With GOP Ignoring Real Issues, Democrats Need To Attack And Propose Alternatives
We have argued in this space before about the need for Democrats in the House and Senate to be able to fight multiple battles with multiple lines of attack against the Bush Administration this year and next, leading up to the 2006 midterms. To date, congressional Democrats have put most of their effort earlier this year into blunting and for the most part stopping Bushís drive to privatize Social Security. Of late, Democrats in the House have pivoted to going after the ethical failings of Tom DeLay and Senate Democrats have pivoted to fighting the moves by the Christo-fascists on the far right to employ a nuclear option and eliminate the filibuster for far-right judicial nominees. Democrats in both houses have allowed the GOP to hang itself over the Terri Schiavo manipulation as well.
Yet during all of these battles and in some critical votes that have taken place on intentionally second-tier bills like class action lawsuits, the bankruptcy giveaway, and the estate tax giveaway to the wealthy, Democrats have failed to cobble together a compelling message as to why more of them should be elected next year. Compounding that failure are the votes themselves on the bankruptcy and estate tax bills, where Democrats were willing accomplices in GOP efforts to screw consumers and expand fiscal irresponsibility and class warfare, thereby crippling any message the party could have used next year built around themes like reform, tax fairness, consumer rights, and reducing the deficit.
But politics allows a party multiple opportunities for redemption, especially when its opponents can be counted on to out-do themselves with their latest outrage and hypocrisy. Even though polls show declining approval ratings for both Bush and Congress, the environment is still amenable for a ďthrow the rascals outĒ message next year by using the same line of attack against the GOP that the GOP used against the entrenched Democratic one-party control in 1994. Aside from using the congressional ethics line of attack against the GOP for their support of Tom DeLay and his culture of special interest private gain over public interest, and even though Democrats have hurt themselves with the anti-consumer and anti-working class votes on the bankruptcy and estate tax sell-outs, there are still a set of issues that can be built into an overall narrative against the White House and GOP congress next year.
Itís the economy, stupid.
A great Page One piece in todayís Washington Post takes the most recent poll results from the ABC News/Washington Post poll and other polls about emerging consumer concerns about the economy in general and energy prices in particular, and makes the argument that Congress has detached itself from reality by ignoring these concerns to focus on things of much less relative importance like the Terri Schiavo case, anti-judicial activism and filibusters, and Tom DeLay. The story points out the disconnect between rising voter fears and anxieties over wages that no longer keep up with escalating prices and a GOP Congress that occupies itself with matters that are of concern inside the Beltway. This disconnect doesnít stop at the US Capitol, as Alan Greenspan continues to sing a happy tune today about the economy while eschewing his own responsibility for the deficits he now decries. (How about running against Greenspan as well?)
Itís not just the economy where the White House and the GOP Congress show a disconnect between real immediate needs and their actions. Bush continues to call for the passage of his energy bill, which he admits does nothing in the short term to address our needs. Yet the bill manages to shovel more tax breaks to energy companies, and Bush acts like he isnít responsible for his inaction after being in office for four years. The counterargument centering on his own culpability for the mess we find ourselves in and his failings in this area was hammered again yesterday by the national security conservatives in his own party who are getting louder and louder in their criticism that the White House isnít making energy independence the high priority national security issue it deserves to be. These conservatives actually said that Bush should do some of the things that John Kerry and the Democrats suggested last year and again this year to retool our energy policies towards development of alternative domestic sources of nonfossil fuels and to push conservation. The national security argument is essential here, as it is hard for Bush and Cheney to defend policies that tie us to years of Persian Gulf oil and the financing of terrorists that comes with those arrangements.
Bush and the GOP Congress are vulnerable on the issues of the economy and energy, but only if Democrats show the ability to multi-task themselves to also open lines of attack away from the ongoing fights on Social Security, Tom DeLay, judicial activism and the American Taliban, and the filibuster shenanigans. As difficult at it will be for Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi to run multiple campaigns on multiple topics, the opportunities to build an overall narrative against Bush and the GOP for the 2006 midterms are real and achievable right now. But it will mean emulating the multi-pronged strategy currently in use by the GOP in fighting several battles at once with different point persons. To better that, Reid and Pelosi should choose key representatives or senators to be point persons on each campaign to hammer simple themes and Democratic alternatives over and over again so that as the summer of our possible discontent goes on and on, Reid and Pelosi as well as the DCCC and DSCC can use the fall to weave the different campaigns and messages into the overall "throw the GOP out" narrative for the 2006 midterms. The representatives and senators chosen to be spokespersons for these campaigns should be the telegenic best and brightest we have in each house that would benefit from the exposure in their own races next year.
Sure, we should maintain the pressure on Tom DeLay and his ethical transgressions and keep them fresh in the media. Yes, we should take the opportunity to finish off John Bolton with any fresh damaging material that comes along, like what our own South Korean ambassador now says, and to exploit any emerging problems that the Bolton nomination is now causing for Bush in his own party. And yes, we should continue to make it uncomfortable for Bill Frist and Ricky Santorum to push the filibuster nuclear option, and help drive each of them into the ground in doing it. The Hill piece indicates that Democrats have already woven these and the Schiavo debacle into an effective abuse of power narrative. Reid and Pelosi should designate point persons to stay on top of these issues day in and day out like burrs in the GOP saddles.
But new campaigns need to be opened now with new point persons on the economy and energy independence. Again, telegenic folks need to be found whom Reid and Pelosi can delegate the attack duties to, so that the Democratic counterarguments can be made and reinforced over and over again during the summer. I donít have suggested point persons in my mind right now, but itís vitally important that the themes get out into the media now and hammered relentlessly. Sure, the mainstream corporate conservative media will ignore the message in the first few weeks intentionally while they focus on Pope Cheney, the Michael Jackson trial, and the latest developments from American Idol or Paris Hilton. But Democrats need to start talking about the GOPís abdication of leadership in solving immediate national problems and forsaking public interest for private gain. And a few swipes at the right-wing media for not covering real issues would be helpful as well.
For example, one message on Social Security could be that Democrats remain willing to discuss solvency fixes within the current program such as raising the withholding taxation threshold and level of benefits for wealthy retirees; but these fixes will not involve domestic spending cuts allegedly made necessary by Bushís deficit-inducing tax cuts for the wealthy. Democrats should demand to know why Social Security privatization is more important to the GOP than energy independence or good jobs here at home, especially when the GOP has spent so much time talking about a Bush plan that still doesnít exist and their willingness to push a partisan plan with no Democratic support. And Democrats should ask why should any privatization plan be acceptable in this stock market and if it adds new debt at a time when Mr. Greenspan is against such debt?
On energy, Democrats should hammer the national security opening provided by the Frank Gaffneys and Gary Bauers of the world, and tell voters how much better off we would be by now if Bush had focused on energy independence September 12, 2001. It is here where I think Democrats can be bold and begin a dialogue about making tough choices to gain some short and midterm energy cushioning from unreliable or terrorist-financing suppliers. This would be as part of a larger package that would include raising CAFE standards, putting real government incentives behind alternative and renewable domestic energy sourcing, and yes, nuclear power and offshore oil drilling.
Yes, I know I am speaking Democratic Party heresy here, but there is reason to believe that there are enough supplies well off our coasts to provide significant domestic oil during a transition period towards a more diverse supply of energy at the end of this decade and into the next. The possibilities of state tax revenues from these supplies are large as well, which wonít be lost on these coastal states. An acceptance of offshore oil drilling and a restart of a nuclear power industry should also go hand in hand with taking a fresh look at other non-Persian Gulf sources of oil in Africa and yes, even exclusive arrangements in Central Asia, Russia, Mexico, and Venezuela. Even though the latter is an OPEC member and it would require an insurmountable amount of sh*t-eating from this administration to even approach Hugo Chavez hat in hand, Chavez and the rest of South America could benefit from a dramatic infusion of new US investment in his country as the trade-off, and hemispheric relations would benefit from a more humble partnership as well. Any effort to move away from the Gulf and its supplies will only help our national security and our economy, and the Bush Administration efforts to fight this should be blasted for their obedience to Big Oil and pro-terrorism policies. It goes without saying that any Democratic support for oil drilling and nuclear power is conditioned on a diversified package that includes CAFE, conservation, a Manhattan Project approach towards developing a domestic alternative energy industry and supplies the remainder of this decade, and pursuing non-Persian Gulf suppliers. No conservation and diversification, no deal.
And with all of these lines of attack an underlying moral values message should be emphasized as we have recommended before. The moral values of Bush and the GOPís policies should be a campaign issue as well during the summer, and these are messages that Reid, Pelosi, and Howard Dean can hammer over and over again, Dean especially as he kicks off the DNCís 50-state strategy.
Again, the priority is for Reid and Pelosi to take advantage of the opening that the economy and energy independence have provided to them by delegating a multi-tasked and multi-pronged approach to well-chosen subordinates who can hammer the critiques and Democratic alternatives over and over again this summer. There will still be plenty for Reid and Pelosi to do in attacking on Bolton, DeLay, filibusters, the American Taliban, and moral values, but pivoting towards the issues of the economy and energy independence against a backdrop of GOP abdication of responsibility and private gain over public interest will set the necessary narrative for next year.