The Vanguard has a new home, please update your bookmarks to

Friday, August 29, 2008

My Thoughts on The Democratic Convention: Where the Democrats Have the Advantage

Don Gibson at some point will come down from the moon and hopefully describe what it was like to be part of history. If there is perhaps an inkling of disappointment in the convention, and really inkling may be too strong a word, it is that the Democrats ran from any notion of race as though it were a hand grenade. Here the first black man stood before this nation and accepted a major party's nomination and there were was hardly a direct reference to it from the dais. Hillary Clinton gave us all chills when she talked about the glass ceiling and the 18 million cracks that were exploded into it. Heck the reference gives me chills while writing it.

The pundits will tell you all about the rift between the Clintons and Obama and how personal it is. What they will forget to mention to you is that the Clintons are professionals first and people at best a distant third. But I do not want to talk about that either. To me the turning point in this convention came before Hillary Clinton ever uttered a word, a it came with some of the early speakers on Tuesday and continued through the keynote address by Mark Warner.

Reviews on Mark Warner's speech were rather mixed, some liked it, some didn't. For me, it was a great speech and it was followed up with an even better one by Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. The Montana Governor presented an image that has been missing from recent conventions--he came looking like a rancher. No airs, nothing complex. And yet there he was with a strong populist message. Here this rancher-looking-guy stood up an talked about economic opportunity, attacked the Bush administration, and talked about energy efficiency. Who'd have guessed it. Both speakers were outstanding, they showed off new blood for the Democrats, and they returned us to the Democratic party's blue collar roots.

Yet in the coming months, I think a key is a theme that has been building on the homefront for a long time with very little discussion at times from official Washington. The notion of energy efficiency and green technology as the wave of the future. This is a theme that could have been right out of the Davis City Council election and yet could be the key to the White House come this fall.

Back to Warner, there was a moment in his speech when he gave me chills. He said:

"in just four months, we will have an administration that actually believes in science. And we can again lead the world in live-saving and life-changing cures."

How true this is. He is of course referencing stem-cell research, but really we could be talking about global warming, evolution, and most profoundly, science education. How can we compete with the rest of the world in science education, teaching our young people, if we have leaders who do not believe in it. Think about how profound that statement is. Bush does not believe in science. He does not believe the scientific data about global warming, does not want science to explore stem cell research, he does not believe in evolution even. What kind of country in this world has leadership who do not accept the basic tenets of science? No wonder we are falling behind the world not only education but in new technologies.

Speaking of which, that leads me to my main theme and the key advantage I think Democrats have in the fall, if they are willing to utilize it. Let us go back to 1994. In and really following 1994, the Republicans were the party of new ideas. They were innovators as they looked for new ways to do things in order to devolve away from a reliance on government. You can disagree with their ultimate solutions but there is no doubt that really from 1994 until 2004, the Republicans in the war of ideas had Democrats on the defense. Democrats were defending and trying to conserve past programs, many of which frankly had failed. And it was a fatal mistake to defend poorly constructed and failing programs. When Democrats did head off impending doom it was by mimicking the Republicans, for example President Clinton's belated support of welfare reform that really didn't so much reform welfare as it made it hard for people to get any sort of public assistance.

However, emerging from the threat of global warming, you see a new innovation on the part of liberals. And I say liberal rather than Democrat here because it is really coming out of local governance the notion of energy efficiency and green technology.

It was great on Tuesday to hear this become a theme of the convention, because one does not hear it enough on the national front. But this is a savior not only for our planet but for liberals and Democrats everywhere. You see, the environment was often a concern for the public, but it was a dangerous issue for Democrats. They could easily be painted as anti-business for pushing strong environmental agendas that were forward thinking to encompass issues like global warming. You can play on people's fears if you can make them believe that regulations means losses in jobs. And sometimes they did mean losses in jobs. Sometimes it was necessary to lose jobs such as cutbacks in the clear cutting of old growth redwood forests in Northwest California.

However, the great thing about the new wave of environmentalism is that if you do it right it creates jobs--good high paying, high tech jobs. Good innovative jobs. And it creates them at a number of levels. Smart building design means jobs for contractors, engineers, and archetects, plus more construction jobs. More fuel efficiency means innovative jobs at developing new technologies. Green technology means research and development, construction, and other sorts of jobs.

The other great linkage was between green technology and American jobs. Linking environmentalism to the movement against the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs overseas. And also against the loss of research and development to other countries. This is crucial because once again you can tie the smart green revolution to populist and blue collar themes. Now environmentalism is not just for liberal college educated elites, it means new manufacturing jobs for the working class.

The best part is that it is difficult to assail the position. One cannot assail the green technology development by arguing that it losses jobs or hurts the economy. It is not a nebulus term like carbon credits that the average voter cannot understand. Instead it is a concrete concept that everyone can understand--the building of new and more efficient cars, homes, and electronics--is something everyone can understand and everyone can support.

How hard can the Democrats push this as a way to create new American jobs that will improve the economy? That is a key question. But a crucial one. Republicans took some of the gas debate away from the Democrats by pushing for the simplistic off-shore drilling as a solution.

I do not think the Democrats argued the point well enough, though it was mentioned. Off-shore drilling is a poor solution. First, it will make zero immediate impact on gas prices. It will take a long time to re-develop the supply from off-shore drilling. It will not add a large amount of new oil into the market and will not do it quickly. Finally from a longterm standpoint, it is the opposite of what we need to do. We need to move away from oil as the chief energy source. In short, Democrats have somewhat ceded a debate on a policy that has no upside in the immediate term view or the long term view.

What the green technology wave shows us is the really for the first time in a well over a decade the innovators, the party with new ideas, are the Democrats. It may take time for Democrats to fully exploit this advantage, but it is a sign of things to come.

How this race plays out is anyone's guess. The Democrats have the issues in this election to win, they ran a very good if not altogether perfect convention, but the McCain campaign seems more nimble and more dogged. Who will win--stay tuned and we will find out.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting