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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Al Quinlan

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Al Quinlan

Last Build Date: Wed, 22 Mar 2006 20:55:12 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

Authenticity Matters Most

Wed, 22 Mar 2006 20:55:12 -0600

If Democrats are not in sync with what is important to voters, then how can we be authentic--how can we regain their trust? Voters choose a candidate more and more based on who that person is, not just what they say they will do. It is a gut reaction based on how a candidate presents him or herself. Do they only talk about their 10 point plan on education or do they also share how hard it is to spend time with their kids? Trust is a two-way street: in our personal lives and in politics. If people trust that you respect them and are honest, then they will support you even if they disagree with you on certain issues. It sounds so fundamental because it is. Elections are not won based on issue checklists; they are won by candidates--real people. Candidates who are parents and trying to spend more time with their kids, not just policy experts on the deficit. Candidates who cannot sit down and watch a ballgame with their kids because of the racy drug ads and the violence, not just experts on tax policies for the middle class. Candidates who pray when their parents get sick, not just experts on health care. Candidates who worry about their neighbor down the street fighting in a war, not just another politician with a plan to win it. Democrats keep presenting half of a candidate. We fail to present our personal side and that it is why so many voters fail to see us as real, grounded, and in touch with their lives. But we can change this. We can revive authenticity in the Democratic Party. We can do this by first understanding how we reached this point, and second by recognizing and emulating authentic candidates we already have. Democrats did not wander into the desert overnight. But if we want to find the way out, then we need to look at our footprints. It took time for this problem to build. We weren't authentic one moment and then just policy experts the next. And we didn't always believe that voters just wanted to hear about our policy ideas. Our troubles actually stem from something very positive about Democrats. We believe that government is good. We believe that with the right ideas we can change people's lives and the country for the better. Government is about policies, issues, solving problems, and responsible leadership. It is a trait I hope never leaves the core of our party because we have seen what the corrupt opposite has done to Washington and the world today. Unfortunately, we wear the label of "the Government Party." Even though we are out of power in every house in Washington, we are viewed as "the Washington Party." As responsible stewards of government, Democrats believed voters viewed their political debate through a prism of issues and policies. Republicans understood that voters viewed these decisions in terms of people: themselves and the candidates. That is why Republicans highlight personal qualities: who they are, where they come from, and what their core convictions are. These different approaches to the electorate can be seen in the two parties' leadership and presidential campaigns over the past 30 years, beginning in the 1970's. George McGovern talked about the war and issues. How many in America at that time knew that his father was a minister? President Carter was the peanut farmer in 1976. But in four short years, he went from being a "regular guy" to an expert on malaise. It was President Reagan who people knew best in the 1980's. He came from a small town. He rode a horse. He was a real guy. But Vice President Mondale had the kind of family President Reagan talked about. The Mondale's were close and deeply connected to one another. His father was a minister, too. But America only saw Vice President Mondale as the government and policy guy. In 1988, former Governor Dukakis was another family man. His parents were immigrants and symbolized the American story. He was a devoted father and stood by his wife in troubled times. And yet it was the picture in the tank and his cold response to that terrible debate question about what he would do if someone raped his wife that defined him. I[...]