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Dems Have (Yet Another) Identity Crisis -- On the Front Page of the NYT

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Another week, another episode of our least favorite long-running political soap opera, Desperate Democrats.

In the latest installment, Democratic leaders decide to have an all-out, full blown identity crisis. On the front page of the New York Times. Above the fold.

The article, penned by Adam Nagourney and Sheryl Gay Stolberg, reads like a Saturday Night Live sketch. Except the only ones laughing will be Republicans.

The party bigwigs -- both those on the record and off -- come across as dithering, hand wringing poltroons, worried about taking too strong a stand on... anything. It's as if they've learned nothing from the last three elections.

The Democratic arsenal is stocked with powerful weapons -- Iraq, Katrina, Abramoff, Libby, Osama, illegal spying, repeated lying, etc., etc -- and yet, according to the Times, "party leaders are divided about what Democrats should be talking about." What's more, if they ever manage to decide what to talk about, Dems are apparently clueless how they should talk about it -- "divided over whether to take on the Republicans in a more confrontational manner, ideologically and politically, or move more forcefully to stake out the center on social and national issues."

Oh, boy. Here we go again. Be afraid. Be very afraid. The Dithering Dems have become the Party That Couldn't Think -- Let Alone Run -- Straight.

There are many disturbing aspects to this story -- including why, as Atrios and Matt Stoller have pointed out, any sentient Democrat would talk to Nagourney. But hands down the most disturbing takeaway is the fact that Democrats are still iffy about the importance of taking on Bush and the GOP on national security. Are there really Democrats -- as Evan Bayh suggests -- still "arguing that the party should focus only on domestic issues and run away from national security, since that has been the strong suit for this White House since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11"? Say it isn't so! (Did someone let Bob Shrum and Stan Greenberg back into the building?)

I've said it again and again and again -- and I guess I'll have to keep saying it: the Democrats will never become the majority party until they can convince the American people that they can keep the country safer than the Republicans. All together now: It's the national security, stupid! And if I sound like a broken record, so should the Democrats.

Of course, many Democratic leaders do grasp this basic concept, but, according to the Times, have "not yet figured out how to counter the White House's long assault on their national security credentials."

Again, at the risk of turning blue in the face, let me help them out: they should follow Jack Murtha's lead and, as he's done in letters to Congress and to the president, show how Bush's imperial adventure in Iraq has had devastating consequences on the real battle at hand -- keeping us safe and secure.

The evidence is everywhere: neglected ports and railways. Underfunded first responders. A tripling of terror attacks worldwide. Poor and failing grades from the 9/11 Commission. Osama still on the loose. Iraq as a breeding ground for a new generation of terrorists. Al-Qaeda making a comeback in Afghanistan. Depleted troops. Shaky allies. Emboldened enemies.

How to counter the Bush-as-protector myth? Aggressively and unrelentingly. Go after his supposed strength (indeed, his only remaining strength) and show it's actually his greatest vulnerability. The Democratic strategy must follow the old sports truism: the best defense against attacks that they are soft on terror is a great offense against the architects of the bungled response to the war on terror.

Instead, the Dems interviewed by the Times appear afraid of their own shadows. Tennessee Gov. Phil Bresden frets about challenging the legality of Bush's spy program: "You've got to stand for a lot more than just bashing the other side". Thanks, Governor, but you've also got to bash hard when the other side is breaking the law. Dick Durbin, who was undaunted in his questioning of Alberto Gonzales, worries about the party blowing its substance wad too soon: "When you bring it out early, you are going to leave it open for the spinmeisters in Rove's machine, the Republican side, to tear it to pieces."

He sounds like a school kid panicking about the bully Boy Genius. Can you imagine FDR deciding to hold back on the New Deal lest his opponents get a chance to "tear it to pieces"?

Crappy ideas and head-scratching assertions fill the Times article: Dems should stay on the sidelines and let the Republicans implode, don't make too big a deal out of Abramoff, and this doozy from Howard Dean: "One thing the Republicans have taught us is that values and character matter". Ah, yes, lessons learned on values and character from the GOP. Is that what the Doctor ordered?

For his part, John Kerry brings some size issues to the pity party ("Our megaphone is just not as large as their megaphone"), while Nancy Pelosi crows about derailing Bush's Social Security plan even though "People said, 'You can't beat something with nothing." Well, you showed them, didn't you, Nancy? Maybe the new Democratic motto should be: "You Can Too Beat Something With Nothing!". Certainly no worse than, "Together, We Can Do Better."

"I feel very confident about where we are," Pelosi tells the Times. I'm glad someone does.