Republicans unveil their new line for the fall.
Wednesday, Mar. 22, 2006
Still Searching: With their poll numbers in free fall, GOP strategists had to do something to stop the midterm bleeding. So, in the last week, congressional Republicans began unveiling a new strategy: Promising not to have an agenda. As Dan Balz and Jonathan Weisman pointed out in Monday's Washington Post, "While it is a Republican refrain that Democrats criticize Bush but have no positive vision, for now the governing party also has no national platform around which lawmakers are prepared to rally."
For five years, Republicans trashed Democrats as bereft of ideas. Now that they see Democrats up by 10 points, Republicans are rushing to claim the mantle of no ideas for themselves. Caught by surprise, Democratic consultants quickly fired back: Hey, we had no ideas first.
Just two weeks ago, the very same Post ran another front-page story giving Democrats the edge in being slow to unveil an agenda. But when a sitting president uses the full power of incumbency to generate no ideas, a minority party can't keep up. The whole country saw Bush put his lack of an agenda on display in a prime-time State of the Union address. Moreover, when it comes to tired ideas, Democrats can't possibly compete with a Republican Party whose sole remaining bedrock principle is a tax cut theory that didn't work a quarter century ago, either.
The truth is, Democrats are increasingly eager to get out of the no-idea business and leave that turf to the Republicans. Many Democrats actually have ideas, so it has become a real burden for the party to pretend otherwise.
There has always been an inherent contradiction in the Republican rap: Democrats have no plan for the country—and it will do irreparable damage if they have the chance to carry it out. Fred Barnes captures this cognitive dissonance in the Weekly Standard: "Some Republicans insist it doesn't matter whether Democrats finally offer a party agenda. 'The question is not what they promise,' [RNC Chair Ken] Mehlman told me. 'It's what they are going to do' that is important.' "
Barnes says that Republican strategists want to make 2006, like 2004, a "choice election"—another way of saying they intend to bomb Democrats with attack ads until they can see the rubble bounce. The White House is terrified that many congressional Republicans, wary of Bush's unpopularity, have already made their choice: to run as far away from the president as possible.
Barnes does reveal one new idea on House Republicans' agenda: "legislation to bar all federal courts except the Supreme Court from ruling on the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance." Conservatives don't like judges legislating from the bench, so Republicans will do the opposite: benching from the legislature. Now that they have a reliable majority on the Supreme Court, Republicans want to send the rest of the judiciary home.
Sounds of Silence: Because they are so deeply divided on issues like immigration and fiscal discipline, Republicans have decided to avoid making the election a referendum on their agenda. Given our success with a similar strategy in recent elections, I think I can speak for most Democrats in saying to the GOP: Good luck with that.
Republicans' goal is to keep Democrats from nationalizing the midterm election. The chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Rep. Tom Reynolds, told the Post, "All politics is local." That way, Republican incumbents can reassure constituents that while they have no ideas, the agenda they don't have is designed to ignore problems at the local level.
The most remarkable assertion in the Post story was attributed to House Majority Whip Roy Blunt: "Blunt said it is more important for Democrats to produce a governing agenda because Republicans have a record to run on." Never mind that their record is what has Republicans running scared to begin with.
Democrats should seize the opportunity to put forward a new agenda for the country's sake, and their own. If the GOP wants to turn the midterms into a choice between the potential consequences of Democratic ideas and the current impact of the Bush record, that's a deal worth taking. There's a good answer to rebut the Republican charge that the Democrats' plan will run the country into the ground: You ran the country into the ground first. ... 9:46 A.M. (link)
Monday, Mar. 20, 2006
Ichiro Sí, Castro No: As Republicans abandon his sinking ship, George Bush is focusing more than ever on foreign policy, where a president has the authority to screw up without help from Congress. Today, he gave another pep talk to mark the third anniversary of the Iraq War. Tonight, he'll get briefed on his latest foreign policy setback: the World Baseball Classic final between Cuba and Japan.
The president isn't having much luck selling his message that we're winning in Iraq. In the World Baseball Classic, the White House can't even pretend to have a Plan for Victory—we already lost. Despite help from bad umpiring that went in our favor, the U.S. team lost half its games, falling to unheralded teams from Canada and Mexico. Across America, barrooms must be buzzing with debate over whether to blame immigration or NAFTA—or would be, if any Americans had been watching the games.
Bush can brush off the loss for Team USA, since most Americans are too worried about their NCAA brackets to notice. His real problem is the prospect of a Cuban victory. If Cuba defeats Japan, the fiercely anti-Castro Cuban-American community in Florida will be livid. They won't blame Ichiro—their Bronx cheers will be directed at George Bush.
Back in January, at Major League Baseball's behest, Bush personally intervened with the Treasury Department to grant the Cuban team a waiver to play in the WBC. Baseball executives were afraid that if Cuba couldn't play, other Latin American teams would boycott, and the Classic would fall apart. Scouts assured them that the young Cuban team, without a single major leaguer, would lose in the first round.
Yet again, a colossal failure of American intelligence. Cuba sailed through the first two rounds. On Saturday, the Cuban team defeated the heavily favored team from the Dominican Republic, which had an all-star lineup of two dozen major leaguers and a payroll to match the New York Yankees.
Somos Los Campeones: The cigars are out in Havana. If the Cold War had gone into extra innings, this would be Castro's finest hour. After Saturday's game, Cuba scored another public relations triumph when the translator hired by Major League Baseball refused to translate the Cuban left-fielder's post-game clichés. As the Washington Post reported, when the player said, "This is a revolutionary team. Baseball is not judged by the price of the athletes, but by the heart of the people," the translator tried to censor the comment as too political—which only made the statement a bigger story.
For those who miss Cold War rivalries, Cuba has turned the WBC into an old-timer's game. In trash-talking the other teams, the Cuban second baseman sounded like Khrushchev: "They rent themselves. We play for the love of the name across our jerseys and our cities."
Bruce Reed, who was President Clinton's domestic policy adviser, is CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council and co-author with Rahm Emanuel of The Plan: Big Ideas for Change in America.E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his disclosure here.
Photograph of George Bush on the Slate home page by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.