October 16, 2005


As Republicans stumble, Democrats bumble: Strategists say Dems having trouble finding identity, offering compelling alternative (Marc Sandalow, October 16, 2005, SF Chronicle)

Republicans swept away half a century of Democratic domination of Congress in 1994 in large part by playing up their opponents' failings. But they also presented a "Contract with America," which provided sound-bite-sized themes -- from lowering taxes to diminishing the role of government -- to rally their supporters, and turn 435 House and 33 Senate elections into a national referendum on the status quo.

Democrats are searching for their own unifying themes, with strategists voicing concern that roughly one year before the election, many people have little idea what the party stands for.

Part of the problem stems from Democratic disagreements on specific issues, such as Iraq, as well as broader strategic decisions such as whether to concentrate on invigorating the base or reaching out to moderate swing voters. It is accentuated by the lack of a marquee leader who can stir members coast to coast, and by the party's minority status, which deprives it of a platform to promote its agenda.

After consecutive losses in presidential elections and now in their second decade as a minority on Capitol Hill, Democrats are struggling for a well recognized identity.

"Democrats have found it difficult to articulate a compelling message or an alternative agenda," wrote former Clinton White House aides Elaine Kamarck, now on the faculty at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and William Galston, now a University of Maryland professor, in a recently released 68-page report titled "The Politics of Polarization."

"Whatever voters may think of the Republican mantra -- strong defense, lower taxes, traditional values -- at least they know where Republicans stand. They have no such conviction about the Democrats," concludes the report. [...]

Top Democrats on Capitol Hill, including House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, have been meeting with mayors and governors to develop a cohesive strategy for the 2006 campaign, which would outline a set of core principles and broad policy goals. Pelosi stands to become House speaker, and Reid would be Senate majority leader, if Democrats could win back their majority in either house. [...]

A draft of Pelosi's proposals includes eight platforms, including "Real Security for America," "Quality and Affordable Health Care for all Americans," and an "End to the Culture of Cronyism, Incompetence and Corruption in Washington."

The specific initiatives include a call for benchmarks for determining when U.S. troops can leave Iraq, permitting re-importation of prescription drugs, raising the minimum wage, and making health insurance and college educations available to those who cannot now afford them.

The Democrats are defined, and should be, be their reactionary stances. Theirs is the opposite of the Republican mantra; meaning they favor reductions in the defense/national security posture, higher taxes, and a loosening of morality. To that one would also add that they favor having government provide services on its own, rather than drawing upon the private sector. In recent years only Bill Clinton has run on the Republican instead of the Democrat mantra -- which explains his success generally -- though it was the two year period when he followed the Democratic rather than the Republican mantra that led to the wipeout of 1994.

Now Ms Pelosi is putting together their version of the Contract and instead of aping it they're proposing its opposite? If they run on this nonsense, 2006 may remind them of 1994 for all the wrong reasons.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 16, 2005 4:27 PM

I have a better chance of being Speaker of the House in 2007 than Nancy Pelosi does.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at October 17, 2005 1:30 AM

I'm really surprised they haven't added nationalize the oil companies and lower the price of gasoline back to $1 to Pelosi's "contract" yet. But winter is still to come...

Posted by: John at October 17, 2005 3:44 AM

Mike Dukakis, slightly ahead of his time.

Posted by: Luciferous at October 17, 2005 1:24 PM