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The New York Times reports today on the problems facing the Democrats, who hope to gain enough seats in the upcoming midterm elections to take back control of Congress. Although the midterms for a second-term President usually see a significant gain for the party out of power, Democrats have a sneaking suspicion that they have not positioned themselves to take advantage of the situation:
Democrats described a growing sense that they had failed to take full advantage of the troubles that have plagued Mr. Bush and his party since the middle of last year, driving down the president's approval ratings, opening divisions among Republicans in Congress over policy and potentially putting control of the House and Senate into play in November.
Asked to describe the health of the Democratic Party, Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said: "A lot worse than it should be. This has not been a very good two months."
"We seem to be losing our voice when it comes to the basic things people worry about," Mr. Dodd said.
Democrats said they had not yet figured out how to counter the White House's long assault on their national security credentials. And they said their opportunities to break through to voters with a coherent message on domestic and foreign policy — should they settle on one — were restricted by the lack of an established, nationally known leader to carry their message this fall.
As a result, some Democrats said, their party could lose its chance to do to Republicans this year what the Republicans did to them in 1994: make the midterm election, normally dominated by regional and local concerns, a national referendum on the party in power.
What was the difference between 1994 and now? A number of corruption and ethical issues had dogged Congress in the previous years, but that hadn't been enough to dislodge the Democrats from the power they held for over four decades in the lower chamber. The difference came when the Republicans put together an extensive and detailed plan for reforming Congress and shrinking government called the Contract With America. Newt Gingrich started the Republican revolution that eventually crescendoed into the control they have now over both the House and Senate.
In contrast, what have the Democrats offered? They have put forth no coherent plan, no strategy for leadership. The only recognizable plan that Democrats have put in front of the American electorate for five years is the "I Hate Bush" platform that sells well with the activist base but disgusts a wide swath of the rest of the electorate. This problem does not restrict itself to the base, either; party leaders like John Conyers and John Kerry have both argued that a Democratic majority would take action to impeach George Bush, making a preconceived coup d'etat the issue for the national referendum in the fall. Its incoherence gets magnified by Nancy Pelosi, whom the Times quotes as proud that the Democrats don't offer anything but gainsay to American voters:
"It's absolutely required that the party talk about things in addition to the Abramoff scandal," said Martin Frost, former leader of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "I think the climate is absolutely right to take back the House or the Senate or both. But you can't do it without a program."
And Mr. Bayh said, "I don't believe we will win by just not being them."
Ms. Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, did not dispute that argument. But, pointing to the Democratic strategy in defeating Mr. Bush's Social Security proposal last year, she said there was no rush.
"People said, 'You can't beat something with nothing,' " she said, arguing that the Democrats had in fact accomplished precisely that this year. "I feel very confident about where we are."
Democrats -- The Party of Nothing. It doesn't make for an exciting campaign slogan, but it's enough for Nancy Pelosi, the party leader in Congress.
Until the Democrats stand for something other than a naked lust for power, they will remain out of the mainstream. As long as they continue arguing out of both sides of their mouth on national security -- for example, screaming about checking international communications during wartime while calling for the program's continuance -- no one will trust them with leadership. And as long as they keep making the upcoming midterms a referendum on impeachment, they will find themselves more marginalized than ever.Sphere It View blog reactions
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