07/20/2006 03:13 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Why the Democrats Aren't Going to Take Back Congress in 2006

Well, it's beginning to look a lot like an election year - which means the Republicans are busy smearing and bullying and sharpening their knives, and the Democrats are busy whimpering and retreating and straightening their hair. With just over three months until the mid-terms - and the last chance for voters to provide some kind of counterbalance to the criminal and disastrous Bush Administration - it's remarkable how much this year already looks like 2004. And 2002. And 2000.

Despite the howls of voters for more aggressive and cohesive policy initiatives, for more muscular critiques of the administration and the Republican-controlled congress, one is hard pressed to find a pulse in the Democratic Party, which apparently has not yet addressed its addiction to focus groups, play-it-safe political consultants, and apologize-and-retreat campaign strategies. As in election years past, they are relaxing on the 9th hole, or at the beach, certain that voters will choose Democrats simply because they aren't Republicans. The incumbents are so vulnerable, this reasoning goes, so damaged by scandal and failure and rebukes from the Supreme Court and indictments from grand juries, that no sane, intelligent person will vote for them. Why turn voters off, then, by being partisan or nasty or taking positions which some might not agree with? Why not provide a friendlier alternative, something that goes down smooth, the political equivalent of a wine cooler?

Aside from this being a patently spineless strategy, it's also a proven failure. It's the strategy that for six years has enabled the systematic dismantling of civil rights in this country, the rapid upward redistribution of wealth and downward redistribution of debt, and the ongoing conduct of a pathetic foreign policy which has killed over 2,000 Americans, maimed tens of thousands more, and created a gravely dangerous situation in the Middle East. And they've done it all out in the open, daring Democrats - and voters - to do something about it. So far, they're pitching a shutout.

I'm tired of blaming Republicans for everything. We have a two-party system. When is the other party going to suit up?

Last week, I thought I saw a glimmer of hope. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, headed by Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, posted an Internet ad which linked images of gross pollution, skyrocketing gas prices, Tom DeLay's mugshot, and flag-draped coffins of Americans killed in Iraq, with a critique of Bush policies. A fairly mild ad, as full-contact politics goes, it nevertheless prompted immediate howls and denunciations from Republicans, who objected to the use of the coffin images for political advantage.

Let's forget, for a moment, that it is only in the past three years that displaying flag-draped coffins has been considered a no-no. (Past Presidents have considered it a way to honor the dead; but then again, past Presidents have bothered to attend the military funerals of the soldiers who have died defending their policies.) And let's even forget the shameless, relentless way in which Republicans have inundated voters with images of the World Trade Center tragedy in every campaign season since 2001. The question remains: What is the problem? Is there something dishonest here? No, soldiers have really died in Iraq. Lots of them. Is it irrelevant to politics? No, Bush began this war, and has stupidly insisted on "staying the course," despite pleas from Democrats, allies, and the entire world community. For three years he has mocked, smeared, and ignored everyone who has suggested any other approach - why on earth should the tragic results of his errors be off-limits in a political campaign?

Finally, I thought, the Democrats were ready to get in the game. Finally they were going to tell it like it is, to hold the administration's feet to the fire, to get rough and loud and show enough confidence in their own views to actually convince people they are worth voting for.

Well, guess what happened? If you guessed that the Democrats pulled the ad, of course you're right. Cowed by the bluster from the right, terrified of offending anyone, of appearing insensitive, they took the ad off their website. "We're moving to another major effort that we're highlighting on our Web site," said a DCCC spokesman.

Ten bucks says that "major effort" is an ad showing scenes from Bambi and The Sound of Music.

Here's the kicker - though only Emanuel, John Kerry, or Harry Reid could be surprised: Not three days later, Ohio Senator Mike DeWine started running an ad that showed the Twin Towers burning and questioned the commitment of his Democratic challenger, Sherrod Brown, to defending the country. And it gets better: The image was digitally altered. It was a lie.

But what should Democrats expect? They've allowed Bush and the Republicans to repeatedly and blatantly lie to Americans for five years. Now DeWine and the Republicans are having a good laugh about how easy it was to get the DCCC to back down from the strongest statement they've made in years. The immediate release of DeWine's ad was nothing less than a calculated "in-your-face," an announcement to the country: "We've taken these wimps before and we'll do it again." It was a pre-game psych-out, a thumb in the eye. They think they're going to walk all over Democrats in November, no matter what the polls say.

And I think they're right. While approval percentages for Congressional Republicans are down in the 20s, approval of Democrats is only in the 30s - hardly a ringing endorsement. And, while many more voters say they want Democrats to control Congress than Republicans, when asked whether they are satisfied with their own, local representative, over half still say they are. And voters don't get to vote for who controls Congress. They only get to vote for their local representative.

So, while Republicans are spending the summer trying to get their mojo back, reminding Americans what they stand for - discrimination against homosexuals, bribery, theft, criminal war, the repealing of the Bill of Rights, whistling while terrorists acquire nuclear weapons, etc. - Democrats are looking at wallpaper samples for the new offices they think they're going to win. No worries, say the Dems, voters will see through this. Voters don't like pandering, or "wedge issues." They want to be united. They want to feel good. In their hearts, they know Democrats are more honest, more intelligent, more competent, and better dressed. That's why November's a lock.

I got an email from the Democratic Party yesterday announcing a "Democratic Reunion" on July 29. That'll show 'em!

This party has learned nothing. Their failure to stand on principle - for anything - has not only damaged their credibility but had had horrific, long-lasting consequences for the world. How many people are dead - in Afghanistan and Iraq, in Israel and Lebanon, in India, Spain, London, and New York - how many millions of people at tremendous risk from North Korea and Iran, all thanks to Bush's failures and lack of meaningful opposition? How much damage has been done to America's reputation, because no one has held the President responsible? The fact of the matter is, Bush, Cheney, DeLay, Rumsfeld et. al. couldn't have gotten away with half of the crimes they've committed if the Democrats - who after all control 45% of congress - had not abdicated their responsibilities as policymakers and statesmen, if they hadn't passed up countless opportunities to present an opposition. And the irony is, they've been so docile for fear of losing elections.

Republicans consider this latest debacle regarding the dueling campaign ads to be a tremendous victory, showing Americans yet again that Democrats lack resolve and commitment, lack confidence in their own views and policies - and therefore cannot be trusted to run the country in such dangerous times.

They have almost convinced me - and that should be a real wake-up call for the DCCC.