Thursday, October 06, 2005

This is NOT 1993

With all the smell of scandal taking place in the Republican controlled Congress, there has been talk in among Democrats and the press that we are reliving 1993, the last days of a Democratic Congress. Those who focus on the scandals are reminded of how scandal-ridden the Democrats had come and see that as what brought the Dems down. I have to admit that even I have sucumb to this view.

However, an editorial in today's Los Angeles Times reminds us that what brought the Republicans to power in 1994 was not simply Democratic malfesence, but also an idea: the Republicans introduced the Contract with America, a simple set of ideas that Americans could grab onto. The Times notes:

...a weak GOP does not a strong Democratic Party make. Before the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid order new stationery, they should ask themselves whether their party has any new ideas that can propel it to victory over the next three years.

In 1994, when insurgent Republicans took the reins of power on Capitol Hill, they had a set of ideas and goals that both energized and united them. Two years before, the Democrats had captured the White House with a wonkish candidate who talked about a "third way" of governing. Bill Clinton not only charmed the nation, he preached a new type of Democratic politics that was less reflexively anti-business and more attuned to the importance of personal responsibility.

In short, the Times is saying that its ideas that carry the day for the most part. As I've said before, all the Democrats seem to have these days is a hatred for all things Bush. That isn't going to get anybody anywhere.

I've been criticized in the past for not putting forward ideas. Well, I don't think I should have to tell the Dems what to do, but here are some ideas:

Fiscal Responsibility. My own party has made a mockery of being fiscal conservatives. We are spending money, as John McCain puts it, like "drunken sailors." It would behoove the Democrats to come up with a way to put the budget back in order. Bill Clinton was able to break the idea that Democrats love to tax and spend w/o a concern for the deficit. Maybe it's time for the Dems to start picking up that message again.

A strong and smart national security policy. Democrats need to realize that we have to take terrorism seriously. The Bushies have had a haphazard approach and in the case of Iraq, might have made the situation worse in the long run. How do we prevent ourselves from future 9/11s? Also, in light of how bad FEMA acted during Katrina, how we can beef up response when a terror attack happens?

An Energy Policy. America doesn't have one. The GOP for the most part has kowtowed to the Oil and Auto Industries in that regard. The Dems would be wise to put forward programs that stress conservation and alternative sources of energy. Maybe expand tax credits for fuel efficient cars and such things as solar, wind and geothermal energy. Also, raising the gas tax might force automakers to produce cars that conserve fuel and persuade consumers to buy these vehicles. You could throw in that a strong energy policy means less dependence on countries like Suadi Arabia that could be funding terrorism and countries led by psuedo-democrats like Hugo Chavez.

That's just a few ideas. Simply watching as the GOP emplodes might feel good, but that doesn't mean people will go over to the Dems. They need to give people a reason to believe in them.

UPDATE: Former Clintonista Bruce Reed has a good article in today's Slate about three Democrats who actually do something more than talk about hating Bush-Rove-Delay-et al. He highlight another former Clintonista and current Congressman Rham Emmanuel of Illinois:

MR. RUSSERT: So was it a mistake for Democrats in the Senate and House to vote to authorize the (Iraq) war?

REP. EMANUEL: Given the information that we were given them, they made their decision. What has been a mistake is to let this type of administration basically run a policy of incompetence when it comes to Iraq. Let me address, though, the future of this country. I'll give you five quick ideas. One, we make college education as universal for the 21st century that a high school education was in the 20th.

MR. RUSSERT: And who pays for that?

REP. EMANUEL: The American people, because it offers--Let me get to it. Second, we get a summit on the budget to deal with the $3 trillion of debt that's been added up in five years and structural deficits of $400 billion a year. Third, an energy policy that says in 10 years, we cut our dependence on foreign oil in half and make this a hybrid economy. Four, we create an institute on science and technology that builds for America like, the National Institutes has done for health care, we maintain our edge. And five, we have a universal health-care system over the next 10 years where if you work, you have health care. That says fiscal discipline and investing in the American people by reputting people first. The policies that the Republicans have offered have gotten us in the ditch we have today.

Now you may think these ideas are pure bunk or just old liberal nostrums, but they are at least ideas. Better than saying Bush is a terrorist. Gets more votes too.

Then there are the words of another person from the Land of Lincoln, Senator Barak Obama. He offers a cautionary warning to those who are more fueled by poisonous partisanship:

According to the storyline that drives many advocacy groups and Democratic activists - a storyline often reflected in comments on this blog - we are up against a sharply partisan, radically conservative, take-no-prisoners Republican party. They have beaten us twice by energizing their base with red meat rhetoric and single-minded devotion and discipline to their agenda. In order to beat them, it is necessary for Democrats to get some backbone, give as good as they get, brook no compromise, drive out Democrats who are interested in "appeasing" the right wing, and enforce a more clearly progressive agenda. The country, finally knowing what we stand for and seeing a sharp contrast, will rally to our side and thereby usher in a new progressive era.

I think this perspective misreads the American people. From traveling throughout Illinois and more recently around the country, I can tell you that Americans are suspicious of labels and suspicious of jargon. They don't think George Bush is mean-spirited or prejudiced, but have become aware that his administration is irresponsible and often incompetent. They don't think that corporations are inherently evil (a lot of them work in corporations), but they recognize that big business, unchecked, can fix the game to the detriment of working people and small entrepreneurs. They don't think America is an imperialist brute, but are angry that the case to invade Iraq was exaggerated, are worried that we have unnecessarily alienated existing and potential allies around the world, and are ashamed by events like those at Abu Ghraib which violate our ideals as a country.

Obama knows his public better than so-called progressive groups that supposedly speak for the people. Americans aren't satisfied by what they see with Bush, but they don't want more red meat rhetoric about how bad Bush is or how evil America is. Right now, they are worried about rising gas prices or how they will be able to heat their home this winter. They are worried about what is going on in Iraq and about how to save for their future.

It is hopeful to see some Democrats are not buying the Daily Kos-Howard rhetoric and are coming up with real ideas. We shall see if it is enough to make a difference next year and in 2008.


At 12:32 PM, Blogger halfback jack said...

Confessional: I stopped on the Fox News channel the other night. Is it me, or is Newt Gingrich:

A) sucking up more airtime,
B) painfully trying to position himself on the left side of the Bushies whenever he can, or
C) both

Newt is another one who ended up being his own worst enemy, and I think there are some parallels between the Dems of 1993 and Republicans (at least in the House).

Sen. Obama is one of the most eloquent and thoughtful speakers of our time, and it is my own hope that this man one day chooses to run for President. He will have my vote in a nanosecond.

At 10:01 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Well said. It's unfortunate what Dean has become. He was a very moderate, pragmatic governor. He's become just another shrill hack.

At 8:01 AM, Blogger halfback jack said...

Agreed Brian. The "minority mentality" has already sunk in with the Democrats. In order to earn leadership again, they are going to have to do more than just react to whatever the Republicans are coming out with.

Dean needs to stop and take a more thoughtful look at the landscape and work with people like Sen. Obama and craft an alternative message to the American public. Otherwise, they will be relegated to minority status for some time to come.

Bush seems to be trying to move in a more centrist position, reducing the influence the tightie righties have on the White House. The Democrats need to take notice and do a similar tactic with the left. If and when that happens, THEN there can be a more intelligent and pragmatic dialogue.


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