Democrats need to move right
We Mainers know the phrase "as Maine goes so goes the nation." This wasn't true in the last election as the Republicans won most major races nationally and the Democrats won all but one major race in Maine. However, if the national Democratic Party learns from one Maine candidate, Maine could once again reassert her favorite adage.
The national Democratic Party should learn from Mike Michaud, the mill worker from Millonocket who carried Maine's second district. Democrats should study this race in addition to some recent history if they want to take back the House, Senate or White House in 2004.
Michaud's combination of cultural conservatism and progressive economic values guided him to victory. Entering the race he had a reputation as being pro-life and pro-gun rights, yet he is also a staunch supporter of labor unions, equal pay for equal work laws, and opposes social security privatization. He defeated Kevin Raye, a moderate Republican who is pro-choice.
Michaud's victory is reminiscent of an era before the Democrats lost the support of a type of voter known as "Reagan Democrats." This is a description of a voter who sympathizes with Democrats on a "New Deal" economic agenda but who does not share a more modern Democratic cultural liberalism.
"Reagan Democrats" might tolerate a strike, but they will not tolerate behaviors that they view as morally wrong: abortion rights, marijuana legalization, and radically liberal interpretations of the separation of church and state are anathema to these voters. "Reagan Democrats" also support high defense spending and consider themselves "patriotic."
This adamant belief in national defense helped explain Reagan's popularity among this group of traditional economic Democrats. For example, Reagan did well among union members in his 1984 reelection despite his 1981 decision to fire striking Air Traffic Control workers.
The 1980s were an opportune time for the Republicans to pull votes from a traditional Democratic base. The late 1970s saw the disastrous presidency of Jimmy Carter. Following the Iranian hostage crisis and the failed rescue attempt, the United States became what Jeanne Kirkpatrick has called the laughing stock of world foreign policy. Combining a strong foreign policy with conservative economic and cultural values, Reagan beat Carter in the 1980 election.
Today's Democrat party finds itself in a less advantageous position than the Republicans did in 1980. The economy is not nearly as poor as it was in the late 1970s. Thus far, President Bush's foreign policy has been a success although Iraq remains the huge variable. Therefore, if the Democrats hope to garner any success at the polls in 2004, they must pull votes from people who view Republican economic beliefs as "friendly to the rich" but who are repulsed by Democratic moral equivocation and lackluster defense policy.
Their only hope is to become a more culturally conservative party. Democrats must encourage more candidates like Mike Michaud who are willing to at least question party orthodoxy on abortion. This openness on abortion partly explains Republican success in relatively liberal places. The Democrats might want to try being more culturally conservative in relatively conservative places, like the South and Midwest.
Democrats should loosen their rigidity on abortion and should unite around their core issues in 2004. Increased education spending, and moderate increases in prescription drug coverage should accompany aggressive stances in favor of a strong military and at least a tepid endorsement of "family values." A candidate such as Joe Lieberman who is a man of profound faith, committed to the military, is not scared to challenge immorality in Hollywood would be an ideal candidate.
The Democrats must move closer to the Republicans on some key social issues to win, such as abortion and the military. As this election shows, the country is becoming more conservative. The Democrats must respond accordingly if there is to be any validation of Maine's vain axiom.