Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Democrats’ desultory direction, designed by Dionne

There were two big articles about the aimless Democrats recently and their inability to formulate a message going into the midterm elections. First, the NY Times had “For Democrats, many verses but no chorus”:

And while Democrats have no shortage of criticism to offer, they have so far not introduced a strategy for governing along the lines of the Republican Party's Contract With America, the 1994 initiative that some Democrats hold up as their model for this year's elections.

"It's certainly worth the effort, but it's damned hard to do," Charles O. Jones, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, said of the Democratic effort to emulate the Republicans.

"If you're going to run a national campaign," as the Republicans did in 1994, Dr. Jones said, "it's helpful to have a message, not just 'The other guys don't know what they are doing.' If Democrats are using that strategy, I haven't heard that message yet."
I like that: “helpful to have a message.” Some might say it’s critical, maybe even the essence of what it means to be a political party. But I digress. This article was followed up today in the WashPost with “Democrats Struggle To Seize Opportunity - Amid GOP Troubles, No Unified Message”:

On Feb. 27, Reid and Pelosi appeared before the Democratic Governors Association. At one point in the conversation, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, noting that the two leaders had talked about a variety of themes and ideas, asked for help. Could they reduce the message to just two or three core ideas that governors could echo in the states?

According to multiple accounts from those in the room, Reid said they had narrowed the list to six and proceeded to talk about them. Pelosi then offered her six -- not all the same as Reid's. Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski said later: "One of the other governors said 'What do you think?' and I said 'You know what I think? I don't think we have a message.' "
The WashPost article has a particularly humorous progression where the Democrats plan to release their mission statement in November 2005, then January 2006, then “soon” then “this summer.”

But have no fear: WashPost columnist E.J. Dionne thinks that presenting a lucid strategy for governance is overrated. According to him, the Dems should keep up their amorphous mantra of nattering negativism:

The stories about the Democrats are by no means flatly false -- Democrats don't yet have a fully worked-out alternative program -- but they are based on a false premise, and they underestimate what I'll call the positive power of negative thinking.

The Democrats' real problem is that they have failed to show that their critique of the Republican status quo is the essential first step toward an alternative program.
Well. The obvious question here is that, after five years of reflexive opposition to everything Bush, when will the Democrats take that elusive second step? Maybe this summer we’ll see the details of the “alternative program” which currently sits in a locked safe underground, guarded by armed sentries, magical charms, and Cerberus.

Extra – Kevin on Pundit Review hands the Democrats a new slogan for 2006: “We stand for something! Just don’t ask us what.” Also, here’s the latest from Scrappleface.

More - H-Bomb asks the question on everybody's mind: "Does E.J. Dionne smoke crack?"


Anonymous said...

If the past year's momentum isn't reversed, 2006 is going to be one of those 1974/1994 years where simply standing on the less culpable side of the political street is going to be a selling point. GOP Reps aren't threatening to attach a kill-the-Dubai-deal rider to the Iraq funding bill just for laughs.

Here are three more upbeat news clips from the side that has a principled vision and a message:

*Bush just established an office of faith-based initiatives in the Department of Homeland Security: (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/03/20060307-5.html),

*The Treasury Department is raiding Federal pension funds to avoid hitting the debt ceiling:

*The administration is threatening to jail journalists who published leaks under the (!) 1917 Espionage Act:

Eugene Debs, call your attorney.

JG said...

The big difference between 1994 and today is that in '94 the Repubs were united behind a Contract for America, while as to today's Dems...
... yesterday's Washington Post reported the disarray among [Dem] party leaders about how to seize the opportunity. Some of the details look like outtakes from a Will Rogers' comedy routine....

Not to worry, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada told the paper: "By the time the election rolls around, people are going to know where Democrats stand."

That's a relief. Mark your calendars, ladies and gentlemen. Only seven months to go until we learn what the party believes in...

As reporters Shailagh Murray and Charles Babington recounted, Reid and Nancy Pelosi, his House counterpart, met with Dem governors who appealed for help in crafting a message that emphasized "just two or three core ideas."

Sources told the paper Reid offered six ideas, and so did Pelosi - though they weren't the same six. Uh-oh... [NYDN.]

So it looks like the Dems will be sticking with their tried and true.