The hapless Democrats are realizing that they've blown opportunity after opportunity, and their slam-dunk in November doesn't look so dunky-dory after all
Democrats are heading into this year's elections in a position weaker than they had hoped for, party leaders say, stirring concern that they are letting pass an opportunity to exploit what they see as widespread Republican vulnerabilities.
In interviews, senior Democrats said they were optimistic about significant gains in Congressional elections this fall, calling this the best political environment they have faced since President Bush took office.
But Democrats described a growing sense that they had failed to take full advantage of the troubles that have plagued Mr. Bush and his party since the middle of last year, driving down the president's approval ratings, opening divisions among Republicans in Congress over policy and potentially putting control of the House and Senate into play in November.
Asked to describe the health of the Democratic Party, Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said: "A lot worse than it should be. This has not been a very good two months."
As if Chris Dodd weren't a large part of the problem. Dodd has been one of those DLC, "go along to get along" Democrats who thinks they can diss the netroots because we have noplace else to go. Well, fuck you, Mr. Dodd, and you can take Mr. Biden with you.
Democrats said they had not yet figured out how to counter the White House's long assault on their national security credentials. And they said their opportunities to break through to voters with a coherent message on domestic and foreign policy — should they settle on one — were restricted by the lack of an established, nationally known leader to carry their message this fall.
As a result, some Democrats said, their party could lose its chance to do to Republicans this year what the Republicans did to them in 1994: make the midterm election, normally dominated by regional and local concerns, a national referendum on the party in power.
"I think that two-thirds of the American people think the country is going in the wrong direction," " said Senator Barack Obama, the first-term Illinois Democrat who is widely viewed as one of the party's promising stars. "They're not sure yet whether Democrats can move it in the right direction."
Mr. Obama said the Democratic Party had not seized the moment, adding: "We have been in a reactive posture for too long. I think we have been very good at saying no, but not good enough at saying yes."
Some Democrats said they favored remaining largely on the sidelines while Republicans struggled under the glare of a corruption inquiry. And some said there was still time for the party to get its act together. But many others said the party needed to move quickly to offer a comprehensive governing agenda, even as they expressed concern about who could make the case.
There's an argument to be made for not shooting your opponent while he's got the gun pointed at his own head. On the other hand, while your opponent is busy trying to kill himself, it's a good opportunity for you to swoop in and get your own message out -- something the Democrats have been unable or unwilling to do.
There's no reason why the Democrats should have allowed themselves to become known as the "party of pussies." Republicans have long loved to tout the notion that it's Democrats who have gotten us into wars like WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Yet now it's the Democrats who are being perceived as weak.
The Democratic Party has been unable or unwilling to point out to a still-frightened population that while national security is everyone's first priorities, the Bush Administration's way of promoting us is not making anyone safer. Why is it "weak" to point out that a war based on lies that has killed tens of thousands of people has made a country that didn't attack us a haven for terrorists? Why is it "weak" to point out that Bush's wiretapping program has caught absolutely zero active or even potential terrorists, and that giving a president this kind of power is more like something Stalin would do than something Thomas Jefferson would have done.
Yes, it's far easier to play to the reptilian brain that's running on the adrenaline of fear, but that doesn't mean it's impossible to appeal to the rational mind. But this kind of namby-pamby, "We're just like them only not as crazy" tactic is not going to play with anyone -- not swing voters, and certainly not the growing netroots looking for a party that can articulate a vision for this country.
This president is sitting with approval ratings between 36-40%, and the Democrats are cowering in the corner as if it were still October 2001 when he had 90% approval.
That the mainstream media seems to also still be in thrall to this guy isn't helpful, but at that point, the Democrats have to stop deluding themselves that people like Tim Russert, Chris Matthews, and George Stephanopoulos are their friends, and realize that they are just part of the Republican/Corporate axis and stop allowing themselves to fall into the traps set by these guys on the Sunday and the evening gasbag shows. Of course this kind of boycott requires different means of communication, and it means having to articulate a message strong enough that it can seep through the incessant yapping of the pundits of the right. But if the Democrats don't do something soon, it isn't just the swing voters that they'll alienate; it's loyal soldiers like me who are tired of holding our noses and voting for Republican Lite year after year.
Americans are not happy. They know that they can no longer feel invulnerable to the instability that the rest of the world has known for years, and yet they also know that endless war isn't making them safter. They know that their raises are smaller and their health care premiums are bigger. If they've been laid off, they know that the opportunities out there for them pay far less than what they were making before. They know that they're going to go broke sending their kids to college and they also know that their kids will emerge from college up to their eyeballs in debt, with few career opportunities available to them in the few fields which haven't been outsourced to other countries. They know that their pensions are in danger. They're frightened for both their physical and their fiscal safety, and they are looking to Republicans to do something about it because the Democrats have abandoned them. So they fall for ideas like "the ownership society", deluding themselves that the corporate honchos who are systematically cutting the rug out from under them are going to allow them into the club. And every year, they fall further and further behind, and they continue to fall for the rhetoric because no one is offering a competing vision.
We are being ruled by lawless thugs with no sense of accountability to anyone. The Democrats have abdicated their responsibility to the people they are supposed to represent because they are afraid of these thugs. Leaders don't cower in the corner because they are afraid of the bullies. Leaders lead. And if the Democrats in Washington won't lead, then let them get out of the way and let people who WILL lead take their place.