Sitting at an early morning breakfast at Rein's Deli here in Connecticut, I caught David Lightman's piece in the Hartford Courant noting that nationally "while a lot of people have soured on Republicans, they're also not sure Democrats have the solutions or the savvy." Said pollster John Zogby: "That's [Democrats'] biggest problem - we're not yet seeing the enthusiasm." This shouldn't be surprising to anyone - a glance at the political narrative being offered by Democrats in the waning days of the election is a whole lot of talk about "change" but a whole lot of "stay the course" messaging that threatens to snatch Democratic defeat from the jaws of victory.
Take, for instance, the front page of the New York Times on Saturday that reported on Democrats' bragging to all who will listen that they are shaking down K Street for cash. Hill staffer-turned-corporate lobbyist Steve Elmendorf is featured prominently, proclaiming to reporters that corporate cash is flowing like a river into Democratic Party coffers. The wink and nod of legislative favors in a Democratic majority is unsaid - but clearly implied. Message to voters? When it comes to pay-to-play politics, it's "stay the course" with a Democratic majority.
Then there was this Reuters story running nationally, where the Democratic Party declares that no one should think that if Democrats win there will be a real change in Iraq policy. This, the very same week Democrats are trumpeting a new (and very effective) ad hammering the Bush administration for pushing "stay the course."
And then, finally, the icing on the cake - the Democrats"s very own Corrupt Caucus throws itself out there to demand that, if Democrats take back the majority, Democrats must not actually pursue any serious agenda at all, regardless of the electoral mandate they will have to pursue real change.
You want to know why the public still has lingering doubts about whether Democrats stand for anything? It is because of precisely this kind of behavior - behavior that above and beyond any one issue sends a message that Democrats are interested only in their own self-promotion, not in actual convictions. Only people who really, truly in their veins are opposed to any serious change would go out days before an election and brag to reporters that their entire rhetoric about corruption and the war is actually just hollow ploy to fool voters, thus endangering their very chances to win the election. I mean, you really have to be committed to preserving the status quo to behave like that. You have to love the status quo, despise your own party and viscerally hate the very concept of change to try to convince the world days before the election that your own party's entire campaign is basically a lie.
Let's be clear - I actually don't think Democrats campaign is a lie at all. I think a Democratic win will embolden real progressives who are serious about change. And I'm thrilled that there are real conviction politicians in key races - from Montana, to Ohio, to Connecticut to Vermont. But as I review in this new cover piece for In These Times out today, there are people inside the Democratic Party who have a vested interest in preserving and championing the status quo - even if it means destroying Democrats electoral chances this year.
And that raises a key point going forward: we should never forget that the fight does not end on November 7th. On the contrary - the fight only just begins on that day. Because it is very clear that the many of the Washington Democrats who want to be the face of this election see the word "change" as a bumper sticker slogan and not a word with actual meaning. That may work on election day - and I sure as hell hope Democrats win. But after election day, the country is going to expect an actual change in policy, not just a change in which lawmaker with which party label gets which fancy office in the Capitol.