Sunday, March 26, 2006

Defeatism or coordination?

"There has always been an inherent contradiction in the Republican rap: Democrats have no plan for the country—and it will do irreparable damage if they have the chance to carry it out." -- Bruce Reed in Slate
Reed is the former Clinton domestic policy wonk working with Rep. Rahm Emanuel on "The Plan: Big Ideas for America," due out in August. (Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, reminds voters that the "Contract with America" wasn't released until mid-September of 1994.)

As Jonathan Alter reports in Newsweek:
The strategy for getting swing-district voters to fire their incumbents is already taking shape. Just as Harry Truman ran against the "Do-Nothing Congress," Democrats will run against the "Rubber-Stamp Congress," which pimped for K Street, took a dive on its critical oversight duties (particularly on Iraq) and helped the president bankrupt the country by shoveling money toward the rich. Emanuel won't say yet which votes supporting Bush he plans to wrap around the necks of incumbents. But look for gut-punch ads that highlight the incumbents' 90-plus percent backing for Bush on issues like cuts in college loans and veterans benefits, privatizing Social Security, selling out to Big Pharma on prescription drugs and halting stem-cell research. Republicans are now scurrying away from Bush, but it may be too late. They can't take those roll-call votes back.
But they won't be too upset if Democrats stay home from the polls or refuse to campaign because they're unhappy with the candidates or the party's old guard.

From Kos, regarding the Illinois-6 primary won by disabled vet, Tammy Duckworth:

This was a horribly low turnout election in a District that is becoming competitive for Democrats and yet no one in the Democratic Party from the organization to the grass roots appears to know where the hell the Democratic voters are in Illinois 6.

Exactly. And believe me, I like both Cegelis and Duckworth a lot. But this was not a good day for the district's Democrats.

And if we want to be really pessimistic, this may be further evidence of the lack of motivation amongst Democrats in general. I am truly sensing a national malaise that may very well cost us significant gains in November.
Amen. A Nation article by Eureka, CA-based Alexander Cockburn slams Harry Reid, Rahm Emanuel and the national Democrats for not being hardball enough, for running from Sen. Russ Feingold's censure proposal, and for participating in the "Rubber Stamp" congress:
Even while I was speaking, the weekend news shows were detailing the latest campaign plan of the Congressional Democrats. It's called "Real Security." And no, "security" here doesn't mean a living wage, a pension, a health plan and no stop-loss order for your kid to stay in Iraq. It means guns and cops and lots of flag-wagging.

"Real Security" calls for Democrats to hinge the 2006 campaign on how the Republicans have failed us on the issue of national security. Harry Reid says Democrats should wrap themselves in the flag, have tanks as backdrop and then try to outflank the GOP from the right with demands for increased military funding, a better-fought war, tighter borders and ports run by white, American-born Christians, preferably free of radical organizers from the ILWU.

As reported in the Washington Times, Reid's strategy memo advises: "Ensure that you have the proper U.S. and state flags at the event, and consider finding someone to sing the national anthem and lead the group in the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of the event."
The column's gist is, Democrats are rebranding themselves as Republican lite. Cockburn is over-reacting and contributing to the malaise.

There's nothing wrong with taking back patriotism, which God's Own Party claims as its trademark. If Cockburn thinks reclaiming that is misguided and the wrong approach, maybe he should get out his art colony in Eureka and spend some time in red states where presidential elections have been won lately, where Howard Dean wants to start rebuilding a Democrat presence instead of abandoning them to the Republicans. We all saw how well a "coastal strategy" worked in 2004.

Look, it's going to take time, patience, and maybe a transfusion of new blood. Many Democrats are frustrated with the party's old guard politicians and their reluctance to jump on Russ Feingold's censure bandwagon, but like the Titanic (OW, that's an unfortunate analogy), the organization is slow to change direction.

E.J. Dionne put it this way:
... Democrats, unlike Republicans, have yet to develop a healthy relationship between activists willing to test and expand the conventional limits on political debate and the politicians who have to calculate what works in creating an electoral majority.

For two decades, Republicans have used their idealists, their ideologues and their loudmouths to push the boundaries of discussion to the right. In the best of all worlds, Feingold's strong stand would redefine what's "moderate" and make clear that those challenging the legality of the wiretapping are neither extreme nor soft on terrorism.

That would demand coordination, trust and, yes, calculation involving both the vote-counting politicians and the guardians of principle among the activists. Republicans have mastered this art. Democrats haven't.
Activists like Cockburn can bitch about the Democrats or be part of changing them.

Besides, those stodgy, calculating types know stuff newbies need to learn. It amazes me how savvy farther-left acquaintences believe themselves to be based on precious little campaign experience. Experience has its advantages.

One volunteer (for a federal candidate) told me how a fellow canvasser once handed her another group's literature to distribute too. Somebody more experienced saw it and, wide-eyed, ordered her to get it out of her hands "right now." She was in violation of an FEC reg that could have put her candidate in jeopardy.

I had a similar experience. At a campaign event I helped gather some contribution cash and -- not knowing any better -- went over to hand it to a friend (a federal employee). She threw up her hands, backed away and said, "I can't touch the money." I'm still not sure why.

The bottom line is, we need each other, and I don't see many critics offering anything better than self-righteousness. Activist friends are unhappy with the candidate-apparent in our House race and balk at volunteering, complaining that Democrats should run better candidates. They themselves just can't come up with any.

That could "very well cost us significant gains in November."

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