Do the Democrats want to lose? That seems an odd question to ask. But they do it so well you begin to wonder. Now, they are about to lose to Bush and the grossly unpopular Republicans again on FISA and telecom immunity. But are they really losing? That depends on what your objective is. Let me explain.
The Republican Party is in a death spiral right now and they don't even realize it. Sure, they understand something is wrong but they have no idea what the real cause is. Most of them are still arguing that they failed in veering away from hard right-wing, conservative principles. That's exactly wrong.
The problem for the Republicans is that they have been going to the far right for far too long. Here is what the Republican Party and all of Washington is having trouble accepting -- we are not fundamentally a center-right country, let alone how far right the Republicans have taken us. The idea that we are center-right has been conventional wisdom for so long that no one has remembered to challenge that assumption.
In fact, the American people love their Social Security, believe that a community should help its most downtrodden, and think it is the government's responsibility to help its citizens in times of need. They do not believe that every man should fend for himself and the only remedy government should offer a man in need is a healthy pair of bootstraps. The American people are simply not that cold and uncaring.
Some argue that they should be. That the best remedy is tough love. These people are usually already rich, and almost certainly Republican. And that's the problem. The Republican Party has lost the ability to understand and empathize with the average American voter. They can't feel our pain.
So, this leads to a situation where the Democratic Party -- seemingly through no action of its own -- is about to be the beneficiary of an enormous majority in Congress. It's tempting to say they fumbled, bumbled and mumbled their way into this good fortune because it certainly appeared so.
But let me ask a radical question: Did the Democrats choose to be incompetent in the face of gross Republican mismanagement over the last seven years? The question everyone has been asking for a long time now is how can they keep losing to the most unpopular president in United States history? How can a party on the verge of historic political victories not be able to defeat a enormously unpopular president in his lame duck year? How is that possible?
Here is an answer people haven't considered enough -- they want to lose. You can call it strategic weakness. They never wanted to get out of Iraq. They never wanted to fix any of the problems we have in the country now. Instead they wanted to let them fester into open sores until the American people got so fed up with it that they threw out the Republican bums who were in charge.
I think we give far too much deference to our politicians, as if they are the most magnanimous, well-intentioned folks who always put the needs of their constituents first. The press has become far too credulous. Politicians are often the worst kind of self-aggrandizing, blowhards. And the one thing they care most about is their own power.
Yes, there are well-intentioned, principled politicians. Russ Feingold (D-WI) voted against the Patriot Act when ninety-nine other senators didn't dare question it. Tom Coburn (R-OK) votes down bills based on his fiscal principles all the time. You might or might not agree with the politics of these legislators but there is something to admire about them. However, they are certainly the exception.
What progressive activists couldn't understand about the Democrats when the party refused to fight back on Iraq after the 2006 elections is that these politicians had different objectives than them. The goal of the activists was policy -- they wanted to get out of Iraq. The goal of the Democratic Party was politics -- they wanted to win more elections. Those are two totally different objectives.
So, as their base thought they were losing, in fact, the Democratic Party was winning. No, we didn't get out of Iraq, but the Republicans did crash themselves on the shores of this disastrous policy. By sticking so diligently to their far right positions on Iraq and just about everything else (S-CHIP, Webb's GI Bill, etc.), the Republicans assured their ultimate demise. All the Democrats had to do was step out of the way. The activists saw this as weakness and acquiescence. The Democratic politicians saw it as an opportunity.
This gambit seems to being paying off handsomely so far. The Democratic Party picked up 36 seats in the House and Senate in 2006 and they have added three more in recent special elections. The Democrats have not suffered any significant wounds for their completely ineffectual challenge to the president, while the Republicans are on the verge of being tarred and feathered and run out of town.
Political strategists will study this for years to come -- the win by losing strategy. Only a Democrat could have come up with that.
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