Boy, you gotta hand it to the Democratic Party. They sure get high marks for consistency.
The guys in the White House must be getting bored by now. They keep handing out killer cudgels to the Democrats, waiting to see if they’ll actually pick one up.
Never happens. As the old saying goes, if you can’t run against fiscal hemorrhage, Terri Schiavo, an unpopular war with no end in sight, torture, Hurricane Katrina, the prescription drug program debacle, Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay, and the federal government spying on Americans, maybe you should think about a different career than politics.
Maybe Democrats could be sherpas, for example, instead of members of Congress. Or waterboys, on the sidelines of high school football games. I hear there’s a shortage of those nowadays, though of course the perks aren’t quite as good. No more photo-ops standing behind the president as he signs cataclysmic legislation into law or launches invasions of hapless foreign countries.
Living through that abysmal list of Republican calamities over the last five years, I used to think that the Democrats were just (just!) stupid and cowardly. But after three cycles in which they have also stood by and watched Republicans actually steal elections from them, including the presidency, I now realize the problem is even deeper than that.
All I can conclude at this point is that the Bidens, Liebermans and Clintons of this world are so venal, in addition to stupid and cowardly, that they’ve traded in all pretense of principle in exchange for their seemingly safe seats and their bitty little slice of the prima donna pie. Nice offices, lots of recognition in the community, guest appearances with Tim Russert. Wowee. As if – even if that deal with the devil weren’t disgusting enough in its own right – as if the predators of the regressive right would be satisfied to let them remain in those positions for the long-haul, anyhow. Have these sell-outs never heard of a certain city in southern Germany? Do they really not know what comes next, as the unitary executive amasses power, preparing for Cheneydom?
Given the track record of the empty shell that masquerades these days as the Democratic Party, I can feel pretty safe that by proposing the television ad below I’m not giving away valuable intellectual property for which I should be highly compensated. The dismal donkeys of the District seem about as likely to air the thing as Pat Robertson is to get into heaven.
But if Democrats were somehow miraculously infused with a fighting spirit again, if they stumbled across somebody’s missing conscience and sense of compassion, if they accidently drank from the cup of righteous anger at what’s been done to this country and this world with their complicity in that doing, well then, I have three pieces of advice for them.
The first is to nationalize this election. Republicans are obscenely vulnerable at the national level, and the faces of Bush, Cheney, DeLay, Abramoff and the rest, along with their incredibly unpopular policies, should be morphed into those of every Republican candidate for representative, senator, governor and dog catcher, from Bangor to Burbank and back again.
Democrats need to chain the Bush manacle around the ankles of every last one of them, then throw them into Lake Campaign. This election has every possibility of being 1994 in reverse, if Democrats are smart enough (oh god, please don’t get me started on that) to do what Republicans did then: forget local issues and run against a severely unpopular national party.
This is Politics 101, people, second week of class. It doesn’t get any more basic. Incumbency is a weapon, if politicians are smart enough to use it. In good times it belongs to the incumbents. In bad times it belongs to the opposition. These are bad times.
The second thing Democrats must do is run hard. If Democrats applied even half the vigor, conviction and tenacity that Republicans do (even without any of the deceit or venom), they would sweep Republicans off a cliff in 2006. On the other hand, at this point, if they don’t run hard, Democrats seriously risk joining the Federalists, the Whigs, the Bull Moose, the Citizens and the Reforms in the dust bin of American party purgatory. I think the patience of the Democratic base for pusillanimous pulverization is nowadays just about completely exhausted. And well it should be. When was self-immolation ever a strategy for electoral victory, anyhow? Eh, Hillary? Eh, Joe?
Third and finally, take a page from Rove and run directly against your opponent’s strength. In this case, that means actually talking about national security (Yikes! No, no, can’t do that, mustn’t do that...), which is only a Republican strength because cowed Democrats have been so afraid to even speak the truth on this issue, let alone grandstand a bit. Democrats will never win another election unless they can make the public comfortable with them on security issues. In fact, the truth today happens to overwhelmingly favor Democrats, if they would only articulate it (see below). It’s time for the party which led this country to war in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam (any fool can march on Panama, Grenada, or Baghdad – how well we know that now) to stop letting themselves be painted in the public’s imagination as the party of weakness.
That’s the prescription, in three-part harmony. If the Dems ever do decide to get serious, here’s a place to start. Not that they remotely deserve it, but I’m offering the following ad to the Party to run in this year’s election cycle. No charge, even. No points, no commission. My only stipulation is that they use it everywhere, and they use it a lot.
Oh, and one other thing. When terrified Republicans crawl out from under their rocks and start hurling de rigueur accusations of unpatriotic disloyalty and the like, don’t issue a freaking apology! Okay? Got that?
Respond as they would: Double the airings of the spot, question publically why Republicans are so frightened of the truth, and attack the hell out of the messenger. Ask over and over again why neither Bush (AWOL), Cheney (five deferments; “I had better things to do in the 60s than fight in Vietnam”), Ashcroft (seven deferments), Wolfowitz, Perle nor the rest reported for duty in Vietnam, when it was their turn – despite being so willing to send our young men and women into harm’s way without cause today. Reiterate incessantly that America could have used their help over there, and maybe we would even have won that war if they had gotten themselves into a rice paddy or two.
Of course, that would have been dangerous for them. Oh, never mind.
“Security” – Democratic Party National Television Spot, 2006 Election Cycle
[Ominous tones oscillate in the background. Fade from black into a shot of Bush presiding at a cabinet meeting. Voiceover:] “We know from two former members of his own cabinet that George Bush was planning to invade Iraq from the very beginning of his presidency, well before 9/11 even happened.”
[Show Bush laughing and campaigning] “We know that he failed to call a cabinet-level meeting on terrorism for nearly a year into his presidency, and [show red lines crossing off items on budgetary documents] that he originally proposed to slash the government’s anti-terrorism budget to pay for tax cuts for the rich.”
[Show twin towers before attack] “We know that he was told about a pending attack five weeks before 9/11, but [show Bush golfing and biking] still spent a month on vacation, even though, a few years later, he flew through the night from Texas to Washington just to sign a bill injecting the federal government into the Terri Schiavo [show Schiavo] family’s personal medical trauma.”
[Show Osama bin Laden] “After 9/11, George Bush promised he would bring in its perpetrator, [show Bush speaking to Congress, pounding lectern] ‘dead or alive’”.
“But then he pulled our special forces, hot on Osama bin Laden’s trail [show soldiers in mountainous terrain], out of Afghanistan and sent them to Iraq instead.”
[Show Cheney snarling on a talk show] “Even though Iraq had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11.”
“George Bush demanded that UN weapons inspectors go to Iraq, and they did. [Show clips of inspectors] The inspectors asked for just a few more months to finish their work, but the president [show Bush behind desk at White House, announcing Iraq invasion] insisted that the danger was so urgent we couldn’t wait that long.”
[Show soldiers at a military funeral and scenes of destruction from Iraq] “Today, over 2,200 of America’s finest young men and women have been killed in Iraq, over 16,000 are gravely wounded, and somewhere between thirty and one-hundred thousand Iraqi civilians are dead. But the two teams the president himself sent to Iraq reported [show thick report volumes falling in slow motion onto a desk with a thud] that there were no weapons of mass destruction, and that there hadn’t even been a WMD program there since 1993. [Show/hear Bush’s Press Club film, where he jokingly looks under his desk for WMD] Despite rushing America to war, to this day George Bush has not attended one military funeral for our fallen in Iraq.”
[Show Bush strutting on carrier deck in full flight suit, “Mission Accomplished” banner in background] “The war in Iraq has dragged on for three years now, but this president thought it was over before it had really even started.”
[Show General Shinseki testifying before Congress] “This commander-in-chief insisted on occupying Iraq with less than half the forces necessary to do the job right, firing top generals who told Congress the truth about needed force size. Today [show soldiers in street action], American soldiers and Marines are spread so thin in Iraq that they continually have to re-fight battles for territory they just recently won, but then vacated to go fight elsewhere.”
[Show somebody moving boxes around on a complex organizational chart] “This president merged a bunch of bureaucratic agencies together, including FEMA, to form the Homeland Security Department [show Ashcroft with color-coded danger chart], but he left out the FBI and CIA, the two most important terrorist-fighting arms of the government.”
[Show 9/11 Commission at work] “Today, fully five years after we were attacked, the 9/11 Commission has issued a follow-up report [Show newspaper headlines] giving the government flunking grades [show report card with D’s and F’s on it] for protecting us against the next terrorist assault.”
[Show parade ground assembly of soldiers, with half fading out of image] “Today, a report has just been issued describing our Army as near the breaking point because it has been stretched so far. The report calls the Army [show words on screen] a ‘thin green line’ which is now in danger of [show words] ‘catastrophic decline’.”
[Show Rumsfeld giving congressional testimony] “Today, a Nobel Prize winning economist has estimated that the total cost of the Iraq war will be between one and two trillion dollars, even though we were told beforehand that it would be [show/hear Wolfowitz saying the words before Congress] ‘largely self-financing’. That’s money that won’t be available for healthcare [show hospital], schools [show classroom], or to fight a real threat from abroad [show North Korean missiles in military parade, Kim Jong Il smiling menacingly]. That’s one to two trillion dollars [show growing mountain of cash] we’re borrowing from foreign governments, money that our children will have to pay back, with interest.”
[Show unhappy and exhausted soldiers resting in a rubble-strewn dugout] “Today, three years after the war began, and five years after planning for it started, the president has incredibly still not provided body and vehicle armor [show Humvee rolling down war-torn street] for all our military forces in Iraq. American communities hold bake sales to pay for protective vests for our soldiers, while a secret Pentagon study [show file folder stamped top secret] just reported that more than 80 percent of the Marines who have been killed in Iraq from upper body wounds could have survived if George Bush had provided them sufficient body armor.”
[Show latest bin Laden video in menacing view] “Today, this man – the one who hit us on 9/11 – remains free, taunting us and threatening more terrorist attacks on American soil [show fearful expressions of terrified people on New York streets the day of 9/11], but the president now says [show/hear Bush saying the words] ‘I am truly not that concerned about him’ and ‘I don't really think about him very much’”
[Show DeLay, Hastert, Frist, etc.] “Meanwhile, a Republican Congress has marched in lock-step with this Republican President [show them together with Bush] every step of the way.”
[Show Bush reading to school children on 9/11] “George Bush will be in office for almost three more years. [Show committed Democratic politicians speaking forcefully in Congress and serving their constituents] But we don’t have to wait that long to get a Congress that will make sound decisions, support our troops, and work hard for America’s security.” [Show scenes of white and blue collar Americans on the job, and suburban moms busily dropping children off at school]
[Show flag waving in the wind, soldiers doing construction work in Iraq, sailors on the deck of a steaming aircraft carrier. Cue big patriotic themes on sound track.] “We can make America safe again. We can give our armed forces the support they deserve. It’s up to you. Vote Democratic in November.”
David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles (email@example.com), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond.