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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Deep Thoughts

by digby

A couple of months ago I published a memo about the upcoming elections from a friend of mine who is a very sharp, well informed observer and participant in the political scene. I call him Deep Insight.

He's updated his analysis of the presidential election and I thought you might find it interesting:

On some days, it appears George Bush could care less if he drives the GOP over the cliff in 2008. His pursuit of rightwing foreign and domestic policy continues unabated. Iraq will remain a mess for years and millions have already fled the country. Our wonderful ally, the President of Pakistan, declares martial rule while we funnel billions in cash to his military cronies. Meanwhile, the Taliban now controls parts of Northwest Pakistan. Bush’s decision to veto the Children’s health proposal cements a nice brand image for his party as reckless and incompetent on foreign policy and heartless on healthcare for kids.

The GOP remains confident, however, on its messaging ability and willingness of the mainstream media to carry its talking points. Just tune in and watch pundits Tim Russert and Chris Matthews, who began their careers as Democratic aides on the Hill, carry on a dialogue that Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme.” Their former employers, Daniel Moynihan and Tip O’Neill, roll over in their graves. This type of elite pundit narrative is repeated daily on television, radio and op-ed pages. The next media magic trick will be to make George Bush, as Digby notes, “disappear.” It worked for Karl Rove and Alberto Gonzales who have made Nixon’s henchmen Haldeman and Mitchell look like amateurs. Rather than Rove being investigated by the mainstream media, he now has a column in Newsweek. The Democratic nominee will not only have to defeat the GOP nominee, but also the elite media narrative.

The Republicans in Congress, however, have reason to be worried. They face the inevitable retirements after losing majority status. The number in the House is 15 and still rising. The Democrats should retain both open seats (Maine, Colorado) where the incumbents are seeking Senate seats. If handled properly, the vote against the Children’s health bill could resonate against GOP incumbents. Democrats have to be concerned, however, about the overall approval rating of Congress. Anti-Washington sentiment in the country is still growing. In the Senate, the Democrats are posed for a 2seat pick up. This margin will grow with the right breaks and enough grassroots activism. In the House, the Democrats are now ahead by 17 points in their most contested seats. As a bonus, the party is ahead by 6 points in the Republican held marginal seats. Right now, it looks like a pick up of at least high single digit House seats for the Democrats.

Congressional Democrats, however, sometimes act as if it is still 2002 when they were still in the minority. The big bad Republicans will distract the country and beat them into submission. Bush has a 25% approval rating. There is absolutely no political price in opposing the initiatives of the GOP. On national security issues, the Democrats need to take the “kick me” sign off their backs. Bush has weakened our national security with this reckless war in Iraq. Bombing Iran will only add to the terrorist threat. This has to be clearly stated.

Extremists, who have little interest in responsible governance or the common good run the modern Republican Party. They obstruct any positive legislative effort, force the Democrats to compromise, and then abandon the compromise. The Democrats need to tout accomplishments and fault the GOP for its obstructionism. Instead, the Democrats are losing the communications skirmishes to the rightwing noise machine including wasting time on such things as responding to the censure of MoveOn for an ill-advised ad and telling Congressman Pete Stark to apologize for calling the President names. If Bush continues to veto popular bills to benefit the common good, the Democrats can draw sharp contrasts with the right wing. This will only enhance 2008 opportunities.

The Republican K Street Project is in tatters as access donors in the business community pony up to the Democrats. Before Democrats get too cozy with the priorities of business, they should note the public is not enthralled with the current state of the economy. Whether the economy falls into recession, or merely slow growth, many Americans are really hurting. People are working longer hours to run in place. 1.7 million Americans face home foreclosure next year. As Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz noted recently, “Herbert Hoover has been regarded as the “worst President” when it comes to the economy, but Bush’s legacy is more insidious and likely to be longer lasting.” Congressman Rangel has started a discussion of why hedge fund managers and private equity bigwigs pay a lower marginal tax rate than the janitors in their building. Bush will veto any tax increase anyway, but a political airing will be useful.

The Republicans hope to use this economic discontent to fan resentment against immigrants. The Democratic leadership is divided, but being less crazy than the Republicans is not a policy. The public knows illegal immigration is a serious issue and is concerned about it. When the Wall Street Journal waxes poetic about open borders, it is clear business wants downward pressure on wage. Americans favored a comprehensive solution to this issue but a vocal movement derailed it. Lou Dobbs pretends to represent the mainstream view on immigration, and now toys with a Presidential run to pump up his ratings.

Before a single vote is cast, the pundit class has awarded the Democratic nomination to Hillary Clinton. The Republicans are already running against her, and McCain has an attack ad up of dancing hippies at Woodstock (one more time let’s go back to 1969). Certainly, she is in a commanding position with plenty of money and universal name identification. She remains the favorite, and the press has even decided it is time to harass her.

Democratic primary voters do, however, have a way of upsetting apple carts or Ed Muskie would have been the 1972 nominee and in 1976 Jimmy Carter would have remained a polling asterisk. Walter Mondale had all he could handle with Gary Hart’s 1984 challenge. Unpredictability is the rule not the exception in the Democratic primaries. Early polling is just early polling. Howard Dean had a 23-point lead in New Hampshire at this juncture in 2004. Polling is particularly shaky in Iowa where no one can predict turnout and the 15% threshold rule applies.

Still, Obama and Edwards have to shake up the race. Obama has consciously scaled back his “audacity of hope” campaign for a more restrained approach. He needs a movement of individuals who vote, not a traditional campaign. He needs a win in Iowa or a close second. Edwards has placed his political fate on Iowa and if either he or Obama wins, it will give the victor substantial momentum heading in to the rush of primaries. The margin between first and third in Iowa is likely to be small.

Chris Dodd stood up to the White House on the FISA legislation. He definitely needs to win New Hampshire as does Senator Biden or their campaigns will end with applause in the Senate. Bill Richardson’s last stand is Nevada.

In early fundraising, the Democratic field continues to swamp the Republican one. This is also true, not surprisingly, for the Senate and House Committees, but the RNC continues to out fundraise the DNC. If the Democratic nominee is settled in February, the DNC has to step up fundraising. This pre-Labor Day period will be critical for the party to spend on behalf of the nominee.

An independent NGO communication effort must also utilize this time period. Only innovative and cost-effective communication strategies should be considered. With TIVO, satellite TV and itchy finger remotes, typical political advertising on broadcast TV is of declining utility. The GOP and rightwing will be very active during this time. Their 527 “Freedom Watch” is already in full swing on Iraq and Iran.

The Republican field continues to distinguish itself by pandering to its base. Evolution is a myth, not established science. The war is going great; global warming is not a threat. Taxes have to be cut on the wealthy, etc. Rudy still leads in national polls but as he receives more scrutiny, the numbers trend downward. He employed and defended Bernie Kerick his indicted mobbed connected ex-police commissioner. Now there is a lawsuit from Kerick’s ex-mistress alleging her former employer, News Corp, tried to suborn perjury from her to help Rudy. Expect banner coverage from FOX News and the Wall Street Journal. An ex-priest accused of pedophilia is also on his payroll. The social conservatives have upped their threat to run a third party candidate if he is the nominee, but this may be a ruse as the religious right leadership is fractured. The berserk businessman/evangelist Pat Robertson, who said we deserved 9/11, recently endorsed Rudy. The Republicans like aggressive candidates and nobody is going to out aggressive Rudy. Should he become the nominee, the Democrats do need to worry because of his “strong leader” image.

Fred Thompson, the conservative “great white hope,” seems to be fading. Mitt Romney keeps dipping into his own pocket and upping his right wing rhetoric. He still leads in New Hampshire and if unprincipled ambition is the threshold, Mitt is the clear winner. John McCain is staging a mini comeback but still has little money and the enmity of the right wing. Senator Brownback’s endorsement of him is interesting, if it is not just Senatorial courtesy. Mike Huckabee looks like he will inherit a good proportion of the social conservative vote, particularly if Thompson flops. Huckabee is moving up in national polls, and is tied with Romney in Iowa. He will hurt Romney badly if he wins there. Ron Paul is running 4th in New Hampshire but raised an astonishing $4 million on the Internet on Guy Fawkes Day.

So far, the GOP race has been the gift that keeps on giving to the Democrats. But George Bush must be made into the GOP nominees’ political brother. 2008 will be a “change the course” election and the electorate is clearly not thrilled with Washington DC priorities or institutional arrangements. So, the Democrats need to ride this tide both on the Presidential and Congressional levels.

I can't tell you how important I think that last is. Here's David Brooks:

DAVID BROOKS: ... this campaign will not be about George Bush.

MARK SHIELDS: It won't be about George Bush, if Republicans have their way. I mean, the past eight years, are you better off than you were eight years ago?

George Bush should be tied so tightly around the Republican candidates' necks they can hardly breathe. Every quote of support, every vote, every word of worship should be thrown in their faces and there is a ton of it. He is the most unpopular president, for the longest sustained time, of any president in history. He is the modern Herbert Hoover, a man whose name should become an epithet.

And it isn't just the presidential campaigns. The congress, obviously, is missing its moment to solidify this president and the drones who enthusiastically supported every single thing he did for six long years as losers in the eyes of the public. I know that liberals don't like to be nasty to anyone but each other, but this is just crazy. As Deep Insight says:

Congressional Democrats, however, sometimes act as if it is still 2002 when they were still in the minority. The big bad Republicans will distract the country and beat them into submission. Bush has a 25% approval rating. There is absolutely no political price in opposing the initiatives of the GOP. On national security issues, the Democrats need to take the “kick me” sign off their backs. Bush has weakened our national security with this reckless war in Iraq. Bombing Iran will only add to the terrorist threat. This has to be clearly stated.

This is not brain surgery and it isn't ideological. This is purely tactical. If the Democrats are seen to be unwilling to take on the party and ardent supporters of the most unpopular president in history then their entire case for leadership falls completely flat. Of course, they have to run against Bush. The Republicans are Bush.

Update: Responding to the now infamous, misinformed Joe Klein column this week, saying for the umpteenth time that Democrats must go along with Republican crackpot legislation or risk being seen as wimps, Athanae at First Draft gives one of the best explanations I've seen for why people don't care to vote for people who think capitulation is a good way to show toughness:

[Voters] don't like voting for people who make them embarrassed. You all know what an embarrassment squick is, right? It's why I can't watch Ricky Gervais's original version of The Office, or Charlie Kauffman movies, or Jerry Seinfeld, or those silly home video shows of kids falling off bikes or doughy guys getting hit in the balls. I don't ... it's just ... ugh. It's the feeling you get when watching uncomfortable people being stupid, and sticky, and ... it's like this in politics, every day, with Klein and his ilk. They are advising a course of action that sets off everybody's embarrassment squick, and nobody's gonna vote for the guy who you watch and it's like your baseball team's getting whomped. You're up in the stands, having your tenth beer in an hour, pulling your hat down over your face and hoping nobody is looking at you. Or your team. You don't even want to be there because the yuck might rub off on you.

Is that dumb and irrational? Sure. We're talking about perception and strategy here, so it's dumb and irrational. But Democrats won in 2006 by acting like they didn't give a fuck what Republicans thought, they were gonna fix the mess we're in, and everybody was happy, and they felt like winners, and people like winning because the parties are better, and so on and so on. I don't know what it will take for them to act like that again. A veto-proof majority? A Democratic president? Both? The sudden and unexplained silence of every pundit everywhere? A memory transfusion? I really don't know what it's going to take but I can tell you for damn sure going back to the glory days of 2002 is not the answer here.

I suspect that if they would just refuse to allow the Republicans to set the agenda for the upcoming election as they are currently doing, they would be halfway there. I don't know if anyone's noticed, but nobody's talking about Iraq now that the administration has managed to move the goalposts so far that victory is defined as fewer killings than six months ago. Huzzah! We won! Now we can talk about the Mexicans and the tax and spend liberals!

It's embarrassing alright.