Thoughts of an American Centrist

Friday, June 03, 2005


Shortly after the last election, Clinton veteran Doug Sosnik declared that the Democrats’ new strategy for winning in the South would be… Applebee’s:

“The leadership of our party has a cultural disconnect,” Sosnik said. “Our leaders — particularly Washington, D.C.-based — don’t really have the same life, day to day, as all those people out there in those red states. We don’t eat at the same restaurants. I don’t know how many politicians in town that are leaders of our party who voluntarily go to Applebee’s, unless it’s for work. You look at the swing voters out there, what their sporting events are, the music they listen to, the celebrities, the television programs, it’s just not what the East Coast leadership (watches) — it’s not quite where we are.”


Perhaps the bigger problem here is that Democratic strategists are looking at the American electorate as a bacterial population in a Petri dish, or, at best, a primitive South American pygmy tribe to be viewed and analyzed from afar. As a Swing-Voting, ticket-splitting, American who enjoys Applebee’s (actually, I’m more of a Chili’s man, myself), who follows the blandly designated “sporting events,” and who watches (some pretty bad) TV, I’m going to be the first to say that these guys don’t have a clue about what we want to see out of our leaders.

Notice to local candidates: I don’t give a damn about what you watch on TV or who your favorite team is. Neither “The Apprentice” nor the Red Sox keep me up at night, so why should I care how my leaders feel about them? I worry about paying the mortgage, finding a new job if my current one goes sour, affording college for my son, and what on earth I would do if someone in my family had a health-care emergency not covered by insurance. I need a representative who understands these issues not just in an academic sense, but as a result of either personal experience or natural empathy. Call it the “yeah, I’ve been there too” factor. This principle is exquisitely understood by Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln from Arkansas.

…what mattered to Arkansas voters was not just the details of a plan to provide medical insurance for the uninsured, but real-world cultural issues. “They’re thinking, just like I am, when they put their child on the (school) bus, what kind of language are they going to learn? What kind of security do they have at school? What are the things that, God forbid, my kids are going to be exposed to when they go to middle school?”

Thank you, sweet voice of sanity.

Issues vs. Image

One thing for which I will credit Sosnik, however, is the imagery he conjures by invoking the “Applebee’s” illustration. That analogy was brilliant; it was just misused. The Applebee’s title isn’t about issues, it’s all about image. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that no American politician will capture the White House without the ability to project the aura of being at home in every American’s local Applebee’s (or Chilli’s, Friendly’s, Denny’s, Bennigan’s, Cracker Barrel, TGI Friday’s, etc).

Our President is our Brother (or Sister), and we want – scratch that, we need – our Brother to be able to sit down with us in the places where we feel comfortable. Imagine John Kerry (not as Senator or candidate, but just as the man he is) walking into Applebee’s with some of his working buddies, sitting down, ordering a Sam Adams and a cheeseburger with mushrooms, and generally kicking back, taking it easy. Kinda ridiculous, huh? Now take that same scene, and replace it with Bill Clinton. Quite a contrast, isn’t it?

We don’t just want leaders who we can relate to; we want leaders who can relate to us. Even better, we want leaders who are one of us. The principles of our country are based on moving away from exclusivity, and moving power into the hands of us common folk. Never mind that George Washington was one of the richest men in America, he crossed the Delaware shoulder to shoulder with hungry farmers on that cold Christmas Eve while King George was reclining in Buckingham Palace. America as Equalizer.

We need that type of solidarity with our president, be it real or perceived. Deep down inside, all of us believe that, given two hours of exclusive conversation with the President of the United States, we could make the Chief understand our ideas, concerns, and problems, and inspire him (or her) to take action. What better place to have that conversation than over a pair of cold El Presidente Margaritas at Applebee’s.


  • I agree with you..the Applebee's analogy is great just mis-used. But I think my take is slightly different than your own. A trouble (not the only one or even the "main" one) that Dems are having in certain places in the country, is that they are deemed too elitest. They are thought of as an animal you find in the Northeast, the "Left" Coast and Cap Hill. You wont find them (so the story goes) down Main Street in the Applebees.

    It is a problem with image (as you rightly say) but it will remain a problem as long as (for example) you allow the elitest part of the party act as if Gay Rights are more important than neighborhood schools as a issue.

    By Blogger The Iconic Midwesterner, at 1:40 PM  

  • I'd say that the elitist wings of Both parties are quite guilty of acting as if the Gay Rights are more important than the "real" issues that concern the vast majority of us, and I believe that symptom applies to many other issues as well. (Aside: yes, the Religious Right are very elitist in their own right, and quite honestly, Centrists can be pretty arogant in their open-mindedness as well.)

    Fortunately, Tip O'Neil's "all politics is local" still rings true. My CT Second district voted pretty heavily for Kerry in 2004, yet we still elected a Republican (Rob Simmons) to Congress. How did this happen? Rob Simmons has been able to prove in his four years in Congress that he really is someone who takes an independent stand. Because of this effort, the voters rejected a vigorous campaign by his opponent to paint him with the same brush as President Bush and Leader DeLay. Likewise, Arkansas voters realized that Blanche Lincoln was not cut from the same cloth as Kerry and Dean.

    A party's image won't change overnight, if at all. The reason that the Democrats are viewed as being too elitest is because many of the top players in the Democratic Party are too elitist! Anybody who drives around with a "Don't pray in my school, and I won't think in your church" bumper sticker is very elitist, indeed!

    The only way to change that image is through the fielding of local candidates that respect and adhere to the values of every-day Americans. The more Democrats like Joe Lieberman, Blanche Lincoln, and Bill Clinton America gets to see, the less and less we'll think of the Democrats as the party of the elites.

    By Blogger Jonathan C, at 9:51 PM  

  • Jonathan I agree with you completely. The problem is that grassroots Dems in "Red" states are getting murdered by the image of the national party. There is no reason Dems can't be competetive in some of these places. Hell, as you mentioned, Reps can win in Ct.

    By Blogger The Iconic Midwesterner, at 11:28 PM  

  • Enjoyed a lot! » » »

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:46 AM  

  • By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:08 PM  

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