Editor’s Note: In the second of two parts, former longtime state Rep. Russ Roach offers his assessment of the two major political parties on the eve of the 2012 general election. This installment focuses on Democrats.
BY RUSS ROACH
Recent political trends in Oklahoma have been decidedly Republican. Part I discussed the GOP’s winning efforts and themes. This gives service to the Democrats.
The Democratic message was always somewhat muddled due to the effort to be the “big tent” party. But now the tent has many tears.
As the national Democratic effort became more clearly identified with Civil Rights and against the expansionist Republican war efforts of Vietnam and Iraq, many Oklahomans with a southern regional bias drifted to the Republican side.
“We are not the Republicans” is an interesting message/slogan for the Democrats but more substance than that is needed.
FAILURE TO ENGAGE THE YOUNG
Republicans are of a distinctive pale color, but Democrats are too often wrinkled with age. Ironically, the younger voters are much more tolerant of gays and mostly favor the general “Right to Privacy” which was the basis of the Roe v. Wade decision.
Also, since many will be entering the job market, they are very sensitive to issues of economic opportunity and general issues of tax fairness.
However, each of these remains dormant, sitting quietly for the Democrats to use. They may continue to sit for quite some time as the party is largely shell shocked and in denial.
PLAYING DEFENSE ON ABORTION
Since Roe v. Wade became the current law of the land, Democrats have hidden behind the bunker and failed to take advantage of the issue.
The actual act of abortion has considerable nuance and there is great ambiguity among most of the public. However, there are common sense items on the edges of this issue, such as parental notice, the issue of the life/health/rape of the mother, and the right to have your doctor consult with you without mandated government interference where important issues go without champions.
Democrats have played only defense, failing to frame and orchestrate where the issue that might score points. You can win games by playing good defense but only if you put points on the scoreboard yourself.
Right now, the Democrats are not scoring.
GIVING UP ON THE CHURCHES
In most elections, the most overwhelming Republican precinct in Tulsa is the one that covers Oral Roberts University. To be sure, that is not reflective of the wide range of viewpoints among church-oriented people but it does show a cumulative product of long neglect.
Democrats may not reach these hard-core voters but churches have always been a fertile ground for the Democratic message, whether it is economic justice and respect for working people or the basic civil rights of black citizens.
If one accepts the belief that God created earth, then most devout churchgoers should be responsive to the concept of respecting and caring for God’s creation, our Earth. The far-out hysterical environmental view will not sell, but the loving, caring, respective view as stewards of God’s work is there for the taking among the faithful.
FAILURE TO RESPOND TO THE NEGATIVE ATTACKS
Whether it is by the “Evil One,” Karl Rove, or the “Swift Boat” semi-patriots that falsely challenged John Kerry’s courage, negative attacks seem to catch Democrats off guard. Why?? They are common political theatre now days.
Democrats do not seem to expect – nor do they respond to – the negative attacks from Republicans. By failing to do so, they give a small measure of plausibility to the attacks and then look weak and indecisive, which is almost as bad.
No one has the market cornered on negative attacks, but Democrats seem to be less prepared and less responsive. The results show.
FAILURE TO DEFEND THE RECORD
Rumor has it that there once was an elected Democrat from Oklahoma, but most report indicate that he has retreated to a reclusive life in a cave, not to be seen or heard of since. Never mind, he has lots of company. Obama himself retreated after his healthcare law passed.
To be sure, the viciousness of the Tea Party effort does not foster intelligent debate but the retreat has been very harmful. No message or response is a message.
Most families, mine included, have gained very valuable and important rights and coverage under the law. Hospitals and doctors are assured more clients with coverage to pay and those with insurance will no longer have to help subsidize freeloaders who could pay for insurance but choose to live off us. No doctors or hospitals or insurance companies have gone from private ownership to public ownership, but where is the clear defense and promotion of the good benefits? They are hiding, trying to out-wait the very loud and obnoxious. Lots of luck with that.
FAILURE TO FOLLOW-UP ON EDUCATION
HB 1017 was the high-water mark for Democratic numbers in Oklahoma. Moderate Republicans voters who favored education funding were the driving force for the legislation and Republicans legislators with “no-tax” pledges were trapped on the wrong side of the issue.
The problem was a failure to provide a long-term follow-up strategy.
The gains slowly started to fade as many common-sense reforms and improvements were either watered down or ignored and a long, slow twisting road led to the current state Capitol dislike for public education.
There are no great statesmen like Henry Bellmon today; instead with have a sad “Race to The Bottom” by state leaders callused to the need and disdainful of anything that takes tax breaks away from the wealthy.
And in the bleachers, we have muted and neutered Democrats wondering where the promise of HB 1017 went. “It went to the dogs my dear, it went to the dogs.”
– The author served 16 years in the Oklahoma House representing Tulsa and Sand Springs. He is an adjunct professor at Tulsa Community College, teaching geography and political science.