Democrats Have an 'Intellectual Elitism' Problem, Says Democrat

Governor Ted Strickland just got dropped from some Christmas-card lists

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In an interview with The Huffington Post this week, Ted Strickland, the Democratic governor of Ohio, offered some pointed criticism of his own party, saying that Democrats suffer from "an intellectual elitism" and an inability to argue their policies on merit. Strickland is a lame-duck governor, having lost the November race to his Republican opponent John Kasich, which may account for his unusual candor here. During the 2010 campaign, Strickland bucked larger Democratic trends by playing up his closeness with President Obama, which makes it all the more striking to hear him scold the president and other high-ranking Democrats now. Here's how pundits have received his words.

  • Strickland's Grievances  "I think there is a hesitancy [among Democrats] to talk using populist language," Strickland told The Huffington Post. "I think it has to do with a sort of intellectual elitism that considers that kind of talk is somehow lacking in sophistication." Strickland went on to marvel at Obama's recent statement that "he should have been willing to work with the GOP earlier. What? After all of this you don't realize these people want to destroy you and your agenda?" The governor also mourned his party's muddled message on the Bush tax cuts, saying, "If we can't win that argument we might as well just fold up."
  • Yowch, adds Sam Stein, the HuffPo reporter who interviewed Strickland. "Removed from a re-election contest and the trappings of public office, Strickland's candor is not entirely surprising. But for operatives in the party who have been making a similar argument both privately and in public for months, it will certainly be refreshing."
  • This Oversimplifies It a Bit, argues Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic. "I'm not sure 'intellectual elitism' is really the big problem here. Ideology has a lot do with it: The Senate Democratic caucus, in particular, includes a lot of relatively conservative members. Campaign finance is also to blame: Even some more liberal Democrats spend a lot of time palling around with wealthy contributors who complain about their tax burden."
  • The Media's the Real Culprit Here, writes Steve M. at no More Mister Nice Blog. "The conventional wisdom says, first, that Democrats were in the wilderness from '68 through the time... that Bill Clinton's DLC-ism got them back in the game in '92 -- and then he had to be brought back into the fold after he went dangerously liberal in his first two years. Democrats always fail when they're liberal, according to this narrative ... That's the story Democrats hear from the press -- and the press makes the story self-fulfilling by reporting any attempt (or even proposal) to go liberal, by anyone in D.C.on any issue whatsoever, as an act of folly, one that Heartland America is certain to reject. And because Heartland America is always told that liberalism is folly, Heartland America continues to associate liberalism with folly."
  • There's Elitism and Then There's Elitism, points out Michael Tomasky at The Guardian. "I think what [Strickland] means by 'intellectual elitism' is not the same thing they mean on Fox when they use that word, i.e. sneering at working-class beer drinkers. I think he means something more like an unwillingness to get down in the trenches, and an accompanying inability to use straight and strong language."
  • The 'Fire Up the Base' Stuff Doesn't Ring True, thinks Lisa Kramer at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen. "Part of me thinks it's just plain stupid to imagine the solution to every political problem is just to Stand Tough, Draw a Line, Energize the Base ... Strickland is – I think – right about intellectual elitism, right about the absence of populist rhetoric (or, more importantly, actions) and right about the need to put up a principled fight on the issues.  But to believe that 'fighting' is alone the key to what ails the party, and more broadly the entire political moment, is a pretty narrow read of the past few decades of governance."
  • Dems Have a Confidence Problem, declares Greg Sargent at The Washington Post. "The problem isn't that Dems aren't capable of winning an argument. It's that they don't think they're capable of winning a protracted political standoff, even on an issue where the public is on their side, once Republicans start going on the attack. They seem to set their goal early on at salvaging a compromise, rather than going for the win. As a result, they tend to telegraph weakness at the outset, sending a clear message that they'll essentially give Republicans what they want as long as they can figure out a way to call it a compromise."
  • Nope, That's Not It, rejoins John Sexton at Verum Serum. "The fact is there are ruthless folks on both sides. Pretending a lack of tough talk is the source of all Democrats problems is a self-aggrandizing fantasy which will only lead the ailing party further from reality. But if that's the only salve for wounded egos on the left, I'm all for it. They'll continue to lose until they figure out what the voters are really telling them. (Hint: It's not about messaging.)"
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