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The LiberalOasis Blog
The daily view from the oasis

November 12, 2004 PERMALINK
Will 2006 Be Like 1994?
(posted Nov. 12 3 AM ET)

The Dems have a real shot to take over Congress in 2006. That's good.

It is doubtful that many people in the Beltway will believe Dems have a real shot in 2006. That may be good too.

The big question is: can the Dems turn 2006 into their 1994, when Newt Gingrich was able to rally his base against Dem dominance in DC?

First some numbers.

In 1993, Dems controlled the House 258-176. In 2005, the GOP will be up 228-206 (1 race is still undecided).

In 1993, Dems had 56 Senate seats. In 2005, the GOP will have 55.

So, these odds have been beaten before.

Now, if you thought turnout was key in 2004, it is absolutely everything in an off-year election.

Turnout is always lower in an off-year election than a presidential year -- off-year turnout hasn't broken 40%, since 1982.

(However, since the off-year turnout tends to be about 15 percentage points less than the prior prez year, and this year we hit 60%, we could have a bigger than usual off-year in '06.)

So if one base is more ginned up than the other, it will have a major impact.

This is why minority parties tend to have good off-year elections. Their bases are angrier and are more driven to vote.

Will there be enough competitive races to make takeover plausible? Quite possibly.

According to unofficial returns, there are 25 House races this year that the GOPer won by 55% or less (13 for Dems). That's the thumbnail benchmark for vulnerability.

If Dems can hold their seats, and win 12 of the vulnerable GOP seats, they're in.

The Senate, a third of which is up for re-election, is tougher to map out.

Dems need 6.

Three Blue-state GOP senators are up -- Chafee in RI, Snowe in ME, Santorum in PA. They should be targets, though none are gimmees.

Five other GOPers are at least in states with Dem governors -- AZ, TN, VA, MO and MT.

To be sure, statewide elections are generally tougher to win with base turnout than local House races.

But if lots of people get riled up by Bush's overreaching, these Senators could still be the ones that pay the price.

This of course, is the optimistic scenario. It will not be embraced by many in the Beltway.

Purveyors of Beltway CW will surely dwell on the fact that the Dems had even better shots at taking over in 2002 and 2004 and lost ground both times.

And after the Daschle defeat, they will treat the 5 Red-state Dems (from FL, NE, ND, NM, WV) as in more jeopardy than the 3 Blue-state GOPers.

(The W. Times editorial page is personally pressuring all Red-state Dem senators to kowtow to Bush.)

And they will note the obstacles created with gerrymandered districts and high incumbent survival rates.

Usually, LiberalOasis would be more concerned at the prospect of defeatism by Beltway Dems. Not this time.

One of the problems with the Dems (perhaps in and out of Washington) since 2000 is that they have been so close to winning, that they were afraid of losing.

And when you're afraid of losing, you become cautious and risk-averse.

You just think about little things to pick up 1 or 2 percent, instead of stressing the big things that define the party and give people a sense of what you're all about.

And you're more likely to cop out on tough votes when principle is called for.

In many ways, we are still close now, but nobody is acting that way.

That's good.

That may make our Beltway friends open to new ideas and approaches. That may shed us of our fear of losing.

On the up side, after a wimpy weekend, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and others returned to DC in a "defiant mood" according to Wednesday's W. Post (perhaps after hearing some complaints?)

On the down side, some so-called centrist Senators are forming a new "Third Way" group and members sound more interested in bashing liberals than bashing conservatives.

But as long as some part of the Democratic Party shows fight, and gives the base something to get excited about, the energy generated could overshadow the wimpy.

An interesting possibility: proud liberal Rep. Jan Schakowsky is interested in chairing the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee, which is the main organization funding House races.

She is also a good eye for talent, as she was an early supporter of Barack Obama.

She may be the fresh blood that the congressional leadership needs.

(You can read the interview LO did with her at the Dem convention here.)

November 10, 2004 PERMALINK
Gearing Up For Tax Simplification
(posted Nov. 10 1 AM ET)

Two years ago, LiberalOasis, in its 9-Point Plan for a Dem Majority, recommended that the Dems propose a tax simplification plan before Bush did.

Doing so would 1) steal his thunder, and 2) force the media to delve into details, as they would need to compare the two plans from the get-go.

The Dems didn't, but Bush flinched too. No harm, no foul.

This time around, Bush has publicly committed himself to pushing tax simplification.

But he apparently wants to create a commission first, so he won't be dropping a proposal on Day 1 of Term 2.

Good. That makes it even easier to break out of the box first. Dems should take advantage.

But let's not kid ourselves. Making a bold first move doesn't constitute checkmate.

And this is an issue where we need a checkmate.

As mentioned here yesterday, Bill Kristol laid down the marker during the '94 health care battle that Clinton had to be denied success at all costs.

Because if he won, Kristol feared Dems would lock up middle-class votes for the foreseeable future.

We should treat tax simplification similarly.

The parallels are not exact.

Health care is a tangible benefit. Tax simplification would provide convenience, but not necessarily more purchasing power.

Still, the tax form process is the one area where all Americans directly interact with their government.

And that tax booklet is our government's worst public relations tool.

It screams out "bloated bureaucracy," when it should scream out, "we're here to serve you and make your life easier".

If Dems were able to pull off tax simplification, it would greatly bolster their agenda.

It would enhance the image of government, and in turn, make it easier to propose government solutions to community problems.

But if the GOP pulls it off, it would have a greatly different effect.

It would put a happy face on a more devious agenda, to shift more of the tax burden away from the wealthy, and to starve our government of revenue so services would have to be slashed.

To be sure, Bush will be seeking for ways to obscure that agenda in his proposal.

Like including some nominal progressivity (perhaps by exempting the poor and low-income) to beat back charges of sucking up to the wealthy.

Or by arguing the proposal is revenue neutral to avoid charges of running up the deficit. (Expect low rates, coupled with silly supply-side arguments that the proposal will spark more growth, leading to more revenue).

Or by contending the real point of his proposal is to encourage savings and investment (tell that to the folks who don't have much to save).

Furthermore, in all likelihood Bush will be offering analyses of his proposal based on cooked stats.

Which will the media will dutifully relay, making any debate a blurry war of numbers.

This is what we'll be up against.

In '94, Kristol chose to go after Clinton by arguing there's no health care crisis, and hence, no need for major reform.

In this case, arguing the tax code isn't complicated is a non-starter.

Instead, Dems will need to argue what is needed for responsible tax reform, and how Bush's proposal falls short.

They should be guided by these four principles.

1) The tax code needs to be fair.

Note that a recent Gallup poll showed large majorities saying "upper-income people" and "corporations" pay "too little".

2) The tax code needs to be fiscally responsible.

See above.

And it wouldn't hurt for Dems to proactively propose spending cuts too. (Calling Center For American Progress and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities!)

3) The federal tax code needs to provide for desired government services, and lessen the burden on state and local governments.

This is the toughie, and the Dems have shied away from such talk for a long time.

But the fact is, if you buy into the GOP rhetoric that taxes are inherently bad, then why wouldn't you support rates as low as possible?

We need to reframe the tax debate, desperately. We need to convey the patriotism behind supporting our government financially.

Fortunately, voters are more grown up than pols give them credit for.

Polls have shown for some time that voters believe balanced budgets and infrastructure investment are more important than tax cuts.

Throw in the argument that Bush just wants to shift the burden and blame and responsibility to states and localities, and you could put an anti-Washington spin on the importance of federal taxes.

4) Simplification puts control over rates in the people's hands.

In the end, once the code is simplified, there will be no more mystery and confusion about what people pay.

And it will be easier for voters to understand what is needed to keep government running smoothly, and they can make decisions accordingly.

It's an empowering message.

And a party that stands for putting the people in effective control of their own spending is better than a party that stands for "higher taxes".

The tricky part of this argument is that it could also argue for letting Bush have his way.

Bush's proposal would have to be portrayed as too reckless to accept on "empowerment" grounds.

November 9, 2004 PERMALINK
Memo To Howard Dean
(posted Nov. 9 12 AM ET)

TO: Howard Dean

FROM: LiberalOasis

SUBJECT: DNC Chair

LiberalOasis hears that you are interested in being chair of the DNC.

Don't do it.

To be sure, you'd be great at it. But so would others, like Simon Rosenberg and Donna Brazile.

And there's another job that's currently open that desperately needs to be filled.

It doesn’t pay anything, but only you can do it.

It's a job that has never had a formal title associated with it, but let's give it one:

Strategist and Ass-Kicker At-Large, or SAKAL for short.

Only one other person has been a SAKAL, and it was for the other team in the early 1990s. His name is Bill Kristol.

We think of Kristol now as the neocon mastermind behind the Project For The New American Century.

But in the early 1990s, during the period when the GOP was completely out of power, he hung his shingle on a different mini-think tank, the Project For The Republican Future.

From there, he wielded great power by churning out combative strategy memos for the minority leadership, and buffeting those memos by being a constant media presence.

Keep in mind that Kristol, while fairly connected, was not fully welcomed with open arms by the GOP leadership. He muscled his way in.

The House Minority Leader at the time, Bob Michel, was notoriously timid. (His whip, Newt Gingrich, was another matter).

The Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole was more combative that Michel. But Kristol was too much for him to take, at least at first.

In Dec. 1993, Kristol fired off the first of his series of health care memos.

PBS.org recounted its significance, in a timeline based on the David Broder book "The System":

December 2, 1993: ...Kristol writes that congressional Republicans should work to "kill" -- not amend -- the Clinton plan because it presents a real danger to the Republican future:

Its passage will give the Democrats a lock on the crucial middle-class vote and revive the reputation of the party.

Nearly a full year before Republicans will unite behind the "Contract With America," Kristol has provided the rationale and the steel for them to achieve their aims of winning control of Congress and becoming America's majority party.

Killing health care will serve both ends...

...Until the memo surfaces, most opponents prefer behind-the-scenes warfare largely shielded from public view. The boldness of Kristol's strategy signals a new turn in the battle.

Kristol did not just counsel GOPers in Congress to be bold. He was bold himself in selling his strategy.

He got ahead of the GOPers, particularly Dole, by pushing his ideas publicly, like with this WSJ column that counseled his party to reject Clinton's "health care crisis" rhetoric.

According to the 9/94 Washington Monthly:

[Dole] began 1994 publicly scoffing at Kristol's no-crisis strategy but by midsummer was telephoning Kristol just to stay in touch.

Dole was no wimp. He wanted to fight. He showed that the day after Election Day.

But he didn't know how until Kristol, the SAKAL, showed him how.

Let's not kid ourselves Howard. You would have a tougher challenge than Kristol did as a SAKAL.

The '04 Dems have a longer way to go than the '92 GOPers.

But in the primaries, when no other Dem knew how to fight, you single-handedly showed them how, combining a feisty attitude with creative messaging.

Soon, others saw it working, and then everyone sounded like Dean.

In turn, Bush's poll numbers were dragged down to Earth, and we had ourselves a race.

You could play that role again. We need you to play that role again.

Because no one else in the party with any sort of stature knows how to do it.

On the other hand, if you were DNC chair, you will not have the necessary freedom to push the envelope on message and strategy.

Anything edgy out of your mouth would ricochet throughout the right-wing media machine, twisted and distorted, and spin out of control.

Already wimpy Dems would go into meltdown mode, calling for your head. You'd never last.

But we need you to last.

We have major fights ahead, on tax reform, on Social Security, on judges, and more.

We'll do what we can in the blogosphere, of course, to influence the discourse, steel Dems for these fights, and provide the outside-the-Beltway perspective they lack.

But if you assumed the rarified mantle of the SAKAL, you would have the greatest impact by far.

November 8, 2004 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted Nov. 7 10:45 PM ET)

On Nov. 4, 1992, the day after Bill Clinton beat George H.W. Bush by 5 percentage points and 202 electoral votes, this was the first thing out of Sen. Bob Dole's mouth:

57 percent of the Americans who voted in the presidential election voted against Bill Clinton, and I intend to represent that majority on the floor of the US Senate.

He finished his remarks with:

I think [Clinton] got some good news and some bad news last night...

...The good news is that he's getting a honeymoon in Washington. The bad news is that Bob Dole is going to be chaperone.

With that fighting attitude, the GOP stymied the centerpiece of Clinton's agenda, health care, and took over Congress in two years.

Compare that attitude with what was displayed by the lone Dem on the Sunday shows, Sen.-elect Barack Obama. From NBC's Meet The Press:

...one of the things I told the president was that we all have a stake in seeing him have a successful presidency.

I don't think that the Democrats succeed by rooting against the president in office.

But we have to be honest where we disagree with him and he's got to make his case where he's presenting issues that we're skeptical about.

It's not just Obama showing softness. This is the party line.

Here's House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, in the weekly radio address:

I hope that in this term President Bush will fulfill his promise to be a uniter, not a divider.

A new term is indeed a new opportunity to bring America together.

House Democrats stand ready to work with the President.

Despite our divisions, there are many places where we should be able to agree.

Granted, both Obama and Pelosi went ahead to explain some areas of potential disagreement.

But the overarching tone and message of conciliation is just wrong, wrong, wrong.

Whereas the only remotely conciliatory remarks in Dole's post-election remarks was, "Obviously we'll cooperate with the new administration, if it advances the best interests of our nation," though that was quickly coupled with, "but we will stand up against bad policy."

Another Senate Dem, Nebraska's Ben Nelson, was quoted by NY Times' Nick Kristof saying, "The first thing we have to do is shake the image of us as the obstructionist party."

Kristof also chimed in that it is "lethal" to be seen as obstructionist.

Tell it to Bob Dole.

What is potentially lethal is to be obstructing because of craven politics and not noble principle.

And what is also potentially lethal is ceding fight after fight, because then you clearly don't stand for any principles at all (and that's what happened in 2002).

Obama and Pelosi had the opportunity this weekend to tell the nation what our noble principles are, and how those principles will be guiding the fights that lie ahead.

They didn't.

Unless leading Dems to do so, quickly, it will much harder to win those fights.

The Blog Wire
Tracking the liberal blogosphere

War And Piece: "expect neocon dominance ... in all key agencies"

Get Your War On: "Chin Up...It Is On."

Bush v. Choice reports pro-choice election victories around the country

The Village Gate: "The ridiculous way that each side stereotypes and caricatures the other would be superb material for parody were the threat to domestic tranquility and even international peace not so great."

The Sideshow rips blabbing Kerry aides

Daily Kos has a serious, detailed analysis of recount possibilities in OH

The American Street: There are still 2 House races to contest, runoffs in Louisiana, donations can help

AmericaBlog: "Media now investigating Ohio fraud"

Alas, A Blog: "The big mistake the Democrats, and most of the left, made was to believe that by winning elections we will change the country. Just the opposite is true. It is only by changing the country that we will win elections."

Skippy: "don't quit now. that's what got us into this mess in the first place."

Pacific Views: "Democrats in the Senate will have to take a look at what they do include as a calculation when picking a caucus leader, whether they'd like to or not ... They no longer live in a world of genteel bipartisanship, and more is at stake than their petty division of fiefdoms."

Stone Court: Kerry for Sen. Minority Leader

Daily Kos: Dean for DNC Chair, Durbin for Sen. Minority Leader

Greg Palast: An Election Spoiled Rotten

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

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