What Democrats Can Learn from Canadian Conservatives

Kenneth Baer, a former speechwriter for Al Gore, thinks his party can learn a lot from the current political flap in Canada. While I disagree with much of his analysis, he’s right on the main point:

The lesson for Democrats is that while scandal may tarnish the opposition, anger and revulsion is not enough to win an election. No matter where they live, people want national leadership that can offer a vision of where the country should be going, and that is unencumbered by the battles of the past. For instance, arguing about what went wrong with the intelligence leading up to the war is important; but it’s politically worthless if Democrats can’t put forward a plan to stabilize Iraq and present a coherent view of America’s proper role in the world. Sweeping the bums out is not enough: You must say what you will do once you occupy the capital. And if the vision offered is neither in sync with the times nor the underlying public philosophy of the country, it will go nowhere–no matter the depth of the opposition’s misdeeds.

Quite so. The Republicans did this right in 1994, capitalizing on various scandals involving the Democrats by offering the proactive Contract With America but then did it wrong in 1996 and 1998, trying to make hay out of President Clinton’s scandals while offering little new. The Democrats did it wrong in 2004, rightly criticizing President Bush’s weaknesses but not presenting a better alternative vision.

We’ll see how 2006 goes.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. reporter of doody says:

    Democrats will not learn any thing. They tend to make the same mistakes – they are a minority party and will be for a long time. They will eventually need a three party system to regain political advantage.

    Calling Republicans the party of corruption will only accentuate their criminal past.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    The history of national elections in this country has been that, in the overwhelming preponderance of cases, the candidate that offers the most positive view of American and its future wins. That’s just a fact. And it’s a fact that does not bode well for an “opposition party”.

    If the Democrats paint themselves as a different party than the Republicans, they’re likely to be successful. If they paint themselves as a party opposed to the Republicans, they’re likely to lose.

  3. Bithead says:

    The lesson for Democrats is that while scandal may tarnish the opposition, anger and revulsion is not enough to win an election

    Kinda depends what they’re angry over. I submit anger and revulsion were a major factor in Bush’s first victory.

    Think of it this way; anger and revulsion may get you noticed, but you’d better have something better available to replace what you’re angry about.

    And the Republicans have, apparently, which would explain the larger margin of victory in each of the last few cycles.

  4. Josh Cohen says:

    Unfortunately, the only party that can stand up to the republicans is a one-issue party: “We Hate Bush”. They have no original thoughts of their own, at least not as a party. As individual lawmakers, your local democrats may have ideas you like, but remember mob mentality: the IQ of a mob is the IQ of the dumbest member divided by the number of members in the mob. And the dems are definitely the party of mob rule.

    This is why we need viable third parties. Unfortunately, that’ll never happen. Compromise is all well and good, but in the end, it’ll be the end of us.