Sunday, January 29, 2006

Just Don’t Screw It Up

Dan Balz in the Washington Post has a detailed analysis of the prospects for the Bush administration and Republicans in the 2006 election. In short, the Republicans are in deep shit and the only way they’ll be able to pull themselves back off the mat is if some outside force helps them up.

In the last few years, that helping hand has been the Democrats.

Bush won reelection in 2004 with a lower approval rating than any other reelected president of the post-World War II era, save for Harry S. Truman. Rhodes Cook, an independent political analyst, said Bush’s overall approval rating may be less damaging politically than it was for other presidents. “His strength is in fundraising and mobilizing the base,” Cook said. “He can still do both very well.”

Democrats see the political landscape as the most favorable to them since Bush took office. They view the war in Iraq as a continuing political burden for the administration, and hope to reap gains on the corruption issue, epitomized by the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. “Any reasonable reading of the trends would suggest that Democrats can expect significant gains this November,” said Paul Harstad, a Democratic pollster. “That includes historical patterns, Republican scandals and a growing realization of the insidious cost of unchallenged Republican rule.”

But Bush and his team believe they can change the equation. White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove put Democrats on notice a week ago when he promised a campaign of sharp contrasts on national security, taxes and the economy, and judicial philosophy. That signaled a rerun of previous Bush campaigns, in which Republicans forced Democrats into a debate on national security and terrorism, polarized the electorate, and used those and other issues to mobilize and turn out rank-and-file Republicans in large numbers.

If the Democrats can’t get their shit together to counterpunch with good, workable ideas (see the current edition of The Nation for starters), strong candidates like Paul Hackett in Ohio, and call bullshit on the fearmongering and imperial parading of the “unitary executive,” then they will not have earned the right to run against the majority party that has proven with breathtaking efficiency and blistering candor to be some of the most incomptent and corrupt elected officials since the Harding administration.

A common complaint I hear from fellow progressives is “Who will lead us?” The Conventional Wisdom that Hillary Rodham Clinton is somehow the annointed nominee is beginning to get some counterpunching from the likes of hard-core liberals like Molly Ivins. John Kerry’s call to filibuster the Alito nomination is seen as his opening offering for another run in 2008, and Al Gore’s blistering critique of the Bush administration has folks perking up their ears as if this was his re-emergence as the Alpha Male in the pack. But instead of waiting patiently like the faithful for the Messiah to return or putting old whines in new bottles, the Democrats should be actively looking beyond the old and going for the new, the innovative, and, dare I say it, the progressives who can provide a stark contrast to the current majority. Clearly the public wants it — the polls have the Democrats leading the Republicans in almost every area — and if we provide even a glimmer of hope, the transformation could be seismic.

If we can’t win this one, we don’t deserve to.