You'd think Chuck Schumer was busy enough in 2006, masterminding the Democratic takeover of the Senate while also doing his day job as a member of that body. But he also found time to write Positively American, which hit bookstores this week. It's part memoir and part branding strategy for his party: The key, both to Schumer's own career and to his vision for the Dems, is a relentless focus on the needs of a mythical suburban Long Island middle-class family he calls "the Baileys." He recently told us all about them.
In the book you're tough on your own party, criticizing Democrats for losing touch with middle-class voters and pandering to interest groups.
I felt a real need — an urging almost, a yearning — to get the Democratic Party to start coming up with a model, a platform of ideas, that would appeal to the average voter. Everywhere Democrats went throughout the 2006 campaign, middle-class voters said to us, "Look, we don't like Bush, we're tired of Reaganism — but what do you guys stand for?"
Much of the book reads like a marketing treatise. Aren't you chasing a shrinking group of swing voters while infuriating the growing ranks of netroots, who think the party leadership is all tactics and no soul?
The whole second half of the book is about issues! The first half is an explanation of why the second half will work, politically. I've lived with the Baileys for fifteen years. The Baileys are up for grabs. They voted for Reagan. They voted for Bush against Kerry. They are pro-choice, but they want their church to be anti-choice, and sort of want the government maybe not to be pro-choice. The Baileys wouldn't put it this way, but they're worried that the superego of society is getting blown away. They hate the Enron executive, but they hate the flag burner much more. Liberals don't understand that. The Baileys are not Democrats. They're ready to be. The book is really intended to become the platform for the 2008 election, and elect a Democrat to the White House. I hope the presidential candidates will rip off these ideas.
Do you expect the book to be a best-seller? It has the same publisher as The South Beach Diet.
And Gore. They did Gore's book. [To aide:] What's it called? What's the name of it? [Pause.] An Inconvenient Truth. Rodale only picks two political books a year, and they push them. One person who is very well known — you know who it is — said, "What I liked is, most times you read a political book you don't know who the hell is really talking. I know who is talking here. It really is you." I'm from Brooklyn. Sometimes it helps me, sometimes it hurts me, but if I tried to be anyone else, I'd be much less. —Chris Smith