CourageHurowitz has written a book that analyzes how the Democrats managed to lose control of Congress for 12 whole years and let Bush get into and hold his office for the last eight. He sums up the problem in a single word: Courage. What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the “ape” in apricot? Courage can be hard to define, but you know it when you see it. For example, here is an old YouTube video where some guy off camera tells Cheney to GFY.

Sometimes there is a fine line between courage and stupidity. This guy, who may now be sitting in Guantanamo for all I know, sure had balls. Base jumpers and NASCAR drivers are on the wrong side of that line, because courage only counts when an individual takes a personal risk for others. We instinctively admire courageous leaders. If they are also smart leaders, they can impart a serious competitive advantage.

Hurowitz’s book Fear and Courage in the Democratic Party is about 270 pages long but has only six chapters. Four of those chapters juxtapose four politicians: the late Paul Wellstone, Bill Clinton (gutless wonder), Tom Daschle (circumstantial coward), and Nancy Pelosi.

The book is an attempt to convince Democratic political analysts to give up their tried but maybe not-so-true formula of the past two decades, which was to move to the right simply because polls indicate that most Americans identify themselves as conservative. It chronicles several instances where taking a courageous stand for progressive values paid off. According to Hurowitz, progressive issues turn out to be fairly popular ones, but his statistical analysis also indicates that issues take a distant backseat to public perception of a candidate’s traits, things like leadership, sense of morality, and intelligence. In short, he thinks that one too many Democratic candidates have been victims of their own spinelessness.

While Democrats have very little to gain from shifting issue positions, doing so can cause considerable damage. If they’re seen to be shifting their agenda out of political expediency and not out of conviction, it hurts them when voters are considering whether or not Democrats are “strong leaders” or “have integrity,” two measures that matter to voters far more than a candidate’s issue positions.

Of course, there is nothing to prevent Republicans from following the advice in this book to champion conservative values as well. So what’s the point? The point is that given two equally courageous candidates standing firmly for progressive or conservative values, the one espousing progressive values will, in theory, have a statistical edge.

True courage can only exist in the face of risk. Risk means you stand to lose. Courage means you are willing to lose for what you believe in. But what you believe in could be completely wrong. You can’t just be brave. You also have to have a clue.

Hurowitz’s hypothesis may soon be put to the test.