Howard Dean to Democrats: Figure out what you stand for and talk about it

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who is also a former DNC chair (and best remembered for the dizzying rise and fall of his 2004 presidential candidacy), has been among the most outspoken in criticizing Dems for not standing for anything in the 2014 campaign.

Here’s how Dean put it in The Hill:

“No, I haven’t seen any discussion about the complete lack of message,” said Dean… “I think they need to figure out what they stand for and then talk about it.”

What think?

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Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/13/2014 - 11:06 am.

    This ought to be

    …a no-brainer. Republicans and others who call themselves “conservative” aren’t the least bit shy about touting their values, beliefs and opinions. Meanwhile, Democrats have – far, far too often – remained silent so as not to offend, I suppose, some mythical group of voters who might support them if only they hadn’t said they thought policy ‘x’ was actually a good idea. If you’re going to govern effectively – something you can only do if you actually win the election and take office – you sometimes have to take a stand that might offend a few people. So be it. Political office is essentially a temp job, albeit one with very high expectations, and we all know how temps are treated by the company hierarchy, which is, in this case, the voters. By being silent and/or wishy-washy, you’re not likely to win the election anyway, as several former US Senators and Minnesota DFL legislators have recently discovered.

    No one running for state or federal office has ever won 100% of the vote, to my knowledge, and as every parent knows, it’s not possible to please people all the time. If you voted for – or against – some controversial policy or decision, be prepared to defend your vote. Hoping no one will notice is *not* an effective strategy in that situation. And if voters decide they’d rather have someone else, well, either go into staff or think tank work if it’s the policy world that really interests you, or find some other occupation.

  2. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 11/13/2014 - 12:44 pm.

    Why Stand For Anything?

    Haven’t you heard? Dems have demographics on their side. That’s why Hillary! will cruise to a Presidential victory in 2016.

    Btw, the idea that Dems aren’t standing for something is remarkably silly. They’ve been very vocal about their notion of a ‘war on women’, for instance. More recently they’ve been pushing for higher minimum wages, which, while I don’t agree with it, isn’t ‘nothing’.
    Having said that, for a party that just got trounced in an election, I’ve seen very little soul searching. After 2006 and 2008, the GOP had to spend some time figuring out what it stood for. My outsiders view suggests that the Dems could stand to do some of that too.
    Or maybe higher minimum wages and transparently phony appeals to women are enough. Time will tell.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/13/2014 - 07:46 pm.

      Maybe because

      the conditions in 2016 will be a lot different.
      Enjoy your two years in the sun.

      • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 11/14/2014 - 08:01 am.

        Music to My Ears

        Please, please, please, just count on ‘conditions’. Continue to make ‘blame Republicans’ your most vocal strategy. Continue to make identity politics the centerpiece of your outreach. I’m sure that will make the sun come back to the Democratic party.

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/14/2014 - 09:37 am.

          No one is

          ‘just counting on conditions’.
          The point is an anomalous election is not a reason to change a strategy that has worked.
          That’s why the odds are that the election will feature Bush v. Clinton — it’s what worked in the past.
          As someone sang: ‘You’ve got to know when to hold ’em; know when to fold ’em….’

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 11/15/2014 - 10:40 am.

      … for a party that just got trounced in an election…

      In the 6 Senate races that were up for grabs, the GOP candidates won by less than 600,000 TOTAL votes for all of the races.

      If 300,000 votes had been different, the races would have been won by the Dems and they would have retained control of the Senate.

      In terms of the voter turnout, that was less than 1% of the vote, not to talk of the 150 million registered voters or the 200 million people of voting age.

      So the use of words like “trounced”, “shellacked”, tsunami”, etc., are wildly overblown.

      We continue to oscillate around an ill-defined middle between the 2 parties..

      And the idea that a few 10th’s of a percent of the vote is a “trouncing” is ridiculous and much of the source of the current stalemate.

  3. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 11/13/2014 - 01:35 pm.

    Midterm candidates

    Candidates of the president’s party hide from him every midterm election, even pretend they’re not part of a party, and it fails every time, for both parties. But they keep doing it again. What has me upset alongside Dean is that no matter how many elections they lose, our candidates and national leadership seem unable to learn. Maybe the candidates who survive decide they because of that self-defeating strategy rather than despite it, and pass along their “wisdom”.

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/14/2014 - 09:37 am.


    I can’t agree with Mr. DeFor this time.

    While I saw and read lots of *discussion* among Republicans after the 2012 election, the conclusions reached basically amounted to “It wasn’t our fault,” and I’ve seen no substantial change in the Republican approach to governance or finance at either the national or state level

    Soul-searching in a political context, at least in my book, might involve some serious consideration of the notion that perhaps the party’s candidates left much to be desired, or that the message simply didn’t resonate with voters, or that voters didn’t believe the message, or that more funding was needed to get that message out, or that lack of turnout required more effort and resources. These are all worthy topics for any political party that’s just been beaten in an election, whether Republican, Democrat/DFL, Independence, Green, or whatever.

    In this state, the circumstances are a little more complicated, since the DFL won the state-wide offices, while losing control of the House. I’m always willing to admit to political naivete, but I view that as a mixed bag, not a “trouncing,” at least at the state level. Nationally, the election went about as I expected. Huge sums of money spent by both sides to provide voters with depressingly little information about the policy positions of candidates from either party. The winner was cash, used almost exclusively for negative advertising.

    I do agree that Democrats have been vocal about the “war on women.” Some of that is pandering, pure and simple, and likely dismissed by many of the very voters the Democrats were trying to win over. On the other hand, some of the charges leveled against knuckle-draggers on the Republican side – I’m speaking here about policy and rhetoric more generally – are absolutely right on the mark. While “war on women” might be hyperbole, the fact that Republican-controlled legislatures and Republican Governors have focused pretty carefully on women’s reproductive rights, for example, is demonstrably true, and the rhetoric accompanying it – whether we’re talking about “legitimate rape” or “probes” of regions I likely can’t name on MinnPost and still get the comment published, or the names Sandra Fluke was called by a Republican Congressman while testifying in front of a Congressional committee – qualifies as ugly no matter what state it takes place in.

    That said, as Mr. DeFor suggests, blaming Republicans – while perhaps accurate – doesn’t necessarily get voters to vote for you. For what little it’s worth, I don’t think voters are very much interested in why they should *not* vote for candidate ‘x.’ What works better is some compelling reason(s) why they should vote *for* candidate ‘z’ instead, and at least in my household, platitudes are worthless. Talk is cheap. Lies even cheaper. It’s action, in the form of votes for or against policies, that counts, and the actions of Congress and the newly-Republican Minnesota House ought to be the determining factor in whether people get reelected in 2016.

    Demographics *do* favor Democrats, but demographics don’t vote. People vote, and as Mr. Dean suggested, if Democrats don’t do at least as good a job of making clear what they stand for as their Republican counterparts, the quality of their candidates in 2016 won’t make any difference.

  5. Submitted by jody rooney on 11/14/2014 - 10:02 am.

    What they haven’t learned is how to

    ignore their consultants and produce positive campaigns.

    I am with Dean, the Dems have no message. They should have swept this election on issues, but were weighed down on things they didn’t get done.

  6. Submitted by David Rasmussen on 11/14/2014 - 01:08 pm.

    Agree with Howard Dean

    Barack Obama can be a rock star. He has (in the past) filled stadiums with hopeful and positive messages. That could have been the 2014 strategy. Candidates could have run on the Affordable Care Act. Candidates could have run on jobs and the economy. Candidates could have outlined a path to improve the lot of the middle class. Instead, Democrats labeled the Republicans and turn-out was low. Democrats believed polls and tried to distance themselves from their president instead of changing polls with a message of goals and plans.

    Next election, the Democrats are going to run against all of the bad things the Republicans will do these next two years.

    It’s a losing strategy. Candidates have to be for something. And, that something needs to be specific, not just -isms.

    I voted for Obama twice and even today I believe he is one of our few politicians to make sense. But, this past support doesn’t guarantee my support for the next candidate. Democrats deserved to lose the 2014 election– not all, but most. They acted entitled. As Howard Dean says, they need to figure out their message.

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/16/2014 - 06:00 pm.

    I agree with David Rasmussen

    About agreeing with Howard Dean. But frankly Dean is making a mundane observation that progressives have making for decades. This is one reason I suspect I’m not alone in dreading Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate.

    The Clinton’s are the quintessential triangulator’s. They’re part of the DLC group of “New Democrats” coming out of the 80s that decided it was better to stand or nothing in particular or definate… so you could always pivot rather than defend your positions. The “New Democrats” decided that it was better to win elections by blurring distinctions between themselves and republicans. You may recall Clinton’s: “Reinventing Government” initiative? This was Al Gore’s big achievement, the most extensive privatization of government services in US history. I will also draw your attention to the fact that back in the 70s Jimmy Carter signed more deregulation into law than any other President before or since.

    The other problem with democrats going into the 1980s was the fact that they decided that there were no more big issues to address. Everything big was done, and all we had to do from now on was “tweak” the systems. This is the main reason that no landmark legislation of any kind was passed for the next 30 years. This created a landscape wherein republicans could actually describe their mediocre and backwards initiatives of the 90s as some kind of “revolution” with a straight face. It WAS a revolution compared to anything the democrats were proposing, including Hillary’s health care fiasco which was nothing more than a complex “tweak” of the health care markets of the era.

    The problem with not having a consistent narrative (i.e. things you stand for and talk about) is that lurch from one election to the next, and there’s no continuity. You have to invent a new campaign for every election rather than build on successes of the previous elections.

    So… duh, yeah, you have some stuff you stand for and talk about that stuff.

    I’ve been watching this play itself out for decades now, and I’ve seen democrats do this at least a half dozen times at least. It’s like democrats are fear based, and their fear is that they’ll be attacked. They seem to think if they avoid doing anything they may have to defend, they won’t be attacked. Of course it never works, they’re always on the defensive, and it always takes them by surprise because they didn’t think they did anything they would have to defend.

  8. Submitted by John Appelen on 11/17/2014 - 04:39 am.


    The challenge I have when trying to understand the Democratic platform is “How far Left do they want to pull America?’

    I often raise the issue here that the Liberals have successfully increased total government costs from 12% of our GDP in 1930 to ~25% in the 1950s to ~38% in 2014, and from the responses I get it just doesn’t seem like they have any upper limit that they would see as too much.

    This applies to spending, government over site, regulatory control, etc. How can they help people like me see that they truly believe there is such a thing as too much government?

    What truly is the difference between the Democratic party and the DSA?

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/17/2014 - 09:45 am.

      One answer is

      ‘moderately to the right of successful European economies’.
      The more specific answer is breakdown:
      How much of that is ‘defense’?
      Social security?
      The graph provides the answer: social security and medicare are the main ‘entitlement programs’.
      So which are you suggesting cutting?
      Social Security or Medicare?
      Both of those are a consequence of an aging population.

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/17/2014 - 10:06 am.

        More Questions

        And few answers. Just somewhere left of where we are today, and right of some country who has a much smaller population with fewer global responsibilities.

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