The party is pushing higher wages, lower gas prices and cheaper college loans in its "New Direction for America" platform, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said in the Democrats' weekly radio address yesterday.While Bush's Saturday address focused on the latest "turning points" in Iraq, Democrats want to talk about gas prices. That's nice.
While she said the U.S. should start pulling out troops from Iraq "at the earliest practicable time," the platform is all about domestic policies, like bringing down drug prices, keeping Social Security as a government-run program and balancing the budget.
The Democrats' new platform will help the party counter critics who say they have no plan, but won't help them win seats in Congress, University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said yesterday.It's not just that they are conflicted over what to do to solve the problems in Iraq. (They are.) It's not just that Democrats think that domestic issues are their strength. (They are.) And it's not just that their polling is telling them to stick with their strong suit. It's that, like religion, when they refuse to engage on the issue, they leave the Republicans to play to what they believe is their strong suit.
Too many Democrats overlook the military the way the GOP tends to overlook the poor. So when polling Democrats, military concerns may not pop out as a core Democrat issue.
It's not a flaw in the polling, but a blind spot, and one Democrats lose points over more than the GOP takes hits for shunning the poor. And because it is a blind spot, they don't even notice the glaring omission, especially when the polling says they should focus on domestic policy.
The electorate perceives that omission as weakness. Rest assured, Karl Rove and Co. will not miss an opportunity to exploit that weakness again this year. Democrats cannot let them.
They cannot come off reactive, saying, "We do too support the troops." If they expect to succeed, the party must engage on defense generally, display active concern for our military, their treatment, their equipment and homeland security, plus display resolve against terrorists as a counterpoint to Republican fear tactics. Republicans think they own the defense issue. Democrats must take their candy away from them.
That doesn't necessarily mean having to have a concensus solution to the Iraq issue first. (The GOP doesn't even have one. Their "plan" is to run up the body count, recite more vacuous slogans, and do more of what everyone can see isn't working.) It means projecting strength, command presence. It means Democrats place their focus on military and security issues up front rather than hiding them in the background.
They must also spotlight weakness on the part of the GOP leadership. Weakness is the one thing Republicans and Reagan Democrats cannot abide in their leaders. GOP leaders want us to be afraid? Perhaps because they are too? In trading e-mails with conservatives over some recent editorials, suggesting their leaders are weak makes conservatives' skin crawl. They become defensive. You know you've hit a soft spot.
Democrats cannot rely on their comfort with and fondness for their traditional domestic issues to carry this election. Rove comes straight at his opponents' perceived strengths. Democrats must do the same with Republicans and not wait to react to being branded first.