Campaign 2010, Politics

Can The Democrats Pull Out Of The Tailspin?

Jim Kessler, of the left-leaning group Third Way, offers the Democrats a few rays of hope. He argues that this needn’t be a repeat of 1994, and the Democrats can avoid an electoral bloodbath this fall.

Were I a Democrat, I wouldn’t be so sanguine. Kessler’s ray of hope are meager indeed.

For example, he essentially asks Democrats to have faith in the Democratic leadership. And yes, Nancy Pelosi is not former Speaker Tom Foley, and Maxine Waters and Charlie Rangel are not like the infamous Dan Rostenkowski. But that’s a debatable proposition. Speaker Pelosi represents a left-wing enclave far outside the political mainstream. And will voters fail to see the ethics scandals surrounding Reps. Waters and Rangel as anything other than a sign of rampant Congressional corruption? What evidence does Kessler have that the Rostenkowski scandal was manifestly worse than Rangel and Waters’ misuse of their offices? That’s not exactly enough to inspire confidence.

Kessler also argues that ObamaCare is not as bad as HillaryCare because ObamaCare actually passed. But that’s exactly why the Democrats are in trouble—the American electorate didn’t want ObamaCare any more than they wanted HillaryCare in 1994. Passing bill was a Pyrrhic victory for the Democrats. Despite all the predictions that the bill would become popular after passage, that has not come true. Moreover, it’s cemented several harmful narratives about the Democratic Party. It’s shown that the Democrats don’t really care about spending (the electorate does not buy the narrative that the bill saves money). It demonstrated that the Democratic leadership had no intention of listening to the American people. The polls were clear about the electorate’s dislike of the health care bill, but the Democratic leadership pushed it through anyway. And finally, Democratic legislators were on record as saying that they had not read the bill and didn’t even really know what was it. This shattered the idea that the Democrats were a party of competent governance. The average American voter sees something like Nancy Pelosi saying “we have to pass the bill to see what’s in it” and wonders what in the world she’s thinking. These narratives, along with the state of the economy, have turned the tables on the Democratic Party.

The First Step Is To Stop Digging

Unlike the Democratic leadership, Democratic incumbents aren’t willing to sacrifice their careers for the good of their party. This election cycle is unique in that Democrats are running against the national party. The 37 Democratic House members that voted against ObamaCare are running on their votes. Not a single Democrat is running on a pro-ObamaCare vote. The Democratic leadership would like to pretend that ObamaCare isn’t political poison, but candidates running for re-election don’t have the luxury of that delusion. They have to face a political environment that is more toxic to Democrats than even 1994. The American electorate is angry.

The recent special election in PA-12, where Democratic Mark Critz defeated Republican Tim Burns, is emblematic of how Democrats are running this year. Critz did not highlight his party identification. If an unfamiliar voter watched his ads, they would assume that he was a Republican himself. He ran against ObamaCare, against the Democratic leadership, and against many of Obama’s policies. This is the model that many Democrats are following.

What could Democrats do? If I were advising the Democrats (and I only give this advice in full confidence they won’t actually heed it), I would advocate running an insurgent campaign. Run as an independent Democrat. Do what Mark Critz successfully did—run against the national Democratic leadership. Would it change voters minds for an on-the-fence candidate like Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin (D-SD) if she said that she would not vote for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker? It certainly couldn’t hurt her.

But what Democrats need is a political “come to Jesus” moment. They have to admit that ObamaCare was a bad call. They have to admit that the leadership of the Democratic Party has not listened to the American people. The Democratic base would howl with fits of rage—but they would, more likely than not, still come out to vote for Democrats. It’s the massive loss of independent voters that has cost the Democrats so dearly in the polls. If Democratic candidates founded their own intra-party insurgency based around a rejection of the Democratic leadership, it could actually help them.

What the Democrats need, in essence, is their own Tea Party. But not a left-wing Tea Party, a movement within the Democratic Party that pushes a fundamental break from the unpopular policies of the past. The Tea Party has forced the Republicans to start talking about what they believe in as party—a conversation that was past due. The Democrats need the same. The leadership cares more about amassing power than about listening to their constituents. They are a radioactive commodity in this cycle. If vulnerable Democrats want to have a chance of saving themselves, they need to run as far and as fast away from the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid as they can.

But even if they were to do that, it might not be enough. Political

Idiotarianism, Politics, War On Terror

Liar, Liar, Pantsuit On Fire

Charles Krauthammer has a typically great column on the ongoing debate over “torture” after Nancy Pelosi’s denial that she knew anything about waterboarding. Pelosi, assuming that the liberal press would cover for her, has now gotten caught up in a web of her own lies. So much so that the press has the scent of blood in the water:

Rep. Pelosi has ended up making a laughingstock of herself—her desperate attempts to backpedal from her own words are Clintonian in audacity without the skill of Slick Willy. Even the mainstream press has caught on.

Krauthammer puts the political impact of all this succinctly:

The reason Pelosi raised no objection to waterboarding at the time, the reason the American people (who by 2004 knew what was going on) strongly reelected the man who ordered these interrogations, is not because she and the rest of the American people suffered a years-long moral psychosis from which they have just now awoken. It is because at that time they were aware of the existing conditions — our blindness to al-Qaeda’s plans, the urgency of the threat, the magnitude of the suffering that might be caused by a second 9/11, the likelihood that the interrogation would extract intelligence that President Obama’s own director of national intelligence now tells us was indeed “high-value information” — and concluded that on balance it was a reasonable response to a terrible threat.

And they were right.

In the end, that’s correct. The “torture” issue will never have legs because the average American doesn’t share the sense of moral outrage that some have over that issue. In war, bad things happen. People get killed. Killing is a moral wrong, yet it is part of the nature of warfare. In the same vein, a practice like waterboarding may be credibly called torture, and torture is a moral wrong. Yet it is also a part of war. Pelosi doesn’t care about the morality of torture, she wants to score political points for partisan reasons. Some have a legitimate, rational, and moral objection to these practices, but they are a distinct minority.

In the end, Pelosi’s dissembling masks the real issue here. Waterboarding someone who was directly responsible for the inhuman September 11 atrocity is morally and politically different than the mistreatment of detainees. The abuses of Abu Ghraib and others are examples of acts that harm America’s reputation and dishonor our military. Yet the focus is not on those acts, but on the waterboarding issue. Were this a moral rather than a political issue, detainee abuse would be placed in its full context, rather than being used as a truncheon against the Bush Administration.

Pelosi’s lies are political in nature, just like this whole attempt at a partisan witch-hunt. Even for those who legitimately and truly oppose torture, tying their wagons to such a despicably partisan crusade only undercuts the seriousness of their position. If the anti-torture campaign will be spearheaded by outright liars like Rep. Pelosi, it will never be taken seriously.


Following In The Footsteps Of Carter?

Dave Kopel blasts into the Bush-Pelosi “stimulus package” at The Volokh Conspiracy:

Here’s how to deal with a recession: A federal government which is already spending more than its income should borrow even more money, so as to give lots of people a tax rebate. This is the bipartisan plan of President Bush and Congress. They are taking a leaf from the presidency of Jimmy Carter.

Even accounting for inflation, the Bush-Reid-Pelosi rebate is far more profligate than the proposed Carter rebate of 1977. But the two rebates appear to be based on the same demand-side principles.

He’s right on that. The “stimulus package” is great politics, but absolutely horrendous policy. When we’re already running the budget into the ground, the last thing this country should be doing is trying to jump-start the economy by giving everyone a check. It’s a bit of “bread and circuses” politics that demonstrates just how economically illiterate the government is.

Middle class voters are feeling a squeeze, but that’s a symptom of a larger problem. The reason why the dollar is falling and the markets are volitile is because the US is on an economically unsustainable course: we’re spending too much, regulating too much and we have a massive entitlement crisis looming and no one has the political will to touch it. When even the French are being more fiscally responsible than we are there is a serious problem.

A realistic stimulus plan would involve significant cuts in spending, making the current tax rates permanent, and structural economic reforms like ensuring that depreciation tables don’t artificially increase the taxable assets of a business. However, none of those things are particularly “sexy” and don’t have much impact to the average voter. So instead, President Bush and Congress are planning to bribe the American people.

In the end, this plan is ultimately self-defeating. We can’t get out a problem created by fiscal profligacy by being even more profligate—and while a tax rebate check is a nice thing to have, it’s not going to have the long-term effect necessary to lift the economy. Even if we do get some economic stability in the next few months, that’s more likely due to the sub-prime crisis easing rather than some government check.

This isn’t a stimulus package, it’s a bribe, and while it may be politically popular, it’s not going to fix our underlying economic problems.

Iraq, War On Terror

A Monkey Wrench In Pelosi’s Plans?

Rep. John Murtha, one of the most vociferous opponents of the Iraq War is now saying that the surge is working:

Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), one of the leading anti-war voices in the House Democratic Caucus, is back from a trip to Iraq and he now says the “surge is working.” This could be a huge problem for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democratic leaders, who are blocking approval of the full $200 billion being sought by President Bush for combat operations in Iraq in 2008.

Murtha’s latest comments are also a stark reversal from what he said earlier in the year. The Pennsylvania Democrat, who chairs the powerful Defense subcommittee on the House Appropriations Committee, has previously stated that the surge “is not working” and the United States faced a military disaster in Iraq.

Murtha told CNN on July 12, following a Bush speech, that the president’s views on the success of [the] surge in Iraq were “delusional.”

Apparently it’s no longer as “delusional” as it once was. The reality on the ground in Iraq has now reached a point where it’s no longer deniable. This puts the Democrats in a bind: they’ve argued all year that the “surge” was doomed to failure, that Iraq was going to collapse into civil war, and that the only thing we could do was go home. Now, all those predictions have proven to be wrong—the “surge” did work, violence is down, and Iraqi refugees are returning to home.

Of course, the narrative has already changed that the “real” goal of the surge was to get the Iraqi government to make political concessions rather than simply laying the groundwork for those concessions to be possible. However, that’s a transparent attempt to try and ignore the very real progress that’s been made: and the more obvious that progress becomes, the harder it is to change the subject—especially when the word “quagmire” was used so capriciously.

It will be interesting to see what Rep. Pelosi’s reaction will be as more members of the House start backing away from the defeat-at-any-price coalition, it’s going to be harder and harder to play political games over war funding. When even John “Redeploy to Okinawa” Murtha is forced to admit that the military goals of the surge are being met, it’s clear that the line that the surge was a failure and it’s “delusional” to think that it could work just won’t fly anymore.