Saturday, June 18, 2005

What's Next?

I've read two articles in the last little bit about the Democrats lack of a positive program - a subject I touched on earlier this week. The first was from the Economist and the second was at Salon. In both cases you have to watch a short ad to read the articles, and in both cases I advise you to do so.

The Economists article opposes the Democratic strategy of opposing President Bush's plans.
Whether it is George Bush's ideas for Social Security (pensions) reform, the free-trade agreement with Central America (CAFTA) or efforts to control the rise in spending on Medicaid, the Democrats in Congress are offering nothing but blanket opposition. No alternatives, no negotiation. Just say no.
The Economist acknowledges some of the difficulties in coming up with a positive program of our own. For one thing we have zero chance of getting it implemented at the present time. For another we don't all agree on what the best program should be. The Democratic Party has both those in favor of Free Trade, those advocating "Fair Trade" and those would like to see Trade severely curtailed. Who is going to harmonize those view? And more to the point, why fight that particular battle right now? Since we can't implement a specific trade policy, why fracture the party fighting that one out right now?

And who would benefit from such an inner-party squabble?

Anyway I don't think the Economist is really all that pro-Republican. But they are coming at from a Business point of view. And the one thing that businesses prefer above all else in a government is predictability. Right now it's difficult for businesses to know what Democrats are going to do once we regain power. Some things are obvious (repealing at least part of the Bush tax cuts, for example). But other things aren't. And I hate to say this, but that's sort of the way things go right now.

The Salon article looks at the opposition strategy from a more political angle, and so makes the obvious point that there are political advantages to it.
As Democrats regroup from the electoral drubbing of 2004, they intend to portray Republicans as they themselves were cast a decade ago: a majority corrupted by political hubris gone awry. If a unifying strategic theme can be found among Democrats as they prepare for midterm elections, it is their intention to run as the alternative to what they claim is Republican legislative overreach and abuse.
And there it is. As it says later in the Salon piece, the upcoming elections have to be about the party in power, not the party out of power.
"It is preferable and desirable to have a positive agenda, but I think it is absolutely necessary as the out party to make the election about the in party," said Stu Rothenberg, of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report. "The Republicans in 1994 blocked Democratic initiatives and complained about gridlock. They also already had negative stuff, such as the Clinton healthcare plan, and it worked pretty well. The atmospherics are right for a Democratic year in 2006. The voters are dissatisfied with the direction of the country and not particularly pleased with the president."
So should we continue our opposition strategy or come out with some serious plans of our own? I don't know for sure; I think we do need some issues to stand on. Reforming Health Care for example. Even if we don't have a specific plan to propose, just talking about it will put Republicans on the defensive (since they don't want to talk about it). But I think there's nothing wrong with focusing on the guys who actually have power in this country.

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