Playing For The Long Term
"We have learned from watching the Republicans -- they would not allow moderates a voice in their party. We must work from the middle."
--Harry Reid yesterday
A scan of the center-left blogs today reveals that many folks want the Democrats to take their gains last night and use this perceived capital for an aggressive legislative platform. Pelosi cannot afford to do this. The GOP lost the independents last night, who went for the Democrats. The sooner the Democrats take steps to lock in those gains, keep those new voters in a coalition, and compete everywhere outside of the South, the sooner Rove's murder of the GOP will be complete.
Yes, many of the prospective new Democratic committee chairs are liberals, but a sizeable number of the new members of the Democratic caucus in both houses next year will not be. You cannot now threaten those gains from last night by pushing issues that endanger purple and red-district pickups. Pelosi needs to pursue a two-pronged strategy of addressing the base's concerns through a return to congressional oversight, while pushing through a moderate, successful legislative agenda that allows for us to pick off moderate Republicans and splinter their caucus. As I have said before, a bipartisan foreign policy matched with a moderate domestic agenda based on reform, economic fairness, and a focus on Main Street rather than Wall Street can yield lasting gains for the Democrats.
Pelosi has already struck the right notes at her initial post-election press conference just now when she stressed that finding a way out of Iraq and cleaning up Washington would be high on the Democrats’ priority list, along with passing the six items on their “100 Hour” plan: raising the minimum wage, implementing the full recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, expanding health insurance to all children, reducing the cost and closing the “donut hole” in the Medicare Part D program, reducing the interest rates on student loans, return to “pay as you go” budgeting” and cleaning up the ethical swamp inside the Beltway. She talked much about bipartisanship and civility, but she also talked about heeding the will of “the people” which is shorthand for a return to congressional oversight. But there are political reasons for not overreaching from last night's results.
Pelosi needs to lock in these gains from last night with another victory and pickup of an additional 5-10 seats in 2008 so that the Democrats head into the next decade with solid margins in both houses, even before our newly-elected governors from last night can possibly steer reapportionment after their reelection and the next census. And remember that the Senate landscape for 2008 was always more favorable for the Democrats than 2006, with the GOP’s rodent Class of 2002 like Saxby Chambliss up for reelection. The point is that despite the strong desire for immediate results and a turn to the left by our base, it is essential to lock in these gains for the longer haul, and allow us to gain more seats in the next cycle. While we do this, we can count on Bush’s base to marginalize the remnants of the GOP, wrongly thinking that the problem was that Bush wasn’t conservative enough and that Pelosi and Reid won’t seize the middle.
With the Rummy departure and Bush’s seeming unraveling, the GOP’s base will be in civil war mode for the next several months. Whichever party moves quickest to the center and builds a bipartisan foreign policy and a successful moderate domestic agenda will own the 2008 cycle. There is nothing wrong with pushing through the “100 Hours” agenda as the first acts of a successful Democratic leadership in both houses, obtaining the votes and support of not only our newest members in both caucuses but also GOP moderates. This can take place simultaneously while our new committee chairmen commence the oversight hearings that are essential for accountability to be restored through a Democratic reform agenda. But to overreach now with an agenda that endangers the newest House Democrats rather than locking them in, before we have larger majorities in both houses would be a mistake. As successful as the Democrats were last night, there were also many good candidates who came up short like Tammy Duckworth, Diane Farrell, and Charlie Brown who should run again in two years and can win if they aren’t saddled with a faltering Democratic leadership.
The media landscape will be changing also. Anyone who listened to the Bush press conference today heard a press corps that smells blood in the water, and knew full well that Bush tried to lie to them about the Rumsfeld move. They didn’t buy it. Moreover, there may be cracks in the conservative corporate media monopoly if Eli Broad and Ron Burkle are successful in buying the Tribune Corporation and all their TV stations and key newspapers. And let’s also understand that K Street will now be a more receptive place for Democrats again, without the corruption that Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff institutionalized.
My point is simple: let’s not squander the real opportunities the party now has to build and cement together a center-left majority over the next several cycles with a burst of legislative activity that kills such an opportunity in its infancy. Bush and Rove have destroyed the Reagan revolution, plummeting the GOP into a real abyss. House and Senate Democrats can cobble together a governing coalition that endures for years, while making sure that the GOP stays marginalized as a far right party in disarray.
Update: Some of you have rightly asked what issues I am referencing when I wrote this. Fair enough. Here are a few ideas.
Impeachment: Do I want Bush gone yesterday? Yup. Would I rather see him at The Hague in 2009? Yup. Do I want John Conyers to ramp up towards impeachment hearings in 2007 before documenting the administration’s systematic stonewalls efforts at congressional oversight? Nope.
Raising Top Tax Rates: Do I want the Clinton top bracket rates restored immediately? Yup. Do I want to put our newest members of the caucus in a difficult situation of defending a standalone proposal like this? Nope. Would I rather tie such a restoration under the new “pay as you go” approach to the next Iraq/Afghanistan supplemental appropriations bill; fully implementing the 9/11 Commission recommendations; and to stop raiding the Social Security trust fund? Definitely.
Repeal of the Estate and Dividend Tax Cuts: Do I want these giveaways to the rich eliminated right away? Yup. Do I want to put our newest members of the caucus in a difficult situation of defending a standalone proposal like this? Nope. Would I rather blunt the howling from the wealthy by using the revenue to pay for providing all children with health care and to close the Medicare Part D donut hole? Yup.
Universal Health Coverage: Do I want this? Yup. Do I want to put our newest members of the caucus in a difficult situation of defending a standalone proposal like this? Nope. Should we try and force it through in the next two years before fixing Medicare Part D and covering all children first? Nope. Should we instead push the Bush Administration to direct states to come up with their own proposals under federal demonstration waivers before 2008? Yup.
Public Campaign Financing: Do I want this? Yup. Would I rather tie this in with a national ethics and clean elections initiative, additional campaign finance reforms and a Voting Rights Act of 2007 that targets GOP abuses, as well as restores the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine? Yup.
Energy: Do I think that taxes should be raised on Big Oil? Yup. Do I want to put our newest members of the caucus in a difficult situation of defending a standalone proposal like this? Nope. Would I rather let Henry Waxman and other chairmen spend 2007 opening up the Cheney Energy Task Force, the price-fixing and refining capacity collusion amongst these companies, and their handouts from the federal treasury first? Yup.