony Blair's recent charge to the UK Labor Party on its future:
But the real value of Blair's speech is his candid advice on how to win, how to lead, how to think, and how to earn the right to govern. Blair made plain that he was delivering a political memo. "It's up to you," he told his party. "You take my advice. You don't take it. Your choice."

It's a first-rate memo and shows why, for all his recent woes, Tony Blair produced the longest-serving, most successful Labour government in history. The memo makes four main points that any party forgets at its peril.

First, winning is better than losing, so long as it's winning with a purpose. Blair says New Labour got back in the game the moment "we abandoned the ridiculous, self-imposed dilemma between principle and power." These days, some Democrats spend half their time equating winning with unprincipled expediency, and the other half whining about losing. Thanks to Karl Rove, Republicans know how to say or do anything to win, and find themselves wondering whatever happened to their party's principles. It's time to remember that Henry Clay was wrong—the whole point is figuring out how to be right and be president.

Second, make change a tradition. By their very nature, political parties are creatures of nostalgia and habit. But Blair points out that a party cannot stay true to its oldest principles if it is afraid to modernize its policies: "Values unrelated to modern reality are not just electorally hopeless, the values themselves become devalued. They have no purchase on the real world." Blair says he has always loved the Labour Party, but adds: "There's only one tradition I hated: losing."

Third, don't forget to think and believe at the same time. Blair reminds us that the true measure of political courage is not what a party can promise, but what it can deliver:

"The true believer believes in social justice, in solidarity, in help for those not able to help themselves. … But they also know that these values, gentle and compassionate as they are, have to be applied in a harsh, uncompromising world and what makes the difference is not belief alone, but the raw courage to make it happen."

Finally, and perhaps most important, relish the hard choices that come with responsibility, not run from them. Under Bush, Republicans have become far too comfortable in ignoring the country's problems, and Democrats sometimes too comfortable in opposition. As Blair says,

"The danger for us today is not reversion to the politics of the 1980s. It is retreat to the sidelines. To the comfort zone. It is unconsciously to lose the psychology of a governing Party. As I said in 1994, courage is our friend. Caution, our enemy. A governing Party has confidence, self-belief. It sees the tough decision and thinks it should be taking it. Reaches for responsibility first. Serves by leading."

As new threats to our national and economic security emerged over the past six years, we could have used a governing Party here in America.
Repeating Reed: "[H]ow to win, how to lead, how to think, and how to earn the right to govern." The last time we saw those was in the Clinton administration. Here's to seeing them again directly.

A governing Party has confidence, self-belief. It sees the tough decision and thinks it should be taking it. Reaches for responsibility first.

It's hard to compare a Parliamentary system to ours when discussing parties. But this one quote, to me, is the crux of the problem among Democrats.

The Bush Administration, did see a tough decision and did reach for the responsibility in taking on Islamic Fascists, first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq. I'd have chosen differently after Afghanistan, and certainly would have liked to have seen things go better... But the fact remains that he chose to confront the enemy.

For the Democrats to win they must reach for the responsibility and tell us how THEY will confront the enemy. Hell they need to tell us they recognize the enemy and NOT do what they appear to prefer, or as Reed warns: "The danger for us today is... is retreat to the sidelines."

Democrats win on almost every issue but security... why? Where are the Democratic voices clamoring for the responsibility?

One other thing I think the Democrats err with, is their emphasis on party and party loyalty. We don't have a parliamentary system where the majority party picks the Prime Minister, and where members are picked to run for election not by where they live, but by a quirky system of longevity, merit and liklihood of being elected in WHICHEVER district.

The Republicans have been successful championing individual races, while the Democrats rely on party loyalty. They've lost many of us as a result. Much of Clinton's success was in reaching out to the middle. As the Republicans get too comfortable in power the Democrats will eventually figure out that they need us moderates... but to get me and those like me, they have to be serious on security... at the very least they have to be less venomous to the hawks in their ranks.
You know that I see Islamacist yahoos as a threat that has to be deal with, and I'm supportive of those who deal with that threat *effectively*. Choosing to identify and confront the enemy, in this case, is something to note and recognize as valuable.

But there's the matter of effectiveness, and the conduct of this administration in Iraq leads me to the conclusion that they and the Republicans can no longer be trusted with the security of this nation.

I don't know that any of us are clamoring to deal with a threat like the Islamacist threat. Do any of us clamor for a bar fight with a homicidal maniac? It's a task accepted with regret and reluctant resposibility: the killing of others because they don't share "live and let live" values. But it has to be done, and any number of Democrats have identified that necessity, from former Vice-President Gore to Mrs. Clinton.

This refusal to acknowledge that many if not most Democrats recognize the Islamacist threat is troubling. Democrats who are afraid to do so are problematic, but they are not, to my sense, in the majority. And the Republicans, for all their bluster, haven't made us more secure. The Iraq situation leaves us less able to deal with Iran and with North Korea, states that are developing nuclear weapons.

Your concern about party loyalty is misplaced, to my thoughts. I don't agree with your characterization at all. There is a wide diversity of Democrats up for election this year. Daily Kos is not "the Democrats."

I disagree with your characterization of Democrats and of "the left" (not here, but on your own blog). I think you paint with too broad of a brush. There are plenty of security Democrats, regardless of what the Republicans say.
Plenty of Security Democrats: Jo Lieberman for one.

I try not to think of Democrats vs. Republicans... I am a Democrat but can't buy what the power base of the party is now selling. Give me some individuals to vote for and I will. For President give me a J.F. Kennedy Democrat, but he'd never be nominated today. Lieberman will never be nominated, neither will anyone with Hawkish views. The mainstream Dems are more anti-Bush and anti-Republican than anything. They are reactionary. Yes there are plenty of exceptions, I accept that, I'm proud to have a couple here in Florida... but the more moderate the Democrat (on a National level) the less influential they are at the moment.

I agree completely with effectiveness, but change for changes sake, without a competing philosophy is too risky when it comes to National Security. It's why I'm begging for a strong Democrat to articulate a strong security policy with clear goals. But all I hear is how bad Bush is doing... great tell me something I can't see for myself... What will be done differently? and why can't a Democrat say he shares the President's goals and argue over means... I'm afraid that to get nominated the electable candidate's goals may be too different. Fear of being "too Republican." appears to be keeping many from speaking up. I'm sick of all the party fighting and petty bickering... a third party is long overdue. but it will mean the death of one of the current ones. Which is more likely to disappear?
I think we're largely talking past each other here. If you want to make one last response to what I say here, you're welcome to do so. A lack of response on my part after that shouldn't be interpreted as my conceding any argument or as tacit agreement. I think we've made our positions clear, respect aspects of each other's point-of-view, and are both unwilling to give in on the matters of how many security Democrats there are or how strongly the Democratic Party in the large is or can be identified with a security point of view. Fair enough.

It seems that you want two contradictory things. You want Democratic candidates to be independent of each other -- things you claim the Republican candidates are, when the Republican candidates are, in fact, much more tightly coupled to the national party than the Democratic Party candidates ever have been or likely ever will be -- and you want the Democratic Party, as a whole, to have a pro-security message. While I like the latter, and think it is, in practice, the broader trend regardless of what some bloggers and pundits say, I have to admit that there is a greater diversity of opinion about how to engage in the Middle East, with Islamacist radicals, and towards Iranian, Korean, and Chinese threats within the Democratic Party than there is within the Republican one.

I think that's an asset. The actual choice that's made comes from a set of alternatives, so having a bigger set of alternatives to choose from almost always leads to better choices. The caveat is that the choice has to take place in a context of principles and standards.

I'm confident in the principles and standards of the vast majority of the rank and file and the policians in the Democratic Party. I'm vastly more confident in their willingness to actually work towards the security of the USA than I am of the efforts of the current administration.
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