E.J. Dionne wonders why the Democrats can’t get any political traction despite an incredibly weakened GOP:
It’s been clear for months that large majorities of Americans have given up on the Republicans. They’ve turned decisively against President Bush and, in principle, want him replaced in 2008 by a Democrat.
But there’s a major gap between the desired outcome and the will to bring it about. The electorate is more pro-Democratic in theory than in practice. And Democratic congressional leaders will have a hellish time changing that, given their narrow margins of control and President Bush’s possession of a veto pen.
Do not envy House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid their supposed power. It would be easier to manage Bush’s former baseball team, the Texas Rangers (26 wins, 43 losses as of this morning). Expectations for the Rangers are a lot lower.
The Democrats’ problem is that they got elected because the Republicans, quite frankly, couldn’t get their shit together. The Republicans lost the independent vote, and that relatively small shift was enough to cause an electoral bloodbath. The problem is that the Democrats really aren’t doing any better.
Name one major Democratic policy proposal that’s actually passed. Other than the minimum wage (which had support from many Republicans), none of them have. The Democrats are doing no more than did their Republican predecessors, and that’s the approval numbers for Congress are just as bad as the President’s.
ABC News also notes that the lefward tilt of the Democrats is hurting them with independent voters. The Democrats have bought into the convenient fiction that their poor poll numbers are because they didn’t get their Iraq surrender plan passed. That’s like the GOP blaming their losses in 2006 on not doing enough to court evangelicals — it’s a way of dodging blame from policies that have utterly failed. Iraq isn’t the issue that’s keeping the Congress’ numbers down. It’s the fact that nothing is getting done. Even if the Democrats had gotten their surrender, their numbers wouldn’t be better because the problem isn’t Iraq, it’s a climate of poisonous political partisanship.
Both parties are in deep trouble. The President is an albatross around the neck of the Republicans, and the Democrats are being pushed further and further away from the political mainstream. Barring a meltdown, it still looks like Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic candidate in 2008. While a meltdown is always a possibility, the Democrats are likely to pick one of the most divisive candidates in recent political history while the Republicans seem likely to reach out to a more centrist candidate. That’s why despite the Democrats winning the generic ballot, they still don’t have any candidates who can get close to that generic preference.
The reality is that neither party can get much traction because the system is broken. We need less pork, less influence trading, less partisanship and less government overall. The reason why there’s such a strong subculture behind candidates like Ron Paul is because they’re candidates who are pushing against the status quo — and even though they have no chances of winning, that sentiment is a lot broader than one might think.
American politics is in a shameful state, and unless this idiotic partisan divide ends, it will remain so for some time. The American people are rightly sick of the same cronyism and ineptitude coming from both sides, and unless one party can break the deadlock and appeal to the center, neither party is going to have much success in advancing any kind of agenda.