Monday, April 10, 2006

The Good, the Bad, and the Likely

With yet another poll (in this case the AP/Ipsos poll) showing support for the President—and for his party—dropping to historic lows, Republicans in Congress, and their strategists, are getting nervous. As I mentioned over on guy2k, Tony Fabrizio, one of those strategists, finds these poll numbers “scary,” but Fabrizio also mouths what has become the semi-official take on the situation that Democrats face: “The good news is Democrats don't have much of a plan. The bad news is they may not need one.”

Rather than buy in to that meme (as Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) and too many in the establishment media have), I think it might serve Democrats better to evaluate the good and bad news a little differently.

First, the poll does seem to be filled with good news:

  • Bush’s approval rating—36% (62% Disapprove; only 2% have “mixed feelings”)
  • Right Track/Wrong Track—28% / 69%
  • Approve/Disapprove of Bush on the Economy—39% / 59%
  • Approve/Disapprove of Bush on Foreign Policy and the War on Terrorism—40% / 58%
  • Approve/Disapprove of Bush on the situation in Iraq—35% / 63%
  • Congressional approval rating—30% (67% Disapprove)
  • Who would you like to see Control Congress—Dems 49% / Repubs 33%
  • Who do you trust to do a better job protecting the country—Dems 41% / Repubs 41%
  • Who do you trust to do a better job handling Iraq—Dems 42% / Repubs 39%

The bad news? Well, maybe it’s just my cynical nature, but I’m getting a ”be careful what you wish for” feeling. These numbers raise expectations—and it doesn’t help that Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is quoted as saying “Everything is moving in our direction, If it keeps moving in our direction, it's very reasonable to say there will be a Democratic Senate and House.”

I know voters love a winner, but I don’t want to “win” too early. Maybe I’m crazy, but if Bush and the Republicans fall too low in the polls, I fear Democrats will lose their challenger status—that they will be perceived as somehow in control. I know, it sounds overly pessimistic, but I want the Democrats to have a strategy that extends beyond getting excited by poll numbers.

Rather than telling voters that Democrats are going to win back Congress, why not tell them what will happen when they do? I’m not talking about promising everyone sunshine and sausages. (Or, maybe I should say, they should promise more sunshine than sausages. . . hang on, you’ll see what I mean.) President Bush will still be in the White House, and there will still be plenty of obstreperous Republicans in Congress—it will still be hard to craft legislation that will survive the amendment process and also earn a GWB signature. However, while it will still be hard to legislate, it will be much easier to investigate and appropriate.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence could resume its oversight role, for instance. The Senate could demand hearings on transgressions of the FISA law by the President and his DoJ. The Congress could investigate the ever-changing cock and bull story that lead up to the invasion of Iraq; they could investigate the strategic leaking in the summer of 2004 that was designed to discredit Joseph Wilson and manipulate the electorate. The obstruction of justice—by the President and Vice President—during Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation surrounding those leaks, would also be fair game. They could investigate the disaster that has been shorthanded as “Hurricane Katrina”—that would be the bad preparatory work, the failed response, and the wholly mismanaged recovery “effort”—as well as all the other disaster preparedness and security shortcomings during the last five years. The list, as you know, goes on and on.

The Democrats could give hope to all those Americans who have seen their privacy and civil rights disappearing under an increasingly rightist Federal Court system by saying “enough is enough” to radical Republican court-packing. And, of course, there are ethics issues inside the House and Senate to look into, as well.

And, Congress has that famous power of the purse. With Democratic majorities, maybe the exploding deficit could be managed with something other than more tax cuts for the super-rich. Maybe states could be appropriately reimbursed for Medicare and Medicaid outlays. Maybe all the money pushed in the direction of Iraq could go to properly equipping the troops and responsibly rebuilding Iraqi infrastructure instead of lining the pockets of private contractors. Maybe veterans’ health plans could be fully funded.

Oh, and, maybe we would stop having to beat back attempts to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge every session. And maybe the new Democratic Congress could put the breaks on the systematic gutting of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

Yes, imagine the possibilities. In fact, I like that as a slogan—or, if not a slogan, at least a mantra or a mission statement: Vote for a Democrat. Imagine the possibilities.

Of course, you have to lay the groundwork now in order for the possibilities to become probabilities or, yes, even, realities. The poll numbers are a nice start, and tying Republican congressional candidates to their unpopular President (read as: why lining up behind censure is a very good idea) is a fine tactic. Contrasting a possibly brighter future with a palpably gloomy present is the strategy that could provide for a satisfying finish.


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