Again, it's the forest, not the trees
Recently, many blogs have been commenting on Bush's dropping approval ratings (Steve, here, also wrote a post mentioning it). Others have also commented on the GOP's overall troubles in the last couple of months starting with the Schiavo episode. That, in combination with Bush's declining approval ratings may be giving Democrats some hope of winning in 2006. I would of course love to see that happen.
However, I disagree that any of this is going to pose much of a problem for Bush and the GOP in 2006, unless Democrats realize how they are being set up for the long term. There are three key factors to be aware of.
First, I would bet that the number in the polls that the Bushies watch most closely is Bush's approval rating on "national security". This number has almost always been above the 50% mark. I would argue that this number was perhaps the single biggest reason why Bush was able to win as many votes as he did in 2004 (we can never know how many exactly because of the lack of transparency in the election system and the extensive amount of vote suppression and/or fraud). But, as long as his standing with the public on "national security" is comfortably high, the Bushies can afford significant levels of arrogance and abuse of power (especially with a pliant conservative media). As long as they can rely on "terror alerts" (to keep people afraid) and the hoax that Bush is the next best thing to sliced bread when it comes to "protecting the country", they can do just about anything they want and get away with it. Unless the Democrats and the media point out this hoax everyday, the Bushies will ramp up the outrage with little long-term political consequence (even if they suffer in the short term). And God forbid there's another terrorist attack, they will claim that it happened despite Bush's "magnificent leadership" and that no one is perfect and Bush (and the GOP) alone can be trusted on "national security". It's really that simple.
Second, there's another important reason why Democrats are making themselves susceptible in 2006 and beyond. As I wrote back in early March in this diary at MyDD titled "Democrats: Losing on Social Security":
So, why reinforce the GOP frame that we need to do something drastically now to "save" Social Security? Why even provide Bush a "compromise solution" which he and the GOP will use repeatedly in 2006 and beyond to claim they somehow "saved" social security - even when they will not? Why lose the confidence and trust of the public to dishonest ideologues over an issue whose importance is not even remotely in the same league as that of others I have mentioned above? Instead, why not raise the facts about the egregious budget deficits and tax cuts, offensive pork-barrel spending, and bloated corporate welfare, every time that social security is brought up and point out that the way to save social security is to stop spending the Social Security surplus to finance the General Fund deficits (as Bush promised in 2000 and flip-flopped)? That the way to save Social Security is to get rid of some of the Bush tax cuts (as some Democrats have indeed proposed)?
The point, folks, is that reinforcing the GOP frame that something needs to be "done now" to "save" Social Security will only lead to eventual defeat for the Democrats. You simply do not win battles (especially against a determined enemy that has openly declared war on the Left and the Democrats) by agreeing with their false definition or framing of issues. You win by creating an alternative, factual frame and fighting for it. (Indeed, if you look at the business sector, good companies never let their competition define the market or their own products for their customers; rather, they take charge and define it for the customer.)
If the Democrats do not ensure that Bush's social security dreams go down in flames without any "compromise" Bill, then they will have only themselves to blame in 2006 and beyond. For, make no mistake, the GOP will loudly advertize through the Republican Misinformation Machine that they "saved" Social Security.
I would love to be wrong, but I see this as a classic battle that is being waged to sink the Democratic party for a long time to come, by preventing the Party from being considered the only one worth trusting on Social Security. There has been a lot of speculation why Bush seems so determined to push his Social Security agenda even though it is unpopular. The answer is exceedingly simple, folks (and give him and Rove some credit here) - they are thinking just like a very aggressive competitor would. Namely, they understand that you destroy your competition by undermining its areas of strength, not just by focusing on its known weaknesses. That's what this social security battle is all about.
As Mary later mentioned to me, this is indeed classic Rove.
The third reason why none of the GOP's current troubles may not matter, come 2006, is the media. The media will continue to make sure that the GOP's abuse of power, corruption, lying and extremism is well massaged and downplayed for their viewers or readers, so that it will all just be a "he-said, she-said" argument. They're already doing it today - why wouldn't they do it in 2006 or 2008, when the past is no longer fresh in people's minds?
The lessons for Democratic leaders are quite clear.
On national security, unless they take the lead by pointing out and reinforcing the fact (every day) that Bush is perhaps the worst President in recent American history when it comes to protecting the country, that his supposed "strength" on national security is a mirage created by the GOP and the media, winning in 2006 or beyond will be a Sisyphean struggle. Democrats have to attack the GOP's supposed "strengths" to win, not just their well known weaknesses.
On social security, their current unity is excellent. But the unity should extend beyond opposing Bush's privatization proposal and should involve pointing out that nothing may actually be required to "reform" social security than addressing the more serious problems with the general fund deficits. They should also be careful not to give the GOP an opportunity to take false credit - just like they did with the advance tax refunds in 2001.
On the topic of the media, unless Democrats aggresively take on the media and point out that it is covering up for the Republicans, it will be most difficult to win.