With six months to go before the 2006 elections, Democrats can take comfort in the latest Washington Post poll showing voter dissatisfaction with the GOP at the highest levels since George W. rode into town. But not too much comfort. While 56 percent of Americans say they would prefer to see Democrats take back control of Congress, a majority of the public also said that Democrats have not offered enough of a contrast to Bush and the GOP, with just 39 percent approving of the job Congressional Democrats are doing.
In other words, if the Democrats can make 2006 a referendum on Bush, they could make significant gains. But if Republicans are able to take the focus off the president and onto the question of what the Democrats are offering as an alternative, the hopes for a 2006 Dem landside could sink faster than the box office for Poseidon.
And, from the looks of things, Democrats are playing right into the GOP's hands. Buoyed by the polls, they are already starting to sound like incumbents, and incumbents are by nature hyper-cautious. Witness Nancy Pelosi's repeated refusal to give Tim Russert a straight answer about repealing the Bush tax cuts.
Pelosi and her fellow party leaders need to take the weekend off and read David Sirota's new book, Hostile Takeover: How Big Money and Corruption Conquered Our Government -- and How We Take It Back. With passion and irrefutable facts, he shows how the concerns of the average American have been hijacked by our Big Money-dominated, "quid pro dough" system.
It's a system that has engulfed Democrats and Republicans alike. Remember, Wall Street doled out more campaign cash to Democrats than Republicans last year. The bribery is bipartisan.
As Sirota nails it: "With the wild-eyed lunacy of a crack addict, many Democrats are so singularly focused on raking in corporate campaign cash and reinforcing the status quo that they are unable to see that their genuflecting -- not their spin, not their language, not their television ads -- is really the core of the problem."
Chapter by chapter, and specific solution by specific solution, Sirota makes the compelling case that the only way Democrats can become the majority party is by embracing a truly progressive populist approach to public policy -- taxes, jobs, energy, health care, campaign finance reform -- not the faux populism where candidates put on a denim shirt and spout a few aphorisms about "the little guy" while filling their coffers with corporate campaign cash and consistently undermining the real interest of average working Americans. Bankruptcy bill, anyone?
The GOP attack machine will predictably trot out their by now tattered and yellowing talking points about "class warfare." Democrats should simply ignore them and start talking in a coherent way about outsourcing and trade in a way they will be unable to while they remain in the thrall of corporate contributions.
"They need," Bob Borosage told me, "an aggressive unified Democratic reform position on cleaning out the stables."
It's not enough to rail against Abramoff and point a finger at Cunningham, Sirota argues. Democrats need to put public financing of campaigns at the center of their agenda since it's the reform that makes all other reforms possible.
Without it, Democrats will remain co-opted by what Sirota calls "Washington's money-drenched indoctrination system."
Democrats need to nationalize 2006 in two ways: following Jack Murtha's lead on Iraq, and putting back on the table a domestic agenda that stops serving the interests of Big Money and gets back to serving the economic interests of average Americans. Reading Sirota's book would be a very good place to start.