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Zachary Karabell

Zachary Karabell

Posted: October 29, 2005 03:36 PM

They'd Better Do Better Than We Can Do Better


Libby indicted! Miers withdraws! Polls register vertiginous drop in support for Bush, the war, the Republicans in Congress. Rove not off the hook, a prosecutor who, gasp, does not leak - everything seems to be breaking in the Democrats' direction. But remember the last time the left side of the aisle was this giddy? The fall of 2004, when Bush seemed to be sinking himself and Kerry appeared on the verge of victory. Certain that the Republicans would implode, the Democrats forgot that they had to actually do and say something that someone would find meaningful.

This past week is a low point for the Republicans and Bush, no doubt, but whether the Democrats are able to seize the opportunity very much remains to be seen. Nothing in the past five to ten years suggests that they can or will, and little in the past five to ten weeks offers much to suggest that this time will be different.

Remember: the mid-term elections of 2006 are still more than a year away and the election of 2008 is well, you can do the math. Both are the equivalent of forever in political life. Most of us can barely remember where we put the car keys; the American electorate is not likely to recall the minutia of what Scooter said to Judy a year from now. Outside the blogsphere and the Beltway, they hardly care today.

It’s a trite refrain to say that Democrats still don’t have a coherent message. But they don’t. Whispers say that the current Democratic leadership are working on a slogan and that one idea is “We can do better.” If that’s the best they can do, then it’s fair to say that they’re done.

This is an opportunity. The Democrats have an enviable smorgasbord of issues: energy independence, genuine homeland security, economic anxiety, the war in Iraq, and now Plamegate. Each speaks to real concerns: the lack of a coherent program to protect ports, transportation hubs, and cities; the lack of adequate health insurance; the growing global competition posed by China; the increased share of energy costs for the average household. Without fear-mongering, the Democrats could offer a vision on each of these issues, and without promising that government is the solution, they could present alternatives and offer biting criticisms of the present party in power.

But if they use focus groups and a strategy of finding some invisible, inoffensive center, they will lose. They will continue to fight on Republican turf in a world defined by Republican agendas. And at worst, they will assume that the current woes of the Bush administration will translate into votes a year from now, and in 2008. It is easy to mount the soapbox and declare in high dudgeon how shocked we are that there is gambling in Casablanca, but sometime soon, the Democrats will have to do better than “we can do better.”