THE BLOG
05/08/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Unpardonable Absence of a Democratic "Attack Machine"

--I don't give'm hell; I just tell the truth and they think it's hell". (Harry Truman, 1948).

Democrats seem to believe (because that is the way they act) that the Republicans are the "loyal opposition".

They are not. They are disloyal -- to a tee.

Republicans are at war against the American people. They want the country to fail, thinking this will bring them to power. They will do anything to achieve it -- and they recently lied us into the Iraq war to maintain the power they had.

An effective Democratic attack machine would use "the Republicans' war against the American people" as its theme. Each issue would be another battle in that war. "The Republicans' war against the American people, and in favor of insurance companies that drop coverage and raise premiums and deny you coverage". "The Republicans' war against the American people, and in favor of the big banks that cost you your job", and so forth.

The President seems to believe that an "attack machine" will doom all chances at bipartisanship. While one is tempted to reply "so what?", the result would actually be quite the opposite. An effective Democratic attack machine will make Republicans more wary of how they will be characterized and thus, just as Democrats cede 75% of the field prior to battle for fear of what the Republican attack machine will do to them, a Democratic "attack machine" will make the Republicans more likely to play ball.

In politics hurt feelings do not drive parties apart, nor does camaraderie create comity. Newt Gingrich tried to destroy Bill Clinton's life. Several years later, Newt and Hillary teamed up to push an electronic medical records act, not because Hillary forgave Gingrich, but because they each thought working together would help de-demonize them.

Without a Democratic attack machine, Republicans fear their own fringe more than they fear the Democrats. With Democrats controlling both Houses and the Presidency, that is pathetic.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently proved the point. After Senator John Kyl (R-AR) complained the stimulus did no good, LaHood said, "Ok, shall we cease sending money to Arizona for transportation projects?" Kyl started whining and complaining, and Democrats did not pick up the ball and run with it -- getting in Kyl's face with his statement, standing up in the Senate to inquire whether "the gentleman wanted the money", making enough noise to the media so it pinned Kyl down. So Kyl shut his mouth for a few days and it was all over, and he has gone back to his sand-slinging.

It is no coincidence that, among all of President Obama's senior appointees, it was Secretary LaHood who used an attack against Kyl to put him in his place. Ray LaHood was a former Republican Congressman, so the strategy was second-nature to him.

The Democrats did not have, and still do not have, an "attack machine". Such a machine keeps talking, keeps the verbal pressure on, defines the conversation, induces the mainstream media to address the matter, makes it appear that the allegations raised are substantive, puts the other side on the defensive, calls their bluff.

When Harry Truman received his party's Presidential nomination in 1948, he called the Republicans' bluff--he called a special session of Congress to pass the measures they claimed they favored at their convention.

Today, the Republicans wail and moan about looming deficits, claim to be the protectors of Medicare, and support a deficit reduction act that guts Medicare and privatizes social security. A Democratic attack machine would keep the pressure on until the Democratic leadership brought the Republican (Ryan) budget to a vote. That would make them declare themselves. Right now, they have it both ways.

A Democratic attack machine could have pulverized Republicans for compromising our national security by blocking an extraordinarily well-qualified TSA Administrator nominee. In fact, a Democratic attack machine would keep the entire issue of the President's languishing nominees front and center.

Whenever Dick Cheney rears his head about torture, or, as in the case of the botched crotchbomber, a "mindset", a Democratic attack machine would choose among the following menu to feed upon: bin Laden's favorite recruiter, the man who traded with Iran and Iraq for personal gain at the expense of his country, raise the question of his loyalty for providing aid-and-comfort to enemies of the US by blowing Valerie Plame's cover, lying us into war and diverting attention away from Afghanistan where al-Qaeda is.....and, now that he is out of office, taunting Cheney about why he just did not call the White House with his concerns and behave like a statesman instead of trying to create a public flap.

Do we really want our anti-terrorism policy determined by what will not trigger another piece of mega-maniacal drivel from Dick Cheney? An effective attack machine would provide the space for rational, legal and moral policy.

An effective attack machine would also have magnified a thousand-fold the Kyl whining and complaining comments about Secretary LaHood's challenge, kept up the verbal pressure, arranged for Senators on the floor to inquire of Kyl why he wants the money for Arizona if it does no good, and kept up the noise until the mainstream media discussed the issue.

And, in so doing, this attack machine would have created more space for the Administration to do what it really needs to do at this point in the recession--provide much more money for the stimulus, and even do a Harry Hopkins 1933 redux and directly hire 4 million people in 4 months.

What about healthcare reform? An effective Democratic attack machine could have neutered John Boehner -- how does the man who hands out lobbying checks from the tobacco companies so they could continue addicting your children to an early death has anything credible to say about healthcare reform? Instead, for all his lies, Boehner was untouched.

An effective attack machine would have been "in your face" to all the Republicans who are enjoying their own healthcare, but are not even allowing a vote on healthcare for their people, keeping the narrative going, pointing out specific hypocrisies such as Pat Roberts (R-KA) insisting that reform not compromise his right to a 4th MRI of his injured knee, and yet voting against the bill for the people of Kansas.

An effective attack machine would have provided the President his up-or-down vote, launching a campaign just on that issue alone.

It is not just bad politics, it is an unpardonable sin that the Democrats do not have such an operation.

Barack Obama confronts an even more ferocious fundamentalism than Clinton did. Most charitably, "Glen Beckistan" is the "Twilight Zone" episode called "Willoughby", insinuating the image of an easier, simpler life into the American psyche to justify their use of 19th century solutions for 21st century problems. [Glen Beck asserts the US started its slide with Teddy Roosevelt].

Willoughby? Maybe it's wishful thinking nestled in a hidden part of a man's mind... or perhaps for a man who climbed on a world that went by too fast, it's a place around the bend where he could jump off..Whatever it is, it comes with sunlight and serenity and is a part of the Twilight Zone.

Today, it is not Willoughby and it is not the Twilight Zone. It has become GlenBeckistan

More to the point, however, Republicans are using Nixon's 'southern strategy' conflating President Obama's race with public policy to magnify feelings that "real Americans" are being "robbed" by an alien presence.

This cannot be allowed to stand. It cannot be allowed to influence policy. We are not going to create 21st century solutions if the opponents are in the grip of a group of "clerics" who want us to return lock-stock-and-nullification to a 19th century idyll.

Yet, without an attack machine, Democrats are constantly on the defensive. Without an attack machine, Democrats enable Republicans to co-exist with the tea-party movement, Rush Limbaugh and GlenBeckistan whereas, in fact, these groups are often polar opposites except in their disdain for people of color. Without an attack machine, Democratic lawmakers feel politically vulnerable. Without an attack machine, Democrats do not create the 'political space' required to enact their agenda. Without an attack machine, Democratic strategy is predicated on what Republicans might say about a policy or a vote or a speech, ceding 75% of the political territory before the battle even begins.

Maddow, Shultz and Olbermann do not substitute for an attack machine, but they could be part of an "echo chamber" if one existed. They rarely interview a Republican, and never get them back. The political "power" they exercise, if any, is to provide wavering Democrats either the courage of their own convictions or the specter that a major part of their base will desert them.

As per the Truman quote above, a Democratic attack machine need not lie or exaggerate.

But, it must expose, be "in your face", and repeat. The psychological value of repetition is well-understood and employed by Republicans; it conveys to voters the unconscious impression they really believe what they say even if it is a bald-faced lie (as it mostly is).

Democrats just do not get it. They usually cease and desist when they think they have "made their point", and Republicans stop responding to an issue, whereas in fact they should recognize they have found a vulnerability and should keep twisting the knife.

Moreover, by ceasing and desisting, Democrats may have "made their point", but they fail to convince people that they passionately believe it.

A Democratic attack machine would trigger the passion desperately needed while the policies, if enacted, take their time to improve peoples' lives.