You've got to hand it to Republicans, they sure know how to demagogue. The Senate spent this week forcing votes on GOP lost causes. First up was the gay marriage amendment, then came repealing the estate tax, and waiting in the wings is a flag-burning amendment. Lefties everywhere have decried these as cheap political stunts designed to generate campaign fodder for the fall midterms. They're missing the point. Sure, these forced votes are cynical political hackery. The real question is: why can't Democrats manage to do the same?
Realistically, since Democrats don't control either house of Congress, they can't schedule floor votes on their issues (or even get them out of committee). But that doesn't mean they can't use the media to effectively start a national debate on their own "hot button" issues.
Instead of always playing defense to Republican bugaboos (gay illegal alien flag-burners angry about the death tax?), imagine if every Democrat interviewed on Sunday's talk shows spoke with the same voice: "This is what we stand for and this is how we're going to make your life better." Pick a talking-point issue each week that fires up the Democratic base, such as a Privacy Amendment to the Constitution (there's a great article at Daily Kos advocating just that), or making all college tuition fully tax deductible. Imagine a solid front of prominent Democrats all calling for action on the same issue every week. When asked by an interviewer, "so what about the flag burning amendment," answering: "Well, I think the Senate could spend its time more effectively by protecting veterans and other Americans from identity theft by passing our Data Privacy Act. I think that would make Americans safer and improve their lives more than stopping a non-existent rash of flag burning." Dismiss the GOP idea completely, and move on to what you want to talk about.
If the Democratic leadership were smart, they'd put together a war room to design weekly talking points for all party members. Minority Leaders Pelosi and Reid do a fairly good job of getting their message out, but then on Sunday Democrats are all over the map. Some discipline is sorely needed.
There's no shortage of good hot button issues to pick from that poll at 60%, 70% or even higher with the general public -- in both blue states and red. Target issues to directly and immediately benefit the entire American workforce (a huge demographic), for instance. Guarantee three or four weeks of paid vacation for all full time workers (Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich proposed this).
Even better, steal Republican thunder and turn it against them. Save Social Security by reducing the tax rate for all from 6.2% to 6.0%, while at the same time abolishing the cap on earnings. Campaign on the sound bite: "Our plan cuts payroll taxes both for businesses and for 94% of American workers. The remaining 6% would just be paying their fair share -- the same flat tax percentage everyone else pays. How can the Republicans be against a tax cut for 94% of Americans?"
Democrats need to take back Congress, but the only way they'll do it is to give people a good solid reason to vote for them, not just against the other guys. Something Americans would be for without caring which party thought it up. Something a devout churchgoer in the Deep South could support as enthusiastically as a tree-hugger in San Francisco. Republicans can scream and rant about being anti-this or anti-that until they're blue in the face, but the average swing voter is going to think: "Wow, that's a good idea. That would make my life easier. I'm voting for that."
But Democrats can't just phone in their campaign, the way they seem to be doing. They can't win just by being anti-Republicans. They can't win just because everyone has figured out Bush is an idiot. They can't win just by using Newt Gingrich's suggested campaign slogan: "Had enough?" It's downright pathetic that even Newt feels sorry enough for the Democrats to give them campaign strategy advice. And although the "culture of corruption" phrase is a good one, it's still not enough to win. Democrats need to complete the sentence: "When we take control of Congress, this is what we're going to do for all voters: ...."
Suggesting Democrats do some demagoguery of their own may sound cynical, but that's what wins elections. And you can't govern if you don't get elected. All your dreams and aspirations as a party don't mean squat if you're defeated at the polls. And we're getting really tired of watching the Democrats repeatedly snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Let's take this new tack now so that Will Roger's famous quote doesn't
become the epitaph on the tombstone of the Democratic Party:
"I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat."