To learn from our landslide defeat, Democrats should avoid excuses that divert attention from the tasks required to prepare for the next round of elections. Here are 10 examples of what Democrats should avoid.
"All hope is lost." Party fundraising emails may say so, but it's not. Ask anyone who went through 1984, 1994, and 2010. Elections are cyclical, and we need to be ready for the next opportunities by learning from our mistakes and moving forward.
"If only ... [fill in the blank]." In a wipeout of this magnitude, no one factor would have changed the outcome. A multitude of factors were at play, including many completely beyond the control of the campaigns wrecked by the wave.
"There's nothing we could have done." Actually there are plenty of things we could have done, but most of them should have happened months or years ago. Maybe nothing tactical in the closing month would have changed the outcome, but better messaging and performance leading up it could have helped. Besides, this type of thinking is self-destructive and presents a horrible image to the audience we most need to convince. Voters who expect courage and performance from their leaders are not going to cast their lot with a party of defeatists.
"It's all about Obama." Feelings about the president were part -- maybe the biggest part -- of why we lost so badly. But plenty of Democratic campaigns lost because of their own failings, completely independent of what voters feel about the president.
"It's all about race." Racial attitudes are part of it, but they are not the only reason we lost badly. If we want voters to put us in charge of their government, understand that they expect performance. We simply have not delivered in ways that meet their needs and expectations.
"But they agree with us on the issues." If they do, we did a poor job selling our positions. At a minimum, we should entertain the possibility that voters aren't buying what we're selling. Better yet, let's try to develop great ideas and innovative ways to sell them. And never forget that when it comes to winning elections, candidates and values matter more than policies.
"This wouldn't have happened if voters had known x about our opposition." Again, if that's the case, we did a lousy job communicating our opponents' individual and collective shortcomings. In reality, voters had plenty of reasons to vote against most Republicans this year. They did not have enough reasons to vote FOR us. For a change, we might try better ideas and more positive messaging.
"We didn't focus enough on our base and turnout." "We didn't focus enough on swing voters and persuasion." Yes. Both. The two are not mutually exclusive.
"The voters will get what they deserve." Actually, the voters deserve much better than they are likely to get. More important, blaming the customers is as self-defeating in politics as it is in business. Our challenge is to present voters with superior ideas, campaigns, and candidates.
"But so-and-so said ...." Here's a dirty little secret. With some notable exceptions, most of the people opining about what went wrong and what needs to change are no longer paid to run or advise major campaigns -- if they ever were. You know more about these things than so-and-so does, and you have a helluva lot more at stake in coming up with the right answers. So do it.
Be certain that I don't exempt myself from this advice. OK, except the last one. But five years ago I failed in my attempt to alert folks to the challenges of the 2010 midterm.Hopefully we all can be more successful this time.