Wednesday, November 17, 2004Apparently, Brian Schweitzer has figured it all figured out. In 2004, while George Bush was burying Kerry in Montana, the Democrats captured the governorship and both houses of the legislature. In a vital piece in the Washington Monthly, David Sirota explains the unlikely Democratic success in Montana this year. This article is a must-read, and Schweitzer's campaign is a must-study.
I hope everyone reads Sirota's article, but let me highlight a few points. Schweitzer's campaign recognized that Democrats must think creatively about the problems confronting the country in order to regain our status as the majority party. Schweitzer is still a true-blue Democrat. The only issue I'm aware of that he has compromised on is that of gun control, which me, Chris Bowers, and others think we should dump as a major national issue anyway. Schweitzer has rejected the me-too Republicanism of a lot of red-state Democrats in favor of a message of economic populism and cultural moderation. This is precisely the right strategy. And the right policy as well.
There appear to be 3 key elements to the Montana Miracle. The first is that of reform. Schweitzer positioned himself as a good-government reformer hostile to the interest group domination of the state capitol. Second, Schweitzer brokered an alliance with small business owners against the mega-companies. As I've pointed out before, small business is a potential ally for liberals. The Republicans are in the pocket of the big corporations (like Wal-Mart), which are the foes of both labor unions and independent proprietorships. Third, Schweitzer immunized himself from attacks as a cultural liberal in several ways. He authentically presented himself as a man of the people, in part through his personal demeanor and pro-gun position. But more importantly, he linked environmentalists and the hunter/fisher community in a coalition against development. This is a beautiful strategy. As Sirota argues, the left can get a lot more political traction by pitching environmental protection not as preservation but as recreational use. You can't go hunting if there are no trees and all the animals are dead.
I can guess what you're thinking. But that's Montana! How could that apply anywhere else? It is precisely because it is Montana that it is so important. Rural Montana is not really that different from rural Alabama or rural Maine. If we can do it there, we can do it anywhere.
What is beautiful about the Schweitzer campaign is that it was politically effective, genuinely liberal, and is targeted to the one of the most threatening developments of our day: the erosion of the middle class and the concomitant rise of corporate power. Whether by accident or by design, Schweitzer has stumbled onto some of the key ingredients of a new liberal message.