Thursday, June 23, 2005

Rooooooooooove!

You can see the strategy Republicans are going to employ in the 2006 elections – it will be the same as in 2002 and 2004, only with Dick Durbin as the poster boy. How can the Democrats counter the demagogic yet politically potent charge that they are weaselly surrender-monkeys, and that criticism of our president equals selling out the troops abroad and weakening our defense at home?

This remains a genuine problem for Democrats. The ease with which the VRWC was able to change the subject from a genuine outrage (guy chained to the floor in his own bodily wastes) to manufactured outrage about Durbin’s inartful statements is evidence enough of that.

The Democrats cannot avoid this issue, as they tried to in 2002. Nor can they be all over the map, as Kerry was in 2004. He made some headway by attacking Bush’s sunny optimism on Iraq as wildly out of touch with reality – something both politically resonant and true. But sometimes Kerry seemed to be protesting too much, as when he pointed to the flag during his convention speech and basically said Democrats were patriots too, the flag shouldn’t be used as a wedge, etc. Well, duh. Complaining about mean Republicans being divisive, as Chuck Schumer does in response to Rove, is an inadequate response, like saying “Take it back! And please don’t hit me again – nobody wants to see that.”

Democrats need to present a credible, consistent vision for defending the country from terrorists and for handling Iraq and the broader issues in the Middle East – ideally, one that can be expressed in a sentence. At the same time, they need to keep criticizing and mocking the more absurd statements and rationalizations coming out of the White House – the stuff (“last throes,” “I think about Iraq every day - every day”) that is self-evidently ridiculous. These are gifts, and criticism of them is harder to tag as somehow harming the troops.

One key tactical question is how to address the torture issue. It’s an extremely important issue. More light needs to be shed on it. But I wonder if in the context of the 2006 campaign cycle it is too politically hot to handle for Democrats, too easy for the Republicans to demagogue – something that could make a genuine political debate on it impossible, and spill over into other issues.

Are the Democrats up to facing down Rove & Co.? They smell weakness from the White House. But I worry that will only make them less willing to engage on security issues. Of course, it would help to be interested in those issues, and some Democrats are – Joe Biden and Hillary among them. But many would rather focus on traditional domestic concerns and those low Bush approval ratings could be a siren song of complacency.