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December 01, 2005


Repubicans will never admit how vulerable they are, of course, but dems have to step up, too. The election can't be about whether to withdraw from Iraq or not. It has to be very frank: Bush has made us less safe. He's bungled us into a bad situation. It's starting to dawn on people anyway - ie independents and some republicans. The broader critique is there waiting to be stated: Bush reacts, rather than leads. Bush identifies a little too much with his enemy. Leadership is not reaction. Adults, please. Leaders, please.

There's been a lot of back and forth about whether the dems need more 'message discipline' or not (the extreme being Mr Sirota saying we need our own Norquist). I think worrying about the 'issue' of message discipline is basically a digression - interesting, but secondary. Just because republicans use it to con people doesn't mean that marketing is inherently bad. Marketing just is. Blogs - with no money exchanged, just ideas - is also marketing. Paradoxically, the best way to fight cheesy (con game) marketing is to embrace and humanize it. If you don't - if you're holier-than-thou or nostalgic - you cede it to the bad guys. You might get to come up with a different word from 'marketing' some day, but it doesn't really matter what the name is. It's not going away, regardless.

Repubs have proved that a fake message, tightly focused, can win. What power could a non-fake, tightly focused message have? It could be devastating. It's worth considering. Forget about the republicans. You can do it if you try.

The vaunted 'American People' are actually smart as hell, a lot of the time. I'll bet that people in other parts of the world don't always know that, lately. But the much put-upon American People can spot a fuckup. Without pointlessly humiliating regular people, dems can surely come up with some sort of broader critique of, arguably, the worst president in the history of the country, no? If not, we need major surgery.

They took heart in a survey last week by RT Strategies, a bipartisan polling firm, that found that 49 percent of Americans favor bringing troops home when only "specific goals and objectives" are met...

This is probably true.... and shows where the Dems can make headway. Bush's "goals and objectives" are about as non-specific as it gets. Advocating the "1 for 3" withdrawal metric (one withdrawn US battalion for each three fully trained Iraqi battalion) provides a specific goal that can and should be met -- and the failure to draw down a significant number of our troops would show that our "training" strategy is a failure.

Fucking brilliant. And, apparently, a new idea.

A broad Pentagon directive issued this week orders the U.S. military to be sure, the next time it goes to war, to prepare more thoroughly for picking up the pieces afterward. from DedfromCT's link.

Brilliant that they are now considering preparing for the last war? More conventional I think.

Not that there isn't something to it. My (small) understanding is that European countries train their militaries for duties beyond assault and destroy -- we could too.

But of course what is really needed is leadership that can imagine how to use power to obtain discernable, rational goals -- neither party is throwing that up at the moment. I do think the US people might be smart enough to latch on to it, if offered.

janinsanfran, sarcasm is not dead.

Let's see - 30 percent want a timetable, and 16 percent want immediate withdrawal (which also amounts to a timetable). That's 46 percent who just want us the hell out, compared to 49 percent for "specific goals and objectives." I'd love to see a follow-up on how many of that 49 percent really have confidence that "goals and objectives" will be met.

The GOP has two problems. One is the absence of a noisy Vietnam-style antiwar movement to deflect the blame onto. Jack Murtha is their worst friggin nightmare - a guy who comes off as a mix of Joe Friday and Archie Bunker, saying "enough is enough."

Their other problem is that while Iraq is at the heart of their trouble, it does not stand alone, but in the center of a swirling mix that includes Katrina, corruption, incompetence, and (most of all, I suspect), such pervasive economic insecurity that to most people even a "strong" economy sux. It is a toxic political stew in which every ingredient reinforces all the others.

I've heard reports that the number of House seats viewed as competitive is rising. For GOPers who are even slightly reality-based, this cannot be a fun time.

-- Rick

Oh yes, sarcasm had occurred to me. I really feel for the military types who have to participate in these charades.

Meanwhile -- as somebody who works in the nuts and bolts of politics, I do think we have to respect the power of the gerrymander and understand that it will take something close to superhuman effort to shift the balance in Congress more than a very small amount. Here in California, it will take an earthquake to move ANY seats. The agreement made by both parties to freeze the existing distribution in place is that solid. We'll take a hack at Pombo and one or two others in the central valley, but it is going to be a very long shot to shift anything.

A total amateur's 2¢:

The thing about it is that only moderate Republicans seem to be vulnerable. I live in CT in Shays' district. To get elected here, he has to be a moderate. And I am pleased that he has consistently tried to be a voice of reason in the GOP. I like him, but I can't vote for him because of his party affiliation. It's that simple. His challenger (Diane Farrell) gave him a run for his money last time, and I believe she will do well again this time.

So to make gains in the House, Democrats have to unseat moderate Republicans, thereby pushing the GOP further to the right.

Agree, disagree?

Agree, alas, unless there's a tsunami. I could live with Shays while losing my Ct 5 Nancty johnson, but Shays is more vulnerable.

On the other hand, there may be a tsunami.

Bush's defeat is a victory. For the rest of us.

Broder on disillusion. Interesting read. Dems still have a hard sell to do, as reflected by many commenters.

If targeting every moderate republican candidate in either chamber resulted in a change of control in either of the two houses of congress (especially the House), it absolutely would be worth it, even if relatively (or perfectly) honorable gop members lost their seats. I don't know that that would be the result of such an effort, but controlling either house, even with some dem members who were just as conservative as, say, Shays, is the name of the game at this point. This is a political machine which needs to be broken. My amateur 2 cents.

This is the second time I have wondered if Gordon England is being auditioned for SecDef. Especially after Rusmfeld's sorry performance on torture, where he had to be rebuked by the Chair of the Joint Chiefs, Pace. This post-conflict idea has actually been around in the Pentagon for awhile, but it was Rumsfeld's fascination with lightning-quick strikes that derailed it. So I wonder if Rummy is being isolated or worked around.

There is great dissension in the military if one is to believe Seymour Hersh's article and his recent interviews. The generals know that most things aren't going well in Iraq, but no one can tell the boss that. And the Air Force isn't happy about killing civilians on the command of Iraqis who are settling scores. (Think Afghanistan writ large.) And there is still the problem of the over-stretched military. So we will begin withdrawing next year, no matter what anyone says.

Hersh also said that the Green Zone isn't as invulnerable as people seem to think. One massive hit there and the calls for withdrawal would accelerate, I would think, kind of like with Reagan after the Beirut bombing. But the neocons see Beirut as one of the things that emboldened al Qaeda, so they will resist. This is where Bush's mindset which Hersh describes as "People may suffer and die, but the Church advances" gets really scary.

And the elecion? Without a bunch of scruffy hippies as the face of the calls for a phased withdrawal, the Nixon strategy won't work. The Murthas and the Union types are getting on the other side of this one. That spells trouble for the GOP. And demographic changes and a higher profile spell real trouble for Pombo. The problem with the gerrymandering strategy is that it assumes that Republicans and R-leaning independents will keep voting that way. A tsunami constitutes the opposite scenario.

To show you where's the WaPo's editorial slant is consistently at:

Washington, D.C.: John,

One major criticism I hear of the Democrats on Iraq is that all they are offering is complaints instead of a feasible alternative plan. My question is even if the Dems offered a feasible plan, who would listen? They do not control either Congress or the White House, so they have no way of acting on any plan they propose other than perhaps symbolic gestures.

John F. Harris: Well-organized minorities can exercise a lot of clout in politics--and use that to lift themselves out of the minority.

Look at Newt Gingrich in 1994.

What's not clear to me--not clear to anyone yet--is whether Democrats will fashion some unified position as an alternative to Bush going in the 2006 elections.

Based on evidence so far, I kind of doubt it. If so, they'll stay vulernable to the line of criticism you suggest. But we'll see. To my mind, this is the biggest story in American politics over the next year.

shorter Harris:
"Nah, Democrats just suck. Everyone knows that, it's cw."

The only problem I have with this is that the Democrats continue to act like a deer caught in the headlights. The driver has had a heart attack, the car is weaving all over the road, but the de(er)mocrats just stand there waiting to be run over. Unless we get over our fear, the RepubliCult Party is going to drive over us again.

With good planning and funding now its not inconceivable that Dems could take all 35 or 40 seats. The republicans thanks to a lack of ability to change course will continue bleeding until Nov 2006 via every widening scandal probes and indictments, and war failures and horror stories.

Will the dems get smart enough to do this instead of just talk about it? At least Polosy is now on board with Murtha. Not being attacked is not the same as defense. Connecticut and other new models show the way toward long term success.

Regarding that Pentagon directive: Where are all those conservatives who shrieked for decades prior to February 2003 that the job of the U.S. military isn't to nation-build or handle peace-keeping, but to win wars, period?

And where are all those in the Pentagon who took this same view?

Instead, what we seem to be getting is a prescription for a more competent carrying out of PNAC hegemony, call it the fifth pillar of the Bush Doctrine. Preventive war followed by a smooth, well-planned occupation. Who's the target of this directive?


What those polls suggest to me is that if the Democratic leadership doesn't come up with a clear alternative to the Republicans' lack of specific goals and objectives, voters in the 30% cohort as well as potentially persuadables in the 49% cohort won't have reason to switch their votes, at least not when it comes to U.S. performance in Iraq. Unlike so many of my brethren (and sistren?), I think the idea that Democrats can win solely on the basis of criticizing the Bush Administration is illusory.

"Moderates" always get washed away in a tsunami. That is what happened in 1994, when the "blue dog" Dems were the ones that got decimated.

Janinsanfran is right that the modern "bipartisan" style of incumbent-protection gerrymandering is more resistant than the old kind that depended on spreading your own supporters through as many districts as possible - meaning that a bad tide could wash a lot away. Still, the GOP has done plenty of that kind as well, though not in CA.

David Broder just sounds the way Broder always does. I'm not quite sure that Dems really need a "unified message" or even particularly high approval numbers next fall. If the current dynamic continues (and I've seen nothing to change it), the GOP base will be demoralized, while the Dem base will be eager to serve up some revenge. That is a tsunami environment, even if the mushie middle stays mushie. "A pox on both your houses" translates at the ballot box into tossing incumbents, and guess who has more incumbents to be tossed?

If we DO win back the House, though, then we will have to show some stuff.

-- Rick

I think the Dems do need a coherent domestic message to offer as an alternative and a pretty clear "phased withdrawal because we aren't helping the situation" policy on Iraq.

I also think they are going to do it. Pelosi and Reid were very good on Bush's speech. Reid's new speakers' initiative with Boxer as enforcer is really good. I look for the policy roll-out next year and think it is time to push back on the "Dems don't have any ideas" stuff. Dems have ideas and are going to put them in a coherent program. We are also going to field good candidates, have a lot of money and public opinion on our side.

There is something to be said for the GOP stance of predicting total victory all the way into the dumpster.

I didn't mean that to imply the Dems were going into the dumpster. The R's are, if anyone is.

The perception of the DC media is that Dems have no ideas. You hear it echoed in every pundit (the R's best weapon is the D's) to the point that Mehlman doesn't even have to say it any more.

Whereas I was skeptical on the Dem version of a Contract with America, it may be needed if only to break the lazy pundit logjam. Broder, Harris and the lot (if I only had a dollar for every time Chris Matthews or Andrea Mitchell utters it on Hardball as if it were TRVTH) need to see something new before they'll change their lazy ways.

Did it start with Vietnam? With Reagan? With Clinton? With Gore in 2000? The idea that Dems can't govern (therefore should not be trusted with governing) is exactly what Reagan had to overcome in 1980 to beat Carter. Once overcome, it started a 25 year run of going overboard the other way.

Obama may be the future of the Dem party, but there'll be no future without a Dem congress to work with. To put it another way, the current press core hasn't enough imagination to understand how bad things are now in DC and in the rest of the country. They'll 'discover' this only after things change.

That's why responsible budget balancing is a good place to start. Clinton did it, so it can be done by Democrats. The war is tougher, but a solid policy there would go a long way toward restablishing Dem credibility. Of course, winning is the single best way to do that.

To the extent that the pundits' conventional wisdom has uniformly been inaccurate, I would ignore anything they said about LOCAL politics. And House races are local, in that the perception of how much good your Rep is doing is a local perception.

Ideologues are satisfied if the local Rep is voting lockstep with Bush on issues of war, taxes and abortion. But most people are not ideologues, and they want a Rep who's responsive to their needs. They want someone who will go to bat for them against the governmental bureaucracy, someone who knows and cares about and can speak intelligently about local issues.

I *like* that Democrats are fielding a lot of new faces; esp. war veterans. We need to rebuild the Democratic Party as it once was: the Party of blue collar bulldogs who will see to their constituents' needs. We need tough candidates - real toughies, not the manufactured variety.

People want Reps who will fight for them. They won't mind if you don't always win, as long as you're at least trying.

We need Dems who really will fight - really will take a stand, raise a stink, and NOT GIVE UP - rather than the ever so entrenched, ever so go-along-to-get-along, ever so compromised and neutered Dems who've been our public face for so long.

Skipping the pundit's cw because you don't like it is dangerous. That's like saying "I never pay attention to the polls" which is only uttered whrn you're trailing.

As to what dems need to do this is from Hotline:

What It Will Take For Dems To Win
[ DSCC pol. dir. Guy] Cecil: "Dems have to enumerate a message. We can't just be against Republicans. But I don't agree that there's one person who will galvanize the party. What I do think is, is a discussion about Social Security, perscription drugs...and fiscal discipline and on the issue of the Iraq war. There is no doubt that on both sides of the aisles there are differences of opinion about Iraq...the question is: do we have confidence there is a plan to ... get out troops out and win the war safely."

Can't argue with that. That's why the cw is so important to change.

All I can go on when it comes to Democrats winning is what I've heard from the independent voters in my 65% Democratic district. When it comes to Iraq (and other issues), they hate the Republicans, but they aren't yet persuaded that the Democrats will do a better job, and they want to hear those alternative ideas the Dems have.

In my district, it won't matter if we go door-to-door without a message on Iraq beyond "the Republicans screwed up." My incumbent Representative has zero chance of losing. Ditto Senator Feinstein. But in districts across the nation where independents hold the margin of power, it could make a difference. I hope Mimikatz is right and the Democratic leadership does come up with a clear alternative. Even if it isn't exactly what I would prefer, any change-of-course approach they're likely to put forth would be far better than what we have now.

I know, I know. Be patient. November is a long way off.

DemfromCT, (and maybe Rick al-Fubar) I think you and I agree that it may not be critically important that Democrats actually have some magical, unified message or plan for 2006 in terms of its effect on the vote.

But it IS important that pundits/beltway media SAY that Democrats have a plan, a message, and stem some of the "Democrats have no plan and no trust" blather.

Other than his symbolic importance as a possible driver of other copycat "elite" opinion (and consequently, headlines in downmarket trend-following dailies), people like Broder are worthless. But is it worth making the effort to manipulate them? Yes.

Let me say I also agree with Meteor Blades...some real contrast is necessary. But I am arguing that the contrast probably has to be symbolic. Can we really run on raising taxes to fix what's wrong domestically and a clear unambiguous and fast Iraq pullout?

That's why responsible budget balancing is a good place to start. Clinton did it, so it can be done by Democrats.

In the utterly coopted punditocracy (which honestly sees being coopted by the gov as their job, even their duty), the corollary to the 'dems have no ideas' canard is 'the dems can't win without presenting their own solutions'. It's effectively blaming the dems for the mess we're in now - a neat rhetorical trick. Heads I win, tails you lose. We may as well forget about them when forming political policy, as DemFromCT kind of implies - they will follow, not make, opinion.

There's nothing wrong with a broad, incisive critique of the current government (the 'Had enough?' tack). It's crying out for one, for pity's sake! Of course dems have ideas - lots of them, some bulletpointable and some not so much. But we have to call for major, 25 year flood, course correction, and that must include sweeping, non-ad hominem attacks on the status quo. The fact is, in the future, it will be the rigid ideologues who are alienated from the debate more than real conservatives/libertarians and liberals from each other. Most Americans (including me) are some combination of: liberal about some things, conservative about some things and libertarian about some things. Lest we forget, the fruition of the republican revolution, Reagan through Bush2, was originally and essentially fed by backlash more than by 'ideas'; backlash is their weakness, because you can't do it forever. Most people eventually will want to frontlash (?). Backlash is also a weak foundation because the backlashers are defined by, and so tend to become, what they were backlashing against (in this case, self-indulgence and solipcism, which was magically transformed, in the Reagan years, to 'self-reliance').

In short, Peggy Noonan is a shaggy hippie! (Nobody does woolly-headed 60s-style 'creative writing' like Peggy!)

I'm saying Dems shouldn't buy into the "Dems have no ideas" theme because it isn't true, nor is "Dems can't govern". We who know these aren't true need to refute these ideas, even as we acknowledge that the lazy pundits will keep saying them.

The Dems don't have to come up with a detailed program; they just have to say that once they get Congress they will end corruption, enact a fairer tax system, secure health care and retirement for as many as possible, improve and fund education, protect privacy rights and work on a sustainable energy plan that improves the environment. Government for the many not the few, in short. I think they can and will do this.

help the cause -- go to www.giveemhellharry.com. Senator Reid's got the right idea.

Here's Zbigniew Brezinski on the subject of withdrawal:

"Our congressional leaders are still inclined to dance around the issue or to find salvation in a formula that calls for American disengagement -- but gradually and without indicating what that means in terms of levels or dates. I’m not sure that’s a wise policy. Because once you begin to draw down your troops, it’s probably better to remove them rapidly. If you scale down your presence gradually, the reduced numbers are going to be in jeopardy. Moreover, it doesn’t have the psychological and political effect of shaking Iraqis into a realization that it is their responsibility to stand on their own feet. We need to scale down our definition of success and realize we’re not going to get a "democratic," secular, pro-American Iraq. We’re going to get an Iraq that is responsive to Iraqi nationalism and dominated by a combination of Shiites and Kurds with some proportion of Sunnis adjusting to that reality. It will probably be more theocratic in character than we would like to see. But it will be a regime that responds to current political realities. I think we need to bite the bullet and leave sometime in the next year."

He raises the point that once we decide to withdraw, quicker is better both from the standpoint of the troops whose lives we are trying to save and the Iraqis who will have to pick up the pieces. He doesn't seem to assume, as many have, that our withdrawal means the Kurds will leave too.

Thanks for that, Mimikatz. Americans think Bush is full of shit, but still don;t yet accept Zbig's thesis. Or so says Gallup. Americans want a goal-oriented pullout, not a timetable, but they want out and not a forever war.

But there's still more discussion to be done.

Dem's need ideas, and we need an agenda, and we need identifying themes, and we need winning sales tools ... and we need to understand that all these elements are separate and distinct and complementary.

Without these in our kit, we can still win enough seats to take the House. We just won't win over many voters. Our "swing" won't have much shelf life. We'll pick up some hard districts to defend, and maybe some weak reps in our more defensible districts.

That would be OK, but can't we do better, together?

Most active Dem's think "together" means getting other Dem's to admit we're right. Not very together of us.

Most active Dem's think "together" means getting other Dem's to admit we're right.

Heh. Us?

Zbig Brz's tactical point of view about quick rather than gradual withdrawal is the point I've tried to make unsuccessfully with several people (not to be confused with my OTHER arguments about rapid withdrawal that I've tried to make unsuccessfully).

The other side - see the Center for American Progress's two-year plan, for instance - argues that a draw-down to bases will make American troops LESS vulnerable and the country more stable. I disagree intensely. A gradual draw-down will leave the Iraqi government still trying to shake off the issue of being occupation puppets, whereas a quicker withdrawal might reduce the raison d'etre of those insurgents who aren't part of the al Qaedist jihad.

even if relatively (or perfectly) honorable gop members lost their seats.

If you vote in caucus to have Bill Frist run the Senate, you are ipso facto not 'perfectly honest', not even 'relatively honorable'.

Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe can kiss lepers and plow my driveway, as far as I am concerned, so long as they vote the way they do on leadership, the rest is irrelevant.

same for Johnson, Shays and Simmons. But note in the opposite direction, that Joementum's a royal pain but he'd vote for Reid, not Frist.

Are we prepared for the next hurricane?

That's the message.

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