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The Missing Democratic Agenda

There are two problems with the Democrats' draft agenda: The first is the title, which is wimpy. The second is that the agenda abandons the principle of concentration. It attempts to be all things to all people.
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Last month, Washington DC’s “Roll Call” newspaper predicted that Democrats would release their 2006 agenda “sooner rather than later.” Saturday, DNC chair, Howard Dean, stated that the Dems would not win unless they produced this agenda. Nonetheless, the document remains a work in progress. Early glimpses of the draft indicate that it has major problems.

Management guru Peter Drucker died last month. Drucker was an advocate of the K.I.S.S. principle - “keep it simple stupid.” He counseled executives to focus on doing a few things very well. Drucker often observed, “Concentration is the key to [satisfactory] results. No other principle of effectiveness is violated as constantly today as the basic principle of concentration.” Democratic leaders need a dose of Drucker wisdom.

There are two problems with the draft agenda: The first is the title, “Together, We Can Do Better,” which is wimpy. The second is that the agenda abandons the principle of concentration. It attempts to be all things to all people.

“Roll call” provided some agenda details. “Among the proposals are: real security for America through stronger investments in U.S. armed forces and benchmarks for determining when to bring troops home from Iraq; affordable health insurance for all Americans; energy independence in 10 years; an economic package that includes an increase in the minimum wage and budget restrictions to end deficit spending; and universal college education through scholarships and grants as well as funding for the No Child Left Behind act. Democrats will also promise to return ethical standards to Washington through bipartisan ethics oversight and tighter lobbying restrictions, increase assistance to Katrina disaster victims through Medicaid and housing vouchers, save Social Security from privatization and tighten pension laws.” We’re told the agenda will also include a new national institute for science and technology as well as a healthcare plan for working Americans and a bipartisan summit on the budget.

When Morgan Freeman received his Oscar he quipped, “I want to thank everyone I ever met.” Imagine if he had then named each of them. That’s the crux of the Democrats problem - they love all of these ideas and feel compelled to highlight each. If Drucker were with us, he’d ask, “Where’s the concentration?”

Howard Dean restated the obvious: Democrats must say something definitive about withdrawal from Iraq. “Benchmarks for determining when to bring troops home” won’t cut it. Rumor has it that publication of the agenda is stalled while top Dems grapple over Iraq. One group believes it’s okay to have no position. They argue that the public should focus solely on Bush failures. The obvious problem with this stance is that it does not demonstrate leadership. Voters want a plan that they can have confidence in.

The Democratic Party might look to Frank Rich for sage advice. In the November 20th New York Times, “One War Lost, Another to Go,” (http://select.nytimes.com/2005/11/20/opinion/20rich.html) Rich pointed out that the real problem with deteriorating public support for the occupation of Iraq “is that the public, having rejected one [war], automatically rejects the other… The percentage of Americans who now regard fighting terrorism as a top national priority is either in the single or low double digits in every poll.”

Democrats can make a compelling case that Republicans are not defending America. That because of Bush ineptitude, we are fighting the wrong war. Dems should argue that the policies of the Bush Administration have weakened the US: The War on Terror is failing. George’s invasion of Iraq has strengthened the hand of terrorists. Republicans have ignored vital aspects of Homeland Security while favoring cronies with no-bid contracts.

Rather than the tepid motto, “Together, We Can Do Better,” Democrats should consider a substitute such as, “Protecting America.” This has the virtue of simplicity. Conceivably, Protecting American would link together several themes.

Democrats should attack Republicans for shamelessly pandering to the rich and powerful while leaving the rest of us behind. Protecting America suggests strengthening the social safety net. Providing security for all citizens not just the wealthy.

Protecting America can also mean caring for the environment. It can represent shepherding our natural resources and moving towards energy independence. Restoring environmental safeguards and recognizing the threat of global climate change.

If Peter Drucker were advising the Democratic leadership he would tell them to keep their agenda simple. Use a basic theme and link it to a handful of major points: Protect America. Fight the real war on terrorism. Watch over all our citizens. Guard the environment.

American voters believe they know what Republicans stand for: cutting taxes, strengthening national defense, reducing the role of government, and guarding the traditional family. They aren’t clear what the Democrats represent.

In 2006, Dems have to have an agenda that is as pithy. "Protecting America" can do this. It can build upon the growing anti-war sentiment. Highlight that by fighting Bush’s ill-conceived war in Iraq, we are not defending the USA.

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