Friday, November 10, 2006

Vive la Différence!

Who are you going to believe, Adam Nagourney or Greg Sargent?

It’s election post-mortem time, and while Nagourney (with some help from his New York Times friends) spends dozens of column inches canonizing Rahm Emanuel and, to a lesser extent, Chuck Schumer, he gives all of a sentence over to Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean—and it’s not even a very nice sentence:

[Mr. Emanuel and Mr. Schumer] brought an unusual mix of fund-raising skills and understanding of political tactics, filling a void created when the party’s national chairman, Howard Dean, focused instead on building up the resources of the state parties in 50 states, rather than on the midterm elections.

The slight is exceptionally odd since, later in the same article, AdNags talks of how the GOP’s vaunted 72-hour GOTV machine was stretched thin by so many additional competitive races. Why is it that happened, you think? Was it because the DCCC originally wanted to focus all of its resources on what they saw as the fifteen most competitive races? (OK. Moving on then.)

The Times article also seems to credit Rep. Emanuel with forcing Iraq front and center this election cycle. Really? I do not mean this to take anything away from Rahm (though I am left to wonder why Emanuel’s public yell-fests are written up as heroic moments of intense dedication, while Dean’s temper is still derided and caricatured with references to “the scream”), but months before the point that Nagourney credits the head of the D-trip-C with pushing the war as a campaign issue, there were others in the party—many outside of the Beltway—that insisted on talking about Bush’s failures in Iraq.

This is Greg Sargent:

Early on, anyone who suggested that Dems shouldn't be afraid to call for a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq or to oppose President Bush on wiretapping or torture was subjected to a steady stream of withering scorn from allegedly in-the-know pundits. Those who backed Ned Lamont's antiwar candidacy were dismissed by David Broder and others in the D.C. opinionmakers guild as crazy, extreme, beneath contempt. In one typical example last February, Marshall Wittman charged that opposition to Bush's warrantless wiretapping program showed that "the Democratic Party is increasingly under the influence of modern day McGovernites," warning: "Let's get serious."

In reality, it seems, it was guys like Lamont and his actually quite mainstream supporters (remember, a majority of Americans oppose the war) that changed the political landscape. It was when Lamont beat Lieberman in the August Connecticut primary that candidates and voters across the US suddenly seemed energized enough to confront the Republican conventional wisdom—and that’s when the Republican’s blinked.

In fact, if Sargent, Nagourney, and I were to agree on one thing, I would think (or hope, in AdNags’ case) that it would be that when the Democrats started to openly question the Republicans on their failed policy in Iraq, the Republicans retreated. When GOP strategists advised their candidates to avoid talking about the war, it left a void—a void that was filled by aggressive Democrats who wanted to talk about Iraq. The Democratic framing of the war (slowly) replaced the Republican one in the establishment media, and that, in turn, allowed for a more graphic, and, I would say, honest and realistic coverage of the downward spiral that had actually been happening for quite some time.

If all of us Democrats, from us purportedly idealist activists to those self-described realists, want to assimilate one teaching from the 2006 midterms, it should be vive la différence!

I have always been fond of saying that given a choice between a real Republican and an imitation one, most Americans will choose the real thing—after all, to look at it from a branding perspective, they were “first to market.” It has done none of us any good allowing Republicans to lay claim to any topic, be it war, or security, or even tax policy. To put it another way, the election of ’06 proved anything, it proved that the Republicans might (might, mind you) have an ideology, but we Democrats have ideas.

Right now, Republicans are in disarray—they’re shell shocked—even their Party’s chief gerbil and noisemaker, Ken Mehlman, is about to call it quits. We are presented with a momentous opportunity. There is a great void to be filled—in each and every district in each and every one of our 50 states—let’s fill it with ideas. New, Democratic, different ideas.

(Cross-posted over at Daily Kos)


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