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What Is the First Rule for Democratic Success in November?

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The first rule for Democratic success this November is the immutable iron law of politics: if you're on the defense you're losing. Who ever is on the offensive almost always wins elections.

That's why Democratic victory requires that this election cannot simply be a referendum on the speed with which Democrats have been cleaning up the economic mess created by the Republicans and their allies on Wall Street. It must be a choice between Democrats who are charting a new path forward out of the economic ditch and the failed economic policies of the Republicans that drove us into that ditch in the first place. Democrats must make it clear that if the Republicans once again get their hands on the keys to the economy, those same, reckless failed policies will result in yet another economic catastrophe.

It's fine, for instance, for Democratic office holders to explain the details of the Health Care bill. After all, the more that people know about it, the more they like it. But that explanation should not constitute the be all and end all of the Democratic health care message. We have to challenge the Republicans -- who have been bought and paid for by the insurance companies -- to justify their vote against preventing those companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions. We have to challenge them to explain their proposals to eliminate Medicare and replace it with vouchers for private insurance.

The same goes in every arena. And it is doubly important because voters vote for people -- not policy positions. Voters want leaders who are strong and self confident -- not leaders who spend their days in a defensive crouch. They want leaders who stand up straight and defend their deeply held values -- not leaders who bob and weave.

The thing we have to remember most is that Democratic positions on the issues - and the values that underlie them -- are very popular. Voters generally respond very favorable to candidates who stand up for those values -- for average Americans not the wealthy and special interests.

This all seems obvious to normal people who size up candidates. Unfortunately it is often less obvious to the sometimes risk averse consultant class that has so much to say about the way political campaigns are organized.

But all they need to do is take a careful look at the polling that makes the importance of staying on the offensive ever so clear.

Here for instance are some of the questions that have scored well in raising serious concerns about Republican swing district candidates in polling I've seen over the last month. The first two are particularly powerful among senior citizens that make up a big chunk of swing voters in many key districts.

  • Candidate A took hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from the insurance companies and now he supports abolishing Medicare and replacing it with vouchers for private insurance.
  • Candidate D took tens of thousands from Wall Street Banks and now he supports privatizing Social Security and replacing a guaranteed benefit with investments in the stock market.
  • Candidate E takes thousands of dollars in contributions from defense contractors and refuses to vote against wasteful and ineffective defense projects.
  • Candidate F receives hundreds of thousands in donations from wealthy supporters. He is all in favor of spending hundreds of billions on tax cuts for the rich, but he refuses to support money for unemployment benefits to laid off workers or preventing states and local government from laying off teachers, firemen, and police.
  • Candidate Y took $500,000 from the health insurance companies and then voted against banning discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions.
  • Candidate J took $250,000 from the health insurance companies and then voted against stopping insurance companies from imposing lifetime or annual caps on coverage and dropping people when they get too expensive to insure.
  • Candidate F took $50,000 from the health insurance companies and then voted against stopping insurance companies from charging women more than men and denying coverage to pregnant women because it was considered a pre-existing condition.
  • Candidate U used every excuse to vote against requiring that Members of Congress like him are covered under the health care reform law just like everybody else.
  • Candidate Z took $100,000 from the oil industry and refuses to support legislation that would break the stranglehold of foreign oil that leaves us more and more vulnerable to our enemies that control our oil supplies.

These are the kinds of questions that Democrats need to force onto the agenda this fall. They apply to almost every incumbent Republican, and most challengers. These statements symbolize the fundamental differences between Democrats and the Republican candidates who want to return to the failed economic policies of the Bush era that favored the interests of Wall Street, big Oil and the insurance industry -- not the interests of everyday Americans.

If we take the offensive, Democrats may lose some seats this fall, but we definitely do not need to lose control of sizable majorities in either House of Congress. If we take the offensive, Conventional Wisdom will spend the evening of November 2 scratching his head and wondering how he could have been so wrong. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the recent book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on