Everyone ready to sing along? All together now...
Happy days are here again
The skies above are clear again
So let's sing a song of cheer again
Happy days are here again
[Click here for a tinkly piano soundtrack to sing along with, ironically enough delivered by your federal tax dollars at work.]
Sorry, I just had to get that out of my system. Oh, and check out this Tom Toles cartoon -- it's priceless.
But after all the confetti's been swept up and all the victory balloons have shriveled, Democrats need to carefully decide what to do with their newly-won power. The good news is that Nancy Pelosi -- who has lived and breathed politics her entire life -- appears shrewd enough to know what to do, and (more importantly) what not to do.
Now, Pelosi has no shortage of self-appointed advisors these days, but I have to get my two cents in here. The most amusing of the "open letters" to Pelosi (so far) is right here on Huffington Post, written by Adam McKay. I especially like the second item on his list:
Make it a law that Rick Santorum must run every time just so we can feel the joy of beating him.
But, humor aside, here are my suggestions for Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and the party as a whole:
(1) Until you officially take power in the Senate, filibuster everything until January. OK, possibly allow Gates to be confirmed Secretary of Defense -- but that's it. Let the lame-duck House pass anything it wants to, but shut all their nonsense down in the Senate. You will have the support of the American people behind you -- Republicans trying to sneak bills through after they've lost an election is not going to go over well with the public at large. Stick to your guns, and stop all legislation in the Senate. Repeat the term "sore loser" over and over again when giving interviews to the media, and people will "get it."
(2) De facto Speaker Pelosi's "100 hours" tactic is brilliant. Pass things that have overwhelming support immediately, so you get gallons of good ink in the media during your first week in office. A quick and tight "honeymoon" with the press is a great idea. Force President Bush to realize that his only remaining influence is his veto pen -- and that if he uses it on bills with huge majority support (like raising the minimum wage), he's going to wind up even more unpopular than he already is -- thereby guaranteeing a victorious 2008 for Democrats.
(3) Carefully prioritize your legislative calendar. Start with the most popular issues. How about an Identity Theft Protection Act to get things moving? There are actually dozens of good issues out there, issues that poll well across party lines and across America. Champion some of them, and get some good laws passed with such bullet-proof majorities that Bush is forced to sign them (or have his veto overturned). This is crucially important, to show voters that Democrats are not obstructionist caricatures, but rather the party of competence that gets things done.
Later (in the runup to the 2008 elections) Democrats should start forcing votes on bills which they can only pass with very slim majorities (the bills Republicans will absolutely hate), which Bush will then successfully veto.
This has always been a prerogative of the party in power in Congress -- force your opponents to go on record voting against things that will hurt them with the voters in the next election. Republicans have very successfully used this tactic, and it should indeed be used against them -- but only after getting some positive things done.
Don't lead with your chin, in other words.
(4) Wait to tackle the war fiasco until after the Iraq Study Group issues their report. This is a no-brainer. Anything Democrats propose now will be swallowed up in the wave of punditry and policymaking that will inevitably follow on the heels of the ISG report. The report will be out within a month, so wait to see what Baker and Hamilton propose. Then construct a rational policy based on their suggestions.
(5) Pledge not to raise anyone's taxes who makes less than $100,000 per year. Cut off all the "tax and spend Democrats" noise at the knees. If Democrats swear that they will not tax middle class families -- and then follow through on the promise -- people will stop listening to the Republican echo chamber on the issue. The only exception would be to remove the cap on Social Security taxes (currently at around $90,000 a year, slightly lower than the $100,000 limit).
"We're going to tax Paris Hilton, not you" should be the rallying cry of the Democrats.
(6) There are quite a few Democratic leaders who need to make a public act of contrition to Howard Dean. He was right. His "50 state" strategy worked. He has been utterly and totally vindicated. Democrats picked up seats in the red-state bastions of Kansas, Montana, Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina, and Indiana. The "battleground states only" strategy should have a stake driven through its heart for good. Dean was right. Admit it and get over it. Then work towards building upon the foundation Dean has laid, in preparation for 2008.
(7) Put down the crack pipe and back away from "impeachment." This is not going to make me friends on the hard left, but everyone should just calm down and review their basic American Civics lessons.
To successfully impeach and remove a President, you need a two-thirds vote in the Senate to convict. If you don't have those votes, you shouldn't even begin the process. Remember Monica? President Clinton's approval ratings actually rose during his impeachment, since it was widely seen by the public as a partisan attack which was doomed to fail. Don't make the same mistake with Bush.
Do we really ever want to hear the words: "President Cheney?" I don't think so. No, no, no. And if you try to impeach Cheney at the same time as Bush, then the whole process would (somewhat rightly) be seen as a coup attempt by Nancy Pelosi (she's third in line of succession, after all, behind Bush and Cheney). The American public is just flat out not going to accept that.
If and when sixteen Republican senators decide Bush and Cheney must be removed from office, then you can start impeachment proceedings -- but not one minute before.
Don't get me wrong -- I personally believe that both President Bush and Vice President Cheney most likely have done things that should warrant impeachment. But, politically, it's impossible with only a 51-49 edge in the Senate. And it would hurt Democrats to try, so they shouldn't even bother.
If evidence of wrongdoing is uncovered during any hearings into the past six years of Republican rule, then introduce the concept of "Censure" to both houses. This is the path Republicans should have taken with Clinton, and would be an enormous black stain upon Bush's presidency in the history books. Only one president has ever been censured by Congress (Andrew Jackson), so it would be a heavy historical burden for Bush to bear. Lame-duck second-term presidents are usually deeply concerned about how history will see them -- and their vaunted "legacy."
(8) While impeachment would be silly and self-defeating, holding hearings in various committees is not -- if they're handled right. Pelosi and Reid should sit down with the new committee chairs and work out a timetable for hearings [Here's a great list of likely new Democratic Senate committee chairs]. Hold the most odious hearings first -- nobody is "for" war profiteering, for instance -- it has no political constituency beyond people making obscene amounts of money off the war. Then perhaps move on to the Katrina fiasco. Tackle the more sensitive hearings later.
Most importantly, hearings should be a steady trickle over the next two years, and definitely not a flood that happens immediately after Democrats take office. Slow and steady will remind voters -- over and over again -- what the Republicans (Bush and Cheney in particular) are capable of. This, if handled correctly, will enormously help whatever Democrat gets the nomination for the White House run in 2008.
One more caveat -- hearings will be lots of fun for the left, but to convince others closer to the middle that Democrats are not just about payback, you've got to actually get some positive things done. Hearings should be a part of what Democrats accomplish in the next two years, and not the sole focus.
(9) Watch your back in the Senate -- it only takes one aisle-jumper, and the GOP regains control. When Lieberman "defected" by running as an independent, there were loud calls from the ultra-left to strip him of his committee seats to punish him. Thankfully, wiser heads prevailed. This is a good thing, because he may have considered pulling a "Jeffords" to become a Republican (which would have handed the GOP control of the Senate).
As I've said before, it would be worth the effort to try and woo some moderate Republicans across the aisle, but at the same time, be careful to guard your own. There are several extremely conservative Democratic senators out there who should be coddled right now and offered plum committee assignments -- or they may consider bolting, if the GOP offers them a better deal.
(10) Finally, I leave you with what millions of Americans are begging you, pleading with you, and now praying for you:
Don't screw it up.
Get something done.
Altogether shout it now
There's no one who can doubt it now
So let's tell the world about it now
Happy days are here again