We did not have a good Election Day.
John Kerry lost the presidency to George Bush (although he carried Washington State). Despite Patty Murray's victory and success in legislative races, our candidate for governor ran poorly, and progressive candidates for attorney general, secretary of state, land commissioner, and the supreme court lost.
Democrats ran a textbook technical campaign. The fundraising was good, the ads, were creative, the literature was distributed, and the GOTV was exceptional. But the campaigns at the head of the ticket, for president and governor, said nothing. They lacked a sense of core values, a soul. If a campaign is an exercise in communication, these campaigns did not communicate.
At the national level, we had five major issues--Iraq, health care, the deficit, Social Security, and the environment. Bush was abysmal on all five. Kerry was either equivocal (Wrong war, wrong place, wrong time, but I'll fight it better than Bush!) or silent. Shouldn't the Bush plan for privatization of Social Security have been discussed in Florida, for example?
At the state level, we had an unreconstructed right wing Republican running for governor who was allowed to argue that he would be the agent of change in Olympia. Gregoire talked only about her resume and defended her office's screw-ups. She was the agent of the Olympia status quo. Her campaign was largely devoid of ideas.
Where do we go from here?
Progressives must recapture our commitment to core values and have the Democratic Party implement them in the upcoming elections. We must communicate those ideals to the red counties of Washington and the red states. What are those ideals?
The development of such ideals ought to take place in discussions by progressive groups over the next few months. I have my own thoughts about what some of those ideals shoiuld be (and I don't mean that these concepts should be like a party platform with a little of everything for everybody).
We should re-affirm our commitment to:
- Equal opportunity for all Americans, with particular attention to health care, education, and higher education for our children;
- Civil liberties (no more Patriot Acts);
- Fiscal responsibility (balance our budgets and give people a dollar's worth of service for each tax dollar);
- A foreign policy that lives up to our democratic principles;
- Stewardship of our environment and its resources.
These values can be applied at the national and state levels.
The major thrust of the next few months must be the development of a progressive consensus on our core values. Once that is accomplished, we can focus on how to communicate these principles to our fellow citizens, and how to support candidates who embrace them.
Let's roll up our sleeves and get back to work. Too much is at stake for us not to do so.
Phil Talmadge served the 34th district as State Senator for 6 years, and spent 4 years on the State Supreme Court. He was a candidate for Governor for a few months in 2004, and is reviewing his options for future campaigns.