What will it take for Dems to go into campaign mode? This week, Bush's Big Budget Lie is giving us an open shot to inflict serious damage on the GOP's November hopes. In fact, an opportunity like this has come up almost every week, but every time we fail to take the shot.
Bush's Big Budget Lie is that he has "cut the deficit in half." He's crisscrossing the country celebrating this achievement, and the message is sinking in with voters. Of course, he did no such thing. Here's what's actually happened: his own revised projected deficit for 2008 is close to half of his own previous projected 2008 deficit. He has not cut the actual deficit in half. He has not cut it at all. In fact, by his own projections, the total deficit will continue to grow larger at a breakneck pace through 2008.
Bush is careful (sometimes) to explain the fine print of his accounting acrobatics, but it's usually in the fashion of the speed-talking used car ad. But the sound bite he's pounding into people's living rooms and local papers everyday is unambiguous, "I cut the budget deficit in half." And it's working, because no one is hearing a clear, strong contradiction from Democrats.
Importantly, this is a place where the Democrats can call Mr. Bush a liar without the threat of being hauled off and tried for treason. (Unless The Terrorists turn out to be behind the budget deficit too... Oh wait...! Well, that's for another post.) The L Word attack would generate news and, if it is sustained daily for a few weeks, then the truth about Bush's budget mess would sink in with the public. But, again, this only works if the charge is: 1) strong and clear, and 2) sustained.
If the Dems could act as one team, then high profile Dems in safe seats could make headlines with the L Word, and less-safe Dems in hot races could use all the interviews generated by the controversy to slam Bush with or without saying "liar."
But it takes all guns a blazing. We should have learned this lesson years ago from the GOP's impeachment campaign against Bill Clinton: they chose a line of attack and just kept repeating it. The fact that they were so determined (not the content of the charges) was what made the press sit up and take the story seriously -- they saw a big fight coming. In fact, Dems have a long history of being the better party at this stuff: LBJ, JFK, FDR -- they all knew how this worked and were masters.
If the GOP could derail our whole party for a decade by sustaining an attack over some minor false charges. Then why can't we at least get a good hit in with all of their outrageous crimes and failings to choose from? We've got so much to work with: The deficit, airline security failings, port security failings, cooperation with private contractor corruption in Iraq, and the practice of openly bragging about "secret programs" and then charging treason against reporters who report it. Just to name a few.
Between now and November, each of those topics will be pushed into the news by events or by Bush's own brazen spinning. Dems need to sort out a way that they can all seize those opportunities in a coordinated way and hit hard.
For individual office holders it may mean putting off the bill on a pet issue you were hoping to launch. It may mean talking about something that is not the top issue in your constituency. It may mean taking a leap and talking about something that is not (on the first day of the attack) a major news story. That is called "doing the work of holding government accountable" -- and it's not only the best way to get back into power it's also their role and duty in our democracy.
OK, fine. We all know this is what the Dems need to do. And they know it too. So what's the problem? Is there anything we (the Democratic base) can do to help them switch into campaign mode? I'd love to hear some suggestions.