Friday, April 14, 2006

Democrats learn the art of opposition

Not as Lame as You Think
Democrats learn the art of opposition.

By Amy Sullivan

The first week of March should have been a bright spot for Democrats in an otherwise bleak five years. With the president's approval numbers reaching Nixon-esque lows, and Democrats outpolling Republicans by 15 points—the party's largest lead in a midterm election since 1982—it was beginning to look like the long-suffering Democrats had rediscovered their mojo.

But you wouldn't know it if you picked up a newspaper that week. “For Democrats, Many Verses, but No Chorus,” declared the headline on The New York Times' front page on Monday. Reporting that “Democratic candidates for Congress are reading from a stack of different scripts these days,” political writer Adam Nagourney described targeted local campaign strategies as “scattershot messages” that “reflect splits within the party.” The next day, The Washington Post featured a story that declared, “Democrats Struggle to Seize Opportunity,” and questioned whether congressional Democrats could regain power without “the hard-charging, charismatic figurehead that Gingrich represented for the House GOP in 1994.” Picking up that theme on Wednesday, Slate's Jacob Weisberg lambasted Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and Howard Dean, calling them “The Three Stooges” and indicting them as “useless and disastrous.” And as if on cue, the Republican National Committee released a web video on Friday titled “Find the Democratic Leader.”

Democrats are lame, feckless, timid, and hopelessly divided, with no ideas, no vision, no message, and no future: You'll never fall flat at a Washington party by repeating this bit of conventional wisdom because everyone “knows” it to be true. Jon Stewart compares congressional Democrats to the fuzzy-but-not-fearsome Ewoks. The Onion gets an easy laugh from a parody headlined “Democrats Vow Not to Give Up Hopelessness.”

Of course, we chuckle because the jokes contain an element of truth. On some of the defining issues of the day, Democrats are indeed conflicted and divided. Most Americans and virtually the entire Democratic base wants universal health care, and yet congressional Democrats compete to offer marginal changes to the system. On a key economic issue like bankruptcy, too many Democrats sell out to lobbying interests, making it hard for the party as a whole to attack Republicans over it. Iraq has dominated the political scene for nearly four years, but Democrats couldn't agree whether to get into it, and now they can't agree on how to get out.....