Like a lot of other writers here at HuffPo I've be asking, "Where the heck are the Democrats in this election on Iraq?" I can't hear them, but I hear President Bush loud and clear every day. A friend on the Hill, exasperated by my complaining, finally exploded at me the other day, "We've been having full leadership press conferences or high-profile hearings every single day on Iraq!"
So what is to be done? We have to give them credit for trying, but clearly the Dems' current method isn't working.
I read a lot of blogs in depth, but my mainstream news intake is probably the same as the majority of Americans. In other words, I'm not a beltway news junkie with cable news on all the time. So, like most of America, I haven't seen anything from those Hill press conferences or hearings.
I get a few minutes of radio news in the morning, and maybe another few in the car later in the day. Each day Bush's message on Iraq comes through loud and clear -- usually in his own voice. It's always the same: "Stay the course; We need to fight them there so we won't have to fight them here; We will prevail."
Usually, there is no audible Democratic response -- maybe just the reporter reading a line from some Senator's press release of the day. The statement is usually just a complaint or condemnation of the current policies, and is never an invitation to, "Vote for us this November to make it all better!" Therefore it comes off sounding a little whiney and pointless. You know, like: "Bush is out there trying to protect us, and the Dems are just hanging around second guessing with no solutions of their own." As unfair as it is, it really rings true just based on the news bites I get each day.
Recently, the reporters, in those few minutes of news roundup, have been skipping the Democratic message altogether, saying, "Democrats have been content to sit back and watch the Republicans fight it out among themselves." At that, I usually reach for my cell phone, irate, to call my friends on the Hill. But like I said, they explain that Democrats are being extremely vocal, and the news media just isn't giving their voices equal weight with the President's.
One obvious problem is that in a midterm election there is no single, national leader for the party that doesn't have the White House. But why should that be? Is it simply a matter of Dean, Reid and Pelosi (or more likely the staffers and advisors who surround them) not being able to agree on who among them should take the lead in this election season? Why not designate a third...er...fourth party? Say, Murtha.
Republicans rose to power in Congress under a Democratic president only when they had a single, visible national leader in Newt Gingrich. It didn't even matter that he was in fact weird, overly-academic and abstract and that his Contract with America was wonky and mostly irrelevant to the average American. (Viva "zero base-line budgeting"!) At the time, it just happened to be enough to lead, however poorly.
But perhaps even without designating a single national leader for this election, Democrats could still lead by at least talking about the election and asking for America's vote. Is it just me, or do Dems seem embarrassed to talk directly about the Congressional elections and why America should vote for them? They're hoping the voters' dissatisfaction with the Republicans will automatically translate into a vote for the Democrats. This didn't work for the Kerry campaign and it won't work now.
Don't be shy Democrats! We've been having elections for three centuries in this country. The people won't think you're being forward or creepy if you come out and say, "Vote for us to make it all better." That's how Democracy is supposed to work.
When I asked my friend about the content of those Hill press conferences, the answer was, "No, they haven't been about the election." They've been about GOP corruption, contractor mishaps, gloomy intel reports, etc...
In other words, the Democratic party can't get past nervous small talk with the American people. Dems, take a deep breath. It's time to make your move: Ask America out on a two-year date.
Follow Zack Exley on Twitter: www.twitter.com/zackexley