Should Democrats Focus On GOP Congress Instead Of Bush?
I want to highlight two pieces over the weekend as a springboard into a discussion about what is the most effective messaging that Democrats can employ against the GOP the remainder of the election. Yesterday, Adam Nagourney of the New York Times ran a good piece on how the Democrats have put Bush front and center in their campaign ads in 2006, unlike their “afraid of their own shadows” approach in 2002 and 2004 when they shied away from directly challenging the president. Much of this stems from the polling that shows that a larger and larger number of voters will be casting their vote for a candidate as a vote against Bush. And Nagourney notes that Democrats will be focusing their messaging on Iraq as they should, and not play into the GOP’s hands by debating the war on terror on the GOP’s turf. But Nagourney also brings up a drawback to this “attack Bush” strategy, which is that such attacks against a man still extremely popular with his cult will reenergize the conservative base to come out to the polls. In the political psychology that the GOP has created, Bush is the daddy protector, and the GOP cultists will rally around daddy when he is attacked because they are not capable of independent thought, nor is it encouraged by Beltway Republicans.
Contrast this with a message that Peggy Noonan put out over the weekend, which is that Democrats are playing into Bush’s hands by focusing on him, which is what he wants, instead of focusing on how we move on from here. In a September 16th Wall Street Journal piece (registration required), Noonan argues:
The Democrats' mistake -- ironically, in a year all about Mr. Bush -- is obsessing on Mr. Bush. They've been sucker-punched by their own animosity.
"The Democrats now are incapable of answering a question on policy without mentioning Bush six times," says pollster Kellyanne Conway. "What is your vision on Iraq? 'Bush lied us into war.' Health care? 'Bush hasn't a clue.' They're so obsessed with Bush it impedes them from crafting and communicating a vision all their own." They heighten Bush by hating him.
This gets back to the problem of attacking Bush directly rather than the GOP congress, and reenergizing the cultist base in the process.
One of the oldest clichés in politics is, "You can't beat something with nothing." It's a cliché because it's true. You have to have belief, and a program. You have to look away from the big foe and focus instead on the world and philosophy and programs you imagine.
Mr. Bush's White House loves what the Democrats are doing. They want the focus on him. That's why he's out there talking, saying Look at me.
Because familiarity doesn't only breed contempt, it can breed content. Because if you're going to turn away from him, you'd better be turning toward a plan, and the Democrats don't appear to have one.
We can all take issue with the way Noonan glosses over the fact that Democrats do have plans, its just that the corporate media she is a part of never gives them an equal opportunity to tout them, and instead focuses exclusively on the GOP-fed storylines. But the message is still accurate: Democrats will have their chances in these last 50 days to tell voters in each state and district what they will do differently, and why it is important to have a Democratic House and Senate. And they can make the case that America needs to move ahead with a new Congress that can help the country fix with its problems rather than rubber stamp its ongoing failures.
We can’t change presidents, but we can change Congress.
We can’t cut and run from Iraq, but we can make sure those mistakes aren’t repeated again in Iran.
We can’t keep using terrorists as political props every two years, and then fail to find those that attacked us.
We can strengthen Social Security, not end it.
We can create good jobs here in America, instead of shipping those jobs to India.
We can make America energy independent instead of relying upon Saudi Arabia and Big Oil.
We can make health care universal instead of only for the wealthy.
We can preserve nature and stop global warming, rather than ignore the earth.
It’s time for America to stop listening to the preachers of fear and smear and instead demand action and accountability.