Monday, April 17, 2006
Nationalizing the November Elections
(Image: Yes, that's the right direction. Now start moving in it for a change.)
One of the bits of conventional wisdom floating around the mahogany-tabled conference rooms of the high-priced Beltway consultants these days is that Democrats will benefit from "nationalizing" the upcoming Congressional elections -- i.e., by focusing voters on national issues like Iraq, Iran, the national debt, etc. -- and that Republicans want to "localize" the elections -- i.e., taking voters' minds off those national issues and asking them to pay attention to the personalities of individual (incumbent) Republican politicians, the pork those politicians have brought home to their respective states, etc.
I hate to say this, but in this one area the Beltway CW is correct. As J. Kingston Pierce points out in Limbo, the poll numbers for the only two nationally-elected officials -- Bush and Cheney -- are dismal. A majority of Americans now think the Iraq war was a mistake, disagree with the Wall Street analysts and Treasury officials who pretend the economy is robust, and say they trust Democrats more than Republicans on almost every national issue pollsters can think of. When voters focus on national issues, Democrats (these days, at least) benefit.
A couple of days ago I did a post ("Catch a Wave and You're Sittin' On Top of the World") about a Washington Post article that contained this critical insight from an analyst:
"If this election comes down to the individual, race-by-race, case-by-case campaigns, like we've seen for the last four cycles, the Democrats don't have enough top-tier candidates to win 15 seats," Amy Walters, a House political analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said, referring to a net gain. "But they do have enough second- and third-tier candidates who can ride a wave."
Shorter Amy Walters: If the Republicans succeed in localizing this election, the Democrats lose. But Democrats can win if they can come up with a national issue to ride to victory.
As I pointed out in that post, our biggest problem is that Democratic leaders have adopted a strategy of NOT making waves -- which means, effectively, not stoking the fires of voter dissent on national issues. We're leaving it entirely to the Republicans: Bush and Cheney screw up, which has national import, while Republican campaign strategists run away from the President and try to focus attention on individualized races. The entire Democratic campaign strategy consists of keeping our fingers crossed and hoping Bush and Cheney can screw up faster than Ken Mehlman (chair of the RNC), Liddy Dole (chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee), and Tom Reynolds (chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee) can distract voters. It's a passive approach that assumes Republicans are inept when it comes to winning elections -- which, demonstrably, they're not; unlike governing, winning (or stealing) elections is the one thing modern Republicans have proved they're good at. Red states may be turning pink, but pink isn't blue.
This, deep down, is what's so disturbing about the backroom efforts by everyone from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama to Rahm Emanuel to stifle any sign of spinefulness by members of the Democratic caucus. Filibuster Samuel Alito? Oh, no -- forget the polls showing that a majority of voters oppose any Supreme Court nominees who have signaled opposition to Roe v. Wade; we should just lay low for fear some swing voter might think we're obstructionist. Censure (not impeach) Bush when he admits breaking federal law and claims the right to spy on Americans, within our own borders, without a search warrant, even when a warrant is readily available? Oh, no -- once again, forget the polls showing that more Americans support censure than oppose it. Iran? Lay low. The lies that got us into the war in Iraq? Lay low. EVERY SINGLE ISSUE THAT COULD NATIONALIZE THIS ELECTION AND THAT VOTERS ARE BEGGING POLITICIANS TO LEAD ON? LAY LOW.
If we Democrats were trying to hold on to a majority in Congress while a Republican President ran the nation into the ground, then a "lay low" strategy -- effectively, a localizing strategy -- would be correct. But we're completely out of power, seeking to overthrow the current system. Revolutions don't win by laying low; they win by going on the offensive. And in this election, that means seizing every national issue we can and thrusting it into the limelight.
What slays me is that every Democratic consultant, and the leaders of the Democrats' campaign efforts, know that we need to nationalize this election. Yet they still counsel "laying low." Despite Bush's stumbles, this election isn't going to win itself. Craig Crawford, while still too fearful (why rule out impeachment altogether?), is right: Russ Feingold is pointing out a direction to victory that's entirely consistent with the mainstream theories; why aren't our leaders following that path?
Update, April 18, 2006: article (April 20: and another article) analyzing the Democrats' chances of regaining the House.
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Posted by Thersites D. Scott at 4/17/2006 09:10:00 AM