Monday, January 28, 2008

Will the Democrats pull it off or blow it in November?

The prospects for a Democratic victory in November appear very good. The economy is on a downturn, the electorate is polarized and the current Republican administration cannot resolve two wars this nation has been engaged in for years. The public is itching for a change. Whoever the Republican candidate is will have to either embrace or reject the record of the Bush Whitehouse. Either path that candidate chooses will carry a high price.

However, can the Democrats still blow it? Absolutely! The disappointing record of the new Democratic majority in both houses of Congress will not help the Democrats this fall. Now the reason for this disappointment is because the Democrats do not have a “governable” majority but that is the sort of nuance that is difficult to communicate in the heat of a campaign. And, of course, they have yet to govern Congress for a single full term compared to the dismal record of the previous Republican Congresses where they had governable majorities. Unfortunately, many voters do not have long memories.

Given that the election is still ten months away the Democrats and their presidential nominees still have time to screw everything up. So the prospects of the Democratic presidential nominee is good but not guaranteed. A lot depends on the continued disarray of the Repbulicans. Here is Frank Rich on the Democrats in the current issue of the New York Review of Books:
The Democrats' congressional take-over in 2006 did push their leadership to unequivocally embrace an Iraq endgame. But it has not resolved the party's intellectual dilemmas or guaranteed it a lock on 2008. President Bush still benefited from a remarkably unified Republican caucus in Congress and, for the first time in his presidency, brandished the veto pen. Unable to affect White House war policy, the Democratic-led Congress, fairly or not, lost much of the moral high ground on Iraq with voters, giving Republicans an opportunity to blur distinctions between the two parties as the public waited for a coherent exit strategy. And waited impatiently. Though repeated polls at the end of 2007 found that voters recognized the improved security in Iraq after the "surge," those same surveys found that the majorities calling for a prompt withdrawal and terming the war "a mistake" remained unchanged from the war's most violent nadir. Congress soon found itself with approval ratings as low as and sometimes lower than the President's. The number of Americans who judged their country to be "on the wrong track" remained stuck at 70 percent and higher, views that were soon to be complemented by an economic gloom as thick as any pollsters had seen since the early 1990s.

The Democrats' conflicted history on Iraq haunts the presidential campaign. Unlike John Edwards or pundits like Peter Beinart, Hillary Clinton refused to acknowledge that her support for the 2002 war resolution was a mistake. Instead, her husband disingenuously declared that he, at least, had been against the Iraq war "from the beginning." When that ruse failed, the Clinton campaign tried to muddy Barack Obama's early opposition to the war, a signature element of his presidential candidacy, by claiming (also incorrectly) that he had gone wobbly in the years since. Meanwhile, every Democratic candidate called for the war's quick end (though Clinton had the loosest timetable). Every major Democratic candidate took a muscular stand on foreign policy in general and terrorism in particular rather than emulating the party's supposed mob of–Netroots peaceniks so hyperbolically caricatured and feared by liberal hawks who had initially supported the Iraq war.

On domestic issues, the most energetic class-conscious populist appeal, made by Edwards, gained at most modest traction in the early going. Clinton and Obama, whatever the fine points of their policy differences, hewed to standard party orthodoxy. Clinton's laundry list of programs recalled her husband's centrism (and triangulation); she seemed to be campaigning for a third Clinton term. Obama's domestic agenda was united by a larger, reconciliatory theme that at times echoed Michael Tomasky's notion of a "common good." But if the early 2008 votes in Iowa and New Hampshire were any indication, the race for the Democratic nomination was going to be a scramble built less on policy than on a wide variety of factors including race, gender, negative campaigning, and the usual unpredictable events of any political season.

However much the Democrats might finesse differences on Iraq or any other issue in 2008, their best hopes for electoral victory still have less to do with their own ideas than with the sorry state of their opponents. Compared to the increasingly fractious and disheartened conservative coalition, the Democrats could pass for a model of coherence and unity. Compared to the Bush presidency, almost any conceivable Democratic ticket would seem a step up to the vast majority of voters eager to turn the page. The Democrats could yet lose the White House in 2008, especially if the general election becomes a referendum on the Clintons or race, but it would take the party's full powers of self-immolation to do so.
You can read the entire piece here.

1 comment:

Comrade Kevin said...

Right. At this point, it depends on what candidate can build the broadest coalition of support and hold itself together. Up until now, the Democrats have held that advantage.