Sometimes you have to just sit back and laugh when Washington elites bloviate about how brilliant they are - even though their behavior has landed their party in a permanent minority status. One of those times is today if you read the new Rolling Stone piece on Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL).
As chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), Emanuel is billed as one of the key figures in the battle for control of Congress in 2006. The article repeatedly trumpets Emanuel's "toughness" and supposedly hard-nosed nature - with Emanuel's friends from the Clinton administration echoing that sentiment. "He's got this big old pair of brass balls, and you can just hear 'em clanking when he walks down the halls of Congress," says Paul Begala, as just one example.
It's certainly true, Emanuel and his pals talk the talk. "We're the party of change," Emanuel says. "We're the party of a new direction." The DLC's Bruce Reed - another guy who has made a long career driving Democrats into the ground - says Emanuel "understands how much ideas matter, he always knows his message, he takes no prisoners and he only plays to win."
Out here in Red America, we live in a place seemingly unknown to people like this in Washington: it's called reality. And we have a name for talk like that: it's called B.S. Because here's what Emanuel never seems to answer: how is someone "tough" if they are so wimpy as to refuse to push their party to take clear contrasting positions on the most important issues facing America? What "ideas" that matter is Emanuel proposing? What position on key issues shows Democrats really represent serious "change" from Republicans? And are Democrats like Emanuel so arrogant/elitist to think that the American public doesn't inherently understand that all this rhetoric hides the fact that the party still is afraid of its own shadow?
As I have written before, Democrats right now have no official position on Iraq, energy, bankruptcy, protecting citizens' legal rights, trade, repealing Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, the Supreme Court...and the list goes on.
Many Democrats on these issues have largely taken the exact same position as Republicans - even though polls show that on each issue, the public would support a progressive Democratic position.
And let's be clear - Emanuel has been one of those that has tried to suppress those who know the party needs to take a stand on these issues in order to actually explain to voters why they are worthy of support on election day. Remember, it was Emanuel who issued a memo trying to hide the fact that Iraq played a major role in Paul Hackett's near-upset special election campaign. And it was Emanuel who recently went on Meet the Press and was publicly embarrassed when he couldn't give a straight answer about the party's position on Iraq.
And make no mistake about it - polls show that if the Democrats continue trying to avoid taking clear positions, it could pay a price at the polls, even with the GOP's corruption scandals. As one recent nationwide survey showed, Republicans negatives are going up, but that has equaled "no major shift in support for Democrats" as the public still has little clue what Democrats really stand for.
I'm the first to congratulate Democrats when they get up the guts to take clear positions (see here and here for a few examples). That's the real definition of toughness that can win elections - not some guy who runs around talking about how tough he is and getting his friends to line up to talk about how rock hard his testicles are - all while he does his best to make sure his party takes no positions at all; not some guy who stands on desks and screams and yells as if he's some great populist leader, all while leading the White House charge to organize business lobbyists to ram sellout corporate-written trade deals through Congress; not some guy who brags about sending dead fish to people who cross him, all while going out of his way to cross Democrats who courageously try to defend ordinary people against Corporate America's most abusive behavior.
All of this isn't called "tough" - it's called B.S. You know it, I know it, and as much as some progressives want to deny it, so do voters. And if the rest of the Democratic politicians in Washington don't wake up out of these self-congratulatory delusions and get a real handle on what toughness actually means, it could be yet again another depressing election day in 2006.