Democrats Fail Again to See The Train Coming
I have been watching with both growing frustration and admiration the ability of this White House and GOP Congressional leadership to master the art of doing nothing on major issues and then springing successes late in the session to plant the image of action in the mind of voters, while using the stage-managed victories to bludgeon a hapless Democratic minority party. I admire the ability of Karl Rove and the GOP leadership to be silent or under the radar on a potentially significant issue for the GOP, feigning inaction or disinterest for months, and then packaging and springing the issue to their advantage at the end of congressional sessions to do harm to the Democratic opposition.
Last year, as David Broder noted Friday, Rove and the GOP sprung the Department of Homeland Security/unionized federal workers phony issue, along with the Iraq war ramp up, at an unprepared Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt, and it cost the country a disastrous invasion and the party a miserable result in the midterm elections. Now, knowing that Rove and the GOP needed to show progress on two important issues heading into the 2004 campaign and also knowing that the GOP didn’t want to campaign on Medicare and energy failures and instead wanted to focus on their issues of national security and jobs/taxes, the Democrats appear to be caught flat-footed once again. Although they may prevail in preventing an industry giveaway on the energy bill, they are about to mishandle and lose the Medicare drug bill issue, due in large part to two things: first, they are forgetting why Ted Kennedy previously went along with the bill in the first place, and second, the Democrats for some reason didn’t see the AARP capitulation coming.
For those who have seen Rove work before, and knew therefore that putting domestic issues off the table was a high priority heading into 2004 election, there should have been no surprise that the GOP waited until the last minute to publicly push for closure on both issues. As Elizabeth Bumiller’s piece in today’s New York Times points out, the White House and Rove have been working quietly behind the scenes to fashion success at any cost on both the drug and energy bills, with lobbyists and members of Congress. For those of us, myself included, who believe that intraparty problems within the GOP in getting individual bills passed will cause problems for Bush, we must realize that when push comes to shove, Rove and Bush will do whatever is necessary to get legislation through at the end of the session to deliver an outcome that can be packaged as a victory, so it can be used in the upcoming election. In this White House, that can mean giving carte blanche to businesses and industries in exchange for large campaign contributions for measures that will do nothing to curb drug costs or reduce our reliance on foreign energy. It even means that congressional rules can be stretched or broken when necessary to get the votes that are needed.
Yet even though the GOP had been meeting with the AARP for months to see what could be done to get their support for the final bill, it seemed to catch the Democrats off guard when the AARP capitulated and supported the bill. And the Democrats’ response to the bill has been to oppose the bill outright for its long-term damage to Medicare. The GOP concedes that this approach will fail because voters aren’t able to grasp such complex reasons why the bill will damage Medicare. Instead, if they were better prepared, the Democrats could have been prepared to do one of two things: be ready to accept and support the bill as a welcome first step towards a real drug benefit, or fight the bill on grounds easier to understand, namely that the bill does nothing to curb the costs of drugs themselves. Kennedy, in his comments back in the summer, indicated a willingness to support a bill but only as a first incremental step towards another bill after the election to close the remaining gaps. This approach could have been adopted by the Democrats as a way to support the bill and drive the conservatives nuts. Conversely, if the party was better prepared to see the AARP sell-out coming, they could have spent several weeks laying the arguments out for why any bill needed to have real drug cost containment, thereby exposing the GOP to vulnerability as to why any final bill sold out to their pharmaceutical friends.
Instead, one year after the party was surprised in the months leading up to the midterm elections by Rove’s Homeland Security smear job and Iraq war drive, it finds itself surprised once again by two last minute “successes” on issues that needed to be taken off the table heading into 2004. Once again, I ask Terry McAuliffe, Tom Daschle, and Dick Gephardt one question: Why?