Democrats are barely containing their glee at the Foley follies, and are acting as though their biggest problem is putting enough champagne on ice for their November victory parties. Such complacency is dangerous. They need to remember that just before the scandal broke, Karl Rove was bragging about the October Surprise he's got up his sleeve. With less than a month to go, Republicans are down -- but not out. Not quite yet.
The Democratic Party leadership should strongly consider taking James Carville's advice: "When your opponent is drowning, throw the son of a bitch an anvil." Yes, Republicans are currently drowning in Foleygate. So it's time for Democrats to come up with an "anvil" of an issue, in order to completely finish off the GOP's chances of holding their majorities.
The Foley scandal will indeed moderately depress Republican voter turnout. But even Democratic promises to clean up the "culture of corruption in Washington" will not be enough to get swing voters to vote Democratic. What these voters are (still) waiting for is a positive reason to vote for Democrats, not just against Republicans. And poll after poll shows voters' number one issue is Iraq. "OK, President Bush screwed up Iraq," the undecideds say, "...but what plan do Democrats have to make things better?"
Democrats need to answer this creeping unease with a challenge; both to voters and to the President: "Give us control of both houses of Congress, and within 100 days we will forge a plan with the Bush Administration to fix the Iraq problem. The war in Iraq is a serious enough issue that we believe everyone should put aside partisan bickering, and return to the idealism of: 'Politics stops at the water's edge.' The only way to achieve this is to work all the details out after the election, instead of in the hotbed of the campaign."
Democrats would strongly promise that immediately after the election they will send a delegation to the White House (from their newly-won congressional majorities) to sit down and create an exit strategy for Iraq; one that "saves face" for America -- and for Bush. Promise that all meetings will be absolutely closed-door, with no leaks. Furthermore, promise that all credit for the plan will be equally shared between Bush and Democrats (this is key). Promise that before the end of 100 days, a plan for moving forward will emerge. By doing this, Democrats would be seen by the electorate as actually being stronger on national defense than Republicans -- just by admitting that something needs to be done.
This is a perfect solution in more ways than one. It is a broad-based idea which all Democrats can rally around. For a change, people will start thinking of Democrats as the party of optimism and ideas. Proposing post-election talks with Bush conveniently avoids the minefield of specifics. And magnanimously offering to share credit shows Democrats are willing to work toward bipartisanship, and are not just interested in hearings and impeachment.
The perception that Bush has completely lost touch is solidifying with the public, so the opportunity is ripe for Democrats to be seen as the "adults" arranging an "intervention" with Bush to fix the problem. Voters like problem-solvers.
Because the plan has no details (being merely a framework for such), every Democrat can agree with it. This is critically important. If the Democrats are ever going to win back power again, they have to fix their inherent "herding cats" internal problems -- which can only be solved by unifying behind one single good idea.
By doing this the Democratic Party would be taking the same position that roughly 60% of the American people have, in a way that leaves plenty of room for optimism that a real solution can be found. And voters love optimism.
American voters are fed up with the Iraq fiasco. But this proposal goes beyond answering just this one frustration. It also addresses many of the electorate's fears (in one nicely-contained issue), while avoiding politically dangerous specifics (i.e., timelines, the "civil war" debate, "cut and run," etc.). When asked about details, the only answer necessary is: "Democrats are ready to put everything on the table with the President. We will approach these meetings with open minds."
Democrats would then be seen as trying to end the poisonously partisan atmosphere in Washington. It would be impossible for the GOP to co-opt the issue (since they've done nothing about it so far). Even the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Republican John Warner, is publicly saying something's got to change in our Iraq strategy, and soon -- which may help moderate Republicans support the idea. They're certainly looking for a way to distance themselves from Bush at the moment.
Opponents can try to smear this as nothing more than a gimmick, but the answer to that is: "It's better than anything the Republicans have come up with." And it would be impossible for the Right to spin it as "obstructionism." If Bush says he won't agree to the talks, then he becomes the public face of obstructionism. If no agreement emerges from such meetings, Bush would be seen as the problem -- since the Democrats were the ones to instigate the process of finding a solution.
Washingtonpost.com columnist Dan Froomkin recently cited an interesting national opinion poll. The poll was independent enough to ask much more creative questions than is usual. The results were astounding. From the poll's press release:
When asked to provide "an acceptable number of U.S. military deaths" in Iraq, 61 percent of respondents said zero. A second version of the question asked about acceptable casualties to prevent "Iraq from sliding into a civil war"; again a large majority of respondents -- 59 percent -- indicated zero. When asked later in the survey how much more money the United States should "spend in order to complete the mission in Iraq," 55 percent of respondents said no additional dollars should be spent. These views are undoubtedly related to the fact that 57 percent of respondents felt that the United States "should have stayed out" of Iraq and that respondents were split 50-50 on whether U.S. efforts in Iraq would succeed or fail.
The American people desperately want to see some political leadership on the war. Democrats need to confront the issue head-on, and unify behind this "anvil" of a solution -- and then toss it overboard to the drowning Republicans. If Democrats can convince undecided voters they're ready to hammer out an Iraq exit strategy -- and then generously share the credit with Bush -- they will sweep into power in both houses of Congress.
And they won't even have to mention Foley's name to do it.