Now that the Democratic Party has officially slid into a slump by losing the past two presidential elections and national battles for Congress, we are all trying to figure out...

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Now that the Democratic Party has officially slid into a slump by losing the past two presidential elections and national battles for Congress, we are all trying to figure out what has happened and why.

Well, search no further, because I have found the reason. It’s “L.” Not the “L” word, but the letter “L.”

To their detriment, the Democrats have become the party of ideas, plans and solutions, while the Republicans have been victorious as the party of ideals and values. Ideas vs. ideals.

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• Ideas — Definition: concept; Synonyms: abstraction, aim, concept, plan.

• IdealsDefinition: beliefs; Synonyms: ethics, morals, principles, standards, values.

This sounds antithetical, but the Democrats actually have been defeated by their own intelligence and willingness to formulate sound solutions to the nation’s pressing needs.

Well-conceived and creative ideas are good things if you want to make things better, but they are not always useful if you want to get elected, as recent history has shown.

Therefore, my first plea to my fellow Democrats is to dump the focus on ideas and start talking about ideals. Put an end to being the party of intellectuals, policy wonks, statisticians and academic eggheads.

Hide those people in the back room and give them staff jobs or leave them in safe Democratic congressional districts where they can put their good ideas to work crafting legislation. Just tell them they may no longer run for office in the red states — and that they definitely cannot run for president anymore.

Why would I suggest this? Here is a good example. A friend of mine, a Republican who often crosses party lines, really wanted to vote for John Kerry this year. He asked me after one of the debates, “How the hell do I verify all of this policy information and statistical analysis that Kerry is throwing at me to support his ideas and plans? It’s really meaningless because I don’t know if the data adds up or not.”

He ended up voting for President Bush. He didn’t vote for Bush because the president had better ideas. Bush got his vote because my friend thought he understood where Bush stood on the guiding principles that would shape his solutions.

It is much easier for people to make judgments based on ideals, rather than on confusing or unverifiable ideas. Democrats need to realize that you run on ideals to win elections, because if you can’t win, you can’t put your ideas to the test.

My second plea to my fellow Democrats is to make the party definable again to the American people. The Republicans have been using a theocratic Christian fundamentalist message in portraying the Democratic Party as comprised of “immoral liberals” who are unreligious, even anti-God. After all, they say, Democrats are for abortion, against prayer in public schools, for caring too much for those homosexuals, and for burning the American flag, among other atrocities. All the while, the Democrats have largely stood by and ignored those claims, at their own peril.

Democrats need to stop ignoring this propaganda and to start directly engaging the Republicans on the battlefield of ideals and values. The engagement should not be about morals and religious theology. The danger of theocratic government is what the Founding Fathers intended to protect us from. Rather, the Democrats need to instigate a national debate over what it means to be truly American, and to explain why the Democratic Party is closer to that ideal than the right-wing-controlled Republican Party.

We need to remind the American people that being an American is about freedom and the God-given right of all people to make decisions for themselves and for their families.

We need to reawaken ourselves as Democrats and draw the rest of America to our message that our decisions and beliefs are grounded in the ideals and values that this country was based upon — the right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

A wise and brave man once said, “Give me liberty or give me death.” This, fellow Democrats, needs once again to be our rallying cry for all Americans to hear. This is how we re-establish the party, and this is how we start winning elections again.

Robert V. Swain is a freelance writer from Seattle. Contact him at