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March 4, 2005 PERMALINK
Why The GOP Isn't Losing Badly Enough
(posted March 4 1 AM ET)

MyDD recently flagged a new strategy memo from James Carville and Stan Greenberg of Democracy Corps.

It concluded that even though the Republicans are losing the Social Security debate, they’re not yet paying a political price for it, the way Dems did after the ’94 health care debacle.

This should be no surprise.

As LiberalOasis has noted several times before, while Dem unity has been good on Social Security, the messaging has been scattered.

And as one MyDD commenter put it: “Dems have been successful so far in defending social security, what we have adequately failed to do is attack the GOP.”

To take it one step further, Dems haven’t used the issue to make the larger case why their view of the role of government is better for America than the GOP’s.

Democracy Corps appears to agree in part, at least on the point that Dems needs to stress principles:

The failure to cause more damage may also lie in the area of principles, more than ideas and plans...

...The Democrats should elevate the battle by stating the principles that divide Republicans and Democrats on this issue...

...After all, this is a battle about values and convictions. It should be joined in those terms.

But then they offer "poll-vetted" principles that -- while not awful – lack a needed edge.

They come across as if they’re dancing around the heart of the matter, because they are.

The heart of the matter is the role of our government. But the poll-vetted principles never even mention the word.

That’s because Democracy Corps is still running scared -- of being tagged as liberal, of being seen as supportive of a role for government.

Carville and Greenberg write, early in their memo:

The good news for the Democrats is that they are no longer struggling to banish the demons of the sixties.

Bill Clinton accomplished many important things.

Democrats are a plausible national party, not weighed down by grave doubts on liberalism, big spending, and taxes.

But the party is weighed down because Clinton left the party without consensus on vision and principles.

And he taught too many Dems that the way to win is to tack Right whenever possible, which is what eroded the party’s principles.

The irony is that Clinton claimed the mantle of fiscal responsibility by having the guts and common sense to raise taxes when it was necessary.

And even though that move arguably contributed to the loss of Congress in ’94, the economy the move helped create led to his re-election in ’96.

But the party has been too afraid to stress this, too afraid to make a case for responsive government, for fair and adequate taxation.

Too afraid to embrace its liberal underpinnings, and define it for today’s times, the way the GOP has for conservatism.

It is that fear which has hampered the Dem messaging, in Social Security and elsewhere.

It is that fear that leads Carville and Greenberg to think they can graft principles on the party through polling.

Until the party is willing to use big confrontations over issues like Social Security to exemplify the importance of government and shift the parameters of debate, we may win some more battles, but we won’t win the war.

March 3, 2005 PERMALINK
The Time For (Constructive) Infighting Is Now
(posted March 3 2 AM ET)

Last week, possible prez candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton signaled she could support permanent military bases in Iraq.

This week, possible prez candidatae Gov. Bill Richardson told the Moonie Times that Dems should embrace “sensible tax cuts”.

Is this the way it’s going to be through 2008?

Will the whole crop of potential candidates coming up with ways to sacrifice principle, tack Right, and become complicit in the conservative agenda?

It’s possible.

(For the record, “sensible tax cuts” are not inherently antithetical to liberalism, depending on the fiscal picture, economic landscape, and societal needs at the time. But there is nothing sensible about tax cuts when you’re faced with massive debt and losses in services.)

In the zero-sum game championed by myopic politicos, you want to move the Right as much as possible without alienating too much of the base.

When what you should be doing is laying out a compelling principled vision that would energize the base while also appealing to the more passive middle.

The grassroots has had some success in influencing the party as of late – most notably, pressuring congressional Dems to stay unified on Social Security, and selecting Howard Dean as party chair.

But we should be concerned, even at this very early stage, that candidates will view the base as an annoying obstacle to mollify, not a healthy source of energy and wisdom.

For example, are Hillary and Sen. John Kerry committed to pushing hard for the new Count Every Vote Act, or is it just to have a talking point for primary voters angry that they didn't fight for Ohio?

Is Sen. Evan Bayh rejecting the foreign policy vision of the neocons by voting against Condi Rice for Sec. of State, or is it just a cosmetic move to appease those he said wanted to “vent” instead of “govern.”

The challenge for us is to find a way to influence the discourse, so the perceptions regarding what it takes to win are not dictated by the myopic, slanting the entire field.

Of course, it would be easier to influence with the help of a name politician thought to be pondering a run – such as Sen. Russ Feingold or Al Gore.

But we can’t presume that anyone will run with the intention of offering a revitalized liberal vision.

We should not sit on our hands and wait for a savior.

And we should not rave when scraps are condescendingly tossed at the base.

We have to take it upon ourselves to engage the party, confront the accommodationist wing, and lay out our own compelling vision.

And if that vision gets traction, even some accommodationists will follow our lead.

Yes, this is what is derided as infighting. And infighting is generally debilitating as it distracts from fighting the other party.

But it can and should be done, in a constructive way.

Besides, the DLC has already thrown down, advising to party to reject the “MoveOn crowd” who are “elites, people who sit in their basements all the time and play on their computers”.

(You might have thought elites go to Hollywood parties and summer in the Hamptons, but no, they actually putz around in their basements. Who knew?)

So let’s throw. Let’s stack our vision against the DLC’s.

Most importantly, the time to do this is now, in the off-years, when any infighting will not preclude a closing of the ranks come election season.

If we don’t successfully make our case and lay down a foundation, then our next presidential nominee won’t have anything to stand on.

Without that, we can’t expect him or her to be able to sell any vision over a period of a few months in ’08.

Some knock John Kerry for a mushy campaign, but in several ways, he was simply a reflection of a mushy party at all levels, which was rudderless through much of Dubya’s first term, which flinched at the prospect of a riskier candidate in Dean.

We all must take some responsibility for that, and do what we can to avoid a repeat.

March 2, 2005 PERMALINK
Filibuster The Bankruptcy Bill
(posted March 2 12:45 AM ET)

If the Democratic Party fully had its act together, instead of being a work-in-progress, it would build on its early success in opposing Social Security privatization by unifying against the bankruptcy bill.

This is an opportunity to further the process of defining what separates the two parties and establishing a narrative: once again, the GOP wants to use the power of our government to benefit the fat cats, not regular Americans.

With Social Security, it’s the Wall Street firms. With the bankruptcy bill, it’s the credit card companies.

And in both cases, regular Americans who get hit with crushing debt through no fault of their own are left without protection from their own government.

(For background, check out The New Republic, EJ Dionne, Seattle P-I editorial board, and Jeff Gelles.)

But in all likelihood, Dems will miss this opportunity.

For one thing, while they have done a good job unifying on Social Security (so far) and poking holes in Bush’s plan, there hasn’t been much overarching narrative to build on.

For another, Dems have been complicit in this bankruptcy bill for years, in part for fear of appearing to support irresponsibility, appearing to stand with deadbeats.

In 2001, a majority of Senate Dems voted with the GOP to pass the bill.

After an abortion-related controversy sunk the bill in 2002, Dems didn’t cheer at the bill’s demise.

They blamed the GOP for failing to pass such glorious legislation – in particular, then-Sen. Majority Leader Tom Daschle (scroll down) and the DLC crowd.

In an ideal world, Dems would shake their fears, and stand in unison, and vote “No” on the bill, though not filibuster.

Why not filibuster?

Because Americans are far less likely to throw the GOP out of the power unless they feel the GOP is hurting their families and communities.

Bottling up legislation generally keeps everything on an abstract level, where it’s harder to explain what the GOP agenda is and why it matters.

Now, proposals that will cause lasting damage, like Social Security privatization, need to be blocked for the good of the country.

But proposals that can be more easily undone should be allowed to be enacted, just not with any Dem complicity.

Unfortunately, that approach isn’t workable in the case of the bankruptcy bill, because too many Dems are already on record supporting it.

So the only hope to save Americans from losing bankruptcy protections is a filibuster.

You would think this would be easy to pull off.

When both The Nation and The New Republic call for Dems to go to the mat, you’d think they’d go to the mat.

But based on their past voting records, there aren’t nearly enough Dems in outright opposition to filibuster on the merits.

So most likely, the only way Dems will filibuster (and even then, it’s not a given) is if Dem Sen. Chuck Schumer fails to attach an amendment targeting anti-abortion activists who try to evade paying fines for blocking clinics.

(Though if he does secure the votes to attach it, the bill will probably be killed by House GOPers.)

Since any filibuster won’t really center on the bill itself, but on the side issue of the Schumer amendment, it won’t do much to establish a larger political narrative.

However, it will save some families from being screwed over by credit card companies.

That’s enough reason to click here and tell your representatives to fight this bill.

(UPDATE 3/2/05 12 PM ET -- Tapped flags another amendment, backed by a GOP Senator, that could also end up sinking the bill.)

March 1, 2005 PERMALINK
Are We The Next Syria?
(posted March 1 1:45 AM ET)

The uprising of the Lebanese people against Syrian occupation should not be cause to rave about Dubya’s “democracy at gunpoint” strategy, but should give his supporters pause.

For if there is any parallel to the relationship between Syria and Lebanon, it is the US and Iraq.

Syria troops entered Lebanon in 1976 -- at Lebanon’s invitation and with the support of the US and Israel -- as civil war raged, in an attempt to maintain order.

The civil war lasted for 15 years.

Then the international Taif accords were signed in 1989, which led to the war’s end, but also served to legitimize Syria’s presence.

The accords gave Syria temporary, limited rule over Lebanon, but called for withdrawal after two years.

However, Syria took the opportunity to solidify its hold on the country.

And as long as order was maintained, the world did not complain much.

But while order was being maintained, Lebanese resentment simmered, and now has boiled over.

We don’t know if this people power will result in a smooth transition to self-determination, or a regression to the days of civil war.

(See The Angry Arab News Service for signs of pessimism, and a somewhat mixed view from Shlonkom Bakazay?)

But regardless of what happens next, it won’t change how the people turned against its occupier.

An occupier that entered and stayed in the country with international backing, seemingly with legitimate purpose.

Perhaps Syria did not intend to quasi-annex Lebanon when it first entered the country. Perhaps it did.

Whatever the initial motivations, the fact is that over time, Syria’s self-interest became evident to the Lebanese people.

And they pushed back.

Sadly, we are on the same path in Iraq.

US troops are in Iraq, with the mission to stabilize the country and prevent, or suppress, a civil war.

An Iraqi government is being stood up with our direct assistance and influence.

A reconstruction is being led by our companies and workers.

And no one thinks our troops are going to leave any time soon.

It may take years before a beaten-down, balkanized people come together in common cause.

And such an uprising may have nothing to do with the current insurgency.

But this sort of “quiet occupation,” as Syria’s was called, can only end badly for the occupier.

QUICK HIT

Freedom Marches On In Iraq

From today’s W. Post account of yesterday’s suicide attack in Iraq:

Iraqi police barred journalists from speaking with the wounded at the hospital and beat several cameramen who were trying to get inside.

February 28, 2005 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted Feb. 28 2:45 AM ET)

Another day of Social Security debate on the Sunday shows, with Sens. Joe Biden and Rick Santorum on NBC’s Meet The Press, and Sens. Jon Corzine and John Sununu on CBS’ Face The Nation.

And just like two Sundays ago, it was a wonky affair -- heavy on the detail, weak on consistent and compelling messaging, on both sides.

This makes it hard for the GOP to win, and hard for Dems to get maximum political mileage of a loss.

Furthermore, talk of a possible bipartisan compromise was in the air Sunday, fueled by this Sunday W. Post story:

...some allies of the president are focused on possible split-the-difference deals.

...most of these compromises would involve Bush significantly scaling back his proposals for restructuring the popular benefits program.

In exchange, he could still claim an incremental victory on what he has described as his core principles:… giving younger Americans options to invest more of their retirement money.

In one example, Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr. (R-Fla.) said, a compromise might involve merging Bush's proposal with plans -- some backed by Democrats -- that create government-subsidized savings plans outside Social Security.

Under this scenario, Bush's proposal to divert 4 percent of an individual's Social Security payroll tax would become 2 percent or less.

Sununu, who is not up for re-election in ’06 and is a leader of the “free lunch” wing of the privatizers, had nothing nice to say about Shaw’s trial balloon.

Instead, he played up his own proposal, which attempts to partially privatize the system without tax increases and benefit cuts (hence, the “free lunch”).

Santorum didn’t embrace Shaw either.

But, since he is up for re-election in ’06 and is seriously feeling the heat, he went to great lengths to paint himself as open-minded, repeatedly saying “everything is on the table.”

Though, in a more politically risky move, he intimated that any privatization deal would likely include tax increases and benefit cuts as well (trying to argue that the hikes and cuts would be smaller if done with privatization).

On the Dem side, both Corzine and Biden sought to sound positive about the idea of compromise (Biden more so).

But both only came down in support for “Social Security Plus,” which is an old Dem (though not necessarily liberal) idea for savings accounts on top of guaranteed Social Security benefits, not carved out of your guaranteed benefits.

Neither embraced Shaw’s plan specifically.

So there was no backstabbing by Corzine or Biden on substance.

Nevertheless, there was a hesitancy to go on the attack, a lack of clear messaging to define the parties’ different perspectives and agendas.

Talking Points Memo credits Biden for saying, “No matter how you cut it, this…debate on personal accounts is about the legitimacy of Social Security. It's not about the solvency of Social Security.”

A fine point, but not a sharp one, because he didn’t make it plain that it’s only Republicans that want to undermine the legitimacy of Social Security.

That’s how the debate should be framed: define yourself as the defender of Social Security, define your opponent as the underminer of Social Security.

But Senate Dems are still too worried about sounding “obstructionist,” and very much want to sound like compromisers.

At the expense of properly defining your opponent.

As noted here two Sundays ago, that may be enough to kill Bush’s plan (presuming there’s only talk of compromise and no action), but not enough give such an event larger political meaning and value.

The Blog Wire
Tracking the liberal blogosphere

There Is No Crisis: "A few weeks ago, we commissioned a research report on the funders of the Social Security privatization scheme. Our researcher went through the public tax records of every group involved in this right-wing scheme ... We're releasing the first installment today, on USA Next."

Peking Duck: Photos of a Chinese execution

TomDispatch: "It's quite possible that, for all its counter-proliferation talk, the Bush administration will prove the greatest WMD promoter of all time"

Black Commentator: "In a transparent bid to boost Republican fortunes among Blacks, billionaire Bob Johnson attempted earlier this year to convene a secret meeting of prominent African Americans at BET headquarters ... None of the invitees were told the identity of the others and the press was scrupulously kept in the dark ..."

Bush v. Choice: "Kansas Attorney General seeks women’s private medical records"

Hugo Zoom: "Earlier this month the American Library Association announced their list of the most challenged books in 2004 ... I fail to see what is so offensive about Captain Underpants"

Think Progress has several "Luntz Watch" posts, dissecting GOP pollster Frank Luntz's leaked 160-page playbook

Wampum: 2004 Koufax Award winners

Raw Story: Senators pressed to sign Durbin letter calling for investigation into Gannon affair (via AmericaBlog)

Petition from Campaign For America's Future calling for Rep. Jim McCrery, House leader on Social Security, to "cut ties with his Wall Street lobbyist friends and pledge NOT to take more money from the companies that would reap billions if Social Security is privatized"

Salon: GannonGate is worse than you think

The Washington Note: sign this petition to stop the MPAA from giving important Iraq war documentary Gunner Palace a R rating

Basie! interviews Walter Mondale

The Stakeholder: new DCCC petition, calling on the White House to "Stop The Propaganda"

The SEA-EAT Blog has information about resources, aid, donations and volunteer efforts for victims of the SE Asian tsunami

**************

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