Can the Dems ever recover?

So 62% of Californians voted for
a Republican gubernatorial candidate (48% of them for Ahnold), and 35%
for a Democrat. This in a state that was so Democratic in 2000
that candidate George Bush didn’t even bother campaigning there.

I love the energy around Howard Dean and his Net-savvy tactics.
I’m outraged at the constant distortions and recklessness of the Bush
administration, which will eventually come home to roost. Yet I
can’t help but feel that It’s Over for the Democrats as we know
them. In 2004, and maybe for a long time to come.

The Republicans have always had a structural advantage in access to
money. During the Gingrich years they seized the high ground in
the realm of ideas, and routed around traditional media with a dominant
mass communications infrastructure. Under George W. Bush, they
have solidified their control with an evangelical confidence that the
Right is right, whatever the costs of achieving its goals.
Post-9/11, the Administration became convinced its interests were
necessarily synonymous with America’s interests. The Democrats
have nothing to match that fervor.

Now, of course, the California recall wasn’t a rerun of Bush vs.
Gore. Schwarzenegger won because many California Democratic
voters decided he would act like a Democrat on key issues they cared
about. But he had the chance because a majority of the state was
more enraged about Gray Davis’ inaction during the energy crisis than
the manipulative actions of Enron and other companies with close ties
to the Bush Administration (and Schwarzenegger, it turns out).

Politics is about telling stories and getting people to care. The
Republicans have better stories, and they are doing a better job of
making people care. They are also abusing power and money for
partisan ends, but that wouldn’t be enough by itself. Those of us
on the other side of the political divide (including a large number of
moderate Republicans) need to understand that we are losing the war,
not just the battles.

We need a new narrative. The Clinton-era narrative won’t work any
more. It brought the country eight years of extraordinary
prosperity, but it is irredeemably tarnished by Lewinsky and
Whitewater. And we no longer live in the pre-Internet world that
nurtured that narrative. It’s time for new ideas. We need a
narrative that helps the Second Superpower recognize that it is the
Hidden Majority. For only then will the next American political
realignment occur.