Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Mark Warner wasn’t Barack Obama last night, but Democrats can learn a lot from him

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Originally published on on Wed, 08/27/2008 – 9:08am

Harold Ford, Jr., Evan Bayh, Barbara Jordan, Ann Richards, and Mario Cuomo – what do they have in common? Keep reading and you’ll find out.

How do you follow Barack Obama? No, not Thursday night, but as the keynote speaker for the Democratic National Convention. The keynote speaker is a prestige position within the convention as a showcase for potential talent. The keynote speaker is usually someone on the rise, so there’s a lot of pressure to deliver.

Mark Warner had that task last night, but smartly played it as if it was Mark Warner for the first time, and did very, very well.

For those who don’t know Mark Warner, he is the former governor of Virginia (before Tim Kaine) and is running for the open Senate seat of John Warner (no relation), a seat he is expected to win. But you may know Warner from his possible presidential bid in 2008 (decided not to run) and consideration for vice president (quashed in part of running for the Senate seat).

Oh, and what do Harold Ford, Jr., Evan Bayh, Barbara Jordan, Ann Richards, and Mario Cuomo have in common? Each was the keynote speaker at the DNC for the previous 5 conventions before Obama.

In 2000, Harold Ford, Jr. was seen as the African-American candidate on the rise. There are reasons why three straight Democratic Party nominees have now seriously considered Evan Bayh for vice president. And there were many dreams for Mario Cuomo long long ago.

But why did Warner do so well last night? He was able to explain the frustrations and solutions before the Democratic Party in a way that is very saleable to independent voters and, yes, even moderate Republicans.

Starting literally with the seventh word of the speech, Warner sets it up for us:

The most important contest of our generation has begun. Not the campaign for the presidency. Not the campaign for Congress. But the race for the future. And I believe from the bottom of my heart with the right vision, the right leadership, and the energy and creativity of the American people, there is no nation that we can’t out hustle or out compete. And no American need be left out or left behind.

Yes, the race for the future is on, and it won’t be won if only some Americans are in the running. It won’t be won with yesterday’s ideas and yesterday’s divisions. And it won’t be won with a president who is stuck in the past.

The pundits and even the party brass sometimes places way too much focus on the presidential race. But Warner drew a bigger picture: this is more than a political race. It’s a race to stay relevant, and use our assets to create a better future. The line about “there is no nation that we can’t out hustle or out compete” is gold in the right hands. Americans want to hear lines such as that from politicians. And they hear that mostly from Republicans not Democrats.

Warner talked about failing two businesses before he started with success in his third business. Americans, like all other human beings, fail. But they also want to know that if they can work hard enough, they can find success. Warner understands failure, success, and how to learn from both, something George W. Bush still doesn’t understand.

We have heard a lot of anger in this convention so far, all of it justified and more. But political success, especially in America, stems from the positive not the negative. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were masters at understanding that.

There is a lot of anger against Bush, again, all of it justified and more. But watch to see how he addresses that:

People always ask me, “What’s your biggest criticism of President Bush?” I’m sure you all have your own. Here’s mine: It’s not just the policy differences. It’s the fact that this president never tapped into our greatest resources – the character and resolve of the American people. He never asked us to step up.

Think about it: After September 11, if there was a call from the president to get us off foreign oil, to stop funding the very terrorists who had just attacked us, every American would have said, “How can I do my part?” This administration failed to believe in what we can achieve as a nation, when all of us work together.

Warner took seven years of anger against Bush, and made it sound as a positive solution. His message isn’t designed to cover everything that Bush did. But the message is something a Democrat can take to Appalachia, parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan that can sway reluctant independents and moderate Republicans to pull the lever for a Democrat.

Warner also summed up in a short paragraph the frustration against 12 years of Republican rule in Congress and the overall mentality of the Republican Party:

“You know, I spent 20 years in business. If you ran a company whose only strategy was to tear down the competition, it wouldn’t last long. So why is this wisdom so hard to find in Washington?”

Progressives complain that Republicans have no ideas, tear things down, and win. But if the message were portrayed the way Warner just did so, those on the fence would consider a Democrat.

Assuming Warner wins the Senate seat in 2008, he will have his first elected taste of Washington. Perhaps in 8 years, he could be a force for either president or vice president. On December 15, 2016, Warner will turn 62, slightly older than Hillary Clinton is now.

But with or without Warner in one of the top 2 slots, Democrats would be wise to consider Warner’s approach and philosophy. With that, they could be spending more time in the White House as a result.


Written by democracysoup

August 27, 2008 at 9:08 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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