Sunday, June 11, 2006

Brian Schweitzer gets some lines in The New Yorker

Jeffrey Goldberg, a staff writer for The New Yorker, is briefly interviewed by New Yorker senior editor Amy Davidson about Democratic politics, and just happens to mention Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer's name. Here's an excerpt:
Can the Dems Do It?
The New Yorker
Issue of 2006-05-29

This week in the magazine, Jeffrey Goldberg writes about the battle within the Democratic Party over how to take advantage of the President’s low approval ratings. Here, with Amy Davidson, he discusses the Party’s prospects.

AMY DAVIDSON: Your article this week is about where the Democratic Party is headed. The big test coming up is the midterm elections. Do the Democrats have a chance of gaining control of one or both houses of Congress?

JEFFREY GOLDBERG: I think the Democrats have a reasonable chance of regaining the House. The Senate is a little tougher, partly because only a third of the Senate seats are being contested in any year. The House is hard, though­because of gerrymandering and the general powers of incumbency, it’s difficult to shake loose some of these seats. That said, the Democrats have the wind at their backs right now. Bush’s poll numbers are almost inconceivably low; he’s heading into Truman territory. Combine that with a general disgust for Congress, due in part­but only in part­to the Abramoff scandal, and you have an atmosphere which might translate into a “throw the bums out” moment.

But that’s all about negatives­the President’s negatives, the congressional Republicans’ negatives. Can the Democrats win on the negatives alone, or do they need to have a positive program to offer?

The Democrats can probably win on the negatives for the 2006 elections, but those who think they can go negative and win the White House in 2008 are kidding themselves. For one thing, George W. Bush won’t be running in 2008; it could be someone like John McCain. Even now, it’s not the easiest thing to be solely negative. Americans are optimists; they want to hear positive solutions to problems. The Democrats don’t have one stellar spokesman for the party, or an overwhelming unified message.

You write in your article that the Democrats want to win back the Reagan Democrats and rebuild the Roosevelt coalition. Can they do this without a Reagan or a Roosevelt?

It’s hard without a Roosevelt to rebuild a Roosevelt coalition, that’s for sure. By “Reagan Democrats,” what I mean are the Catholic, working-class, white suburbanites who have gradually left the Democratic Party. Since the McGovern period, there has been a feeling among many people in this country, particularly in those states that are not situated in the northeast or along the Pacific Coast, that the Democrats have a family problem, a God problem, and a national-security problem.I talked to Democrats from red states, Democrats who are popularly elected officials in states that have been going Republican in the Presidential race. They all say the same thing: part of their problem is policy­they need the Democratic Party to convince the voters that they, too, will stand up for American national security.

Does the situation in Iraq represent an opportunity for the Democrats to do just that?

They have a great opening here. This is a really important point. In the middle of the country­in the South in particular, but also in the West and the Southwest­the arguments about the war in Iraq do not center on the legality of the war, on multilateralism, or on the President telling the truth about weapons of mass destruction. For people in these kinds of places, which are generally more conservative, the problem is that the President seems to be losing the war. That’s what gets people very upset.

But national security and so-called “values” issues like abortion and gay rights are only part of the problem for Democrats. The other part is stylistic. There’s a feeling among Democratic professionals in these red states that Democrats tend to condescend to voters in the heartland. The governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer, who’s a very popular and populist Democrat, argues that sometimes the Democrats just don’t seem as likable as the other guys. And the problem with likability comes from a feeling that Democrats are lecturing voters about what’s best for them.

But Brian Schweitzer is, as you say, a Democrat who got elected in a very red state.

That’s because Brian Schweitzer is a Democrat who lives in a red state and has figured out how to talk to people in a way that doesn’t anger or annoy them. He’s doing some things that are very liberal, in our understanding of what the word “liberal” means­putting a lot of money in K-12 education, looking for alternative fuel sources. On certain issues, he is in the Montana mainstream: he’s opposed to gun control. But his success has much less to do with particular issues and more to do with his style of approach to voters, in which the voters don’t feel that they’re being talked down to, and that their values are not being mocked by the national Democratic Party.
To read the rest, go here.


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