Look, the election was close. There are any number of somewhat different approaches that might have worked. The issue here isn't that liberals need to discern the One True Path to electoral victory. Instead, we need to look at the set of feasible paths to victory and decide which one is better. Moving right on cultural issues would probably work. Rethinking the whole approach to both forming substantive national security policy and selling it to the public would also work. But it would be harder. On the plus side, I think the party really could use substantively better national security policies, while its substantive views on the cultural issues are basically okay, except on guns. But either way, the Democrats face choices, not a forced move.I think Matthew mostly gets it correct here. I'm constantly amazed how discussion and debate are often described as bad things. They are not bad, they are vital. I believe this soul searching going on in the blogs and within the Democratic party are very constructive; if fact, this is one of the best uses of blogging I've seen. The principles of The Enlightenment in action.
Here is the lesson I learned in the elections of 2004. It isn't what the candidate says about the issues, it's what the issues say about the candidate. Democrats tend to think we vote for position papers; we don't, we vote for people. The question is, which man (or woman) is best for the job. The positions are important, of course, but no one really believe the candidates can get all their programs through anyway. Chose two or three key issues that represent who you are and what you will fight for. While it is a good idea to go with popular positions, it isn't nearly as important as showing you will stand up for something.
The best issue Kerry had going for him was stem cell research and he should have hit the issue harder than he did. Truth be told the issue wasn't that important, research is going on already both in the private sector and in other countries; we no longer are the only country in the world that matters when it comes to major scientific research. But the issues says a great deal about the candidate: science that helps everyone over radical religious beliefs, wise government spending as an investment for the future, not letting the U.S. fall behind other countries in vital research and so on.
This is why the social security debate going on right now is so important. Democrats must fight the Republican's attempt to phase out social security through privatization. Josh Marshall has a great series of posts on this issue.