As I have watched the Democrats' consensus position on the war in Iraq change over the last three years, my emotional response has run the full gambit from anger to horror to disgust. The anger resulted from their duplicity, when they attempted to court the anti-war vote while simultaneously defending their support for the war. As they attempted to make a dizzying array of justifications for why they should be loved by both sides of the fence, the Democrats bumbled their way to a crushing loss in 2004, which sent them all scurrying for answers.
To our very great pleasure, Jerome Armstrong has found the answer for the Democrats:
The real defeatists today are not those protesting the war. The real defeatists are those in power and their silent supporters in the opposition party who are reduced to repeating "Stay the course". Gary Hart. He's got tough medicine for the Senators that voted in favor of invading Iraq. That should be simple enough for all Democrats to agree-- that staying the course is not an option.
It is hard to decide which is better news - that Democrats are listening to Gary Hart again, or that there has never been a political party more tied to failure than the modern Democrats.
There is, of course, a sense in which the minority party automatically becomes the "opposition party." When a single party controls both chambers of Congress and the Executive branch, they will of course drive the agenda for what is happening in the country. For the Democrats at the federal level right now, there is little hope of pushing positive agenda matters through most committees right now, much less into law. So, as a matter of practicality, there are two options left to the Democrats on many issues: (1) Obstruction and (2) complaint.
What the Democrats have yet to realize (and, to be fair, it took the Republicans a long, long time to figure this out as well), is that opposition is not a winning electoral strategy. They have, with the exception of a delusional few, realized that they are, in fact, losing. However, the disaster for them is that they have determined that the solution to their losing problem is to make their opposition even more rancid. Perhaps, they have rationalized, the problem is that the American public has not yet realized just how much they hate Republicans and everything they stand for.
This kind of strategy is all well and good for riling up the base, and creating a lot of sound and fury. However, it's not so much something average Americans will latch onto. What the Donks do not realize is that the American people, by and large, are an optimistic bunch of people. Sure, we get angry sometimes, and there are moments when we are capable of despair, doom and gloom. But part of what has made America a great nation is our irrepressible optimistic spirit - our refusal to capitulate in difficult circumstances. That spirit, although arguably diminished what it was in times past, is still a large part of our national consciousness. And part of that spirit is that we don't like whiners and defeatists.
And thus the Democrats stumble unwittingly into further electoral defeat in 2006, in that they have hitched their entire wagon to defeat in Iraq, and complaint about the President's prosecution of that war. There is very little question that the public at this point is tiring of the war and that the President's numbers are suffering because of it. Mistakenly, this has led them to believe that a party of folks screaming "I told you so," at the top of their lungs can capitalize on this discontent. Perhaps, if the election were held this November, they could (even though the polling numbers are equally consistent that the Democrats are not benefiting from the President's drop in popularity). Given that the next major elections will not happen until next November, they will not.
Inbetween now and next November, a number of highly significant events are going to take place. The Iraqis are going to have a vote on ratifying their constitution. They are going to begin to get on their feet as an autonomous government. And, one way or another, some of our troops will begin to come home. Make no mistake that the Democrats are praying that exactly none of these things will happen. What they do not realize is that even if they get their wish, and the situation goes to absolute pot in Iraq - absent a positive policy vision, that will not translate into electoral wins for them.
Say what you want about Bush, or the decision to invade Iraq, or the subsequent execution of the invasion/occupation. Attempting to place a democracy in the heart of the Middle East was a grand policy vision. If this policy vision succeeds, and the Democrats continue down their path, they will have tied themselves to a large anchor and tossed that anchor into the sea. This is a risk, however, that the Democrats seem to be willing to take, given that they are absolutely confident that the vision will fail. I believe, however, given the character of the American people, that even if they are successful in their wager, they will have garnered absolutely nothing with the public, except the right to say, "I told you so."
Saying "I told you so," is satisfying for the person saying it. It's gratifying to revel in the knowledge that you were right and all others were wrong. It's also natural to trumpet your "I told you so," claim to the hilltops, making sure that absolutely everyone knows just exactly how right you were. There's only one small problem. Nobody wants to hear "I told you so." Not even folks who are sitting on the fence. It's the political equivalent of acting like a nine-year-old brat, and it will backfire.
The reaction, however, is so very tempting and so very self-satisfying that I don't think the Democrats will be able to avoid reveling in it. I don't see a Newt Gingrinch on their side who is championing the kind of positive agenda that dissatisfied voters can latch on to. Instead, the folks grabbing microphones on the other side of the aisle are folks whose only mode of communication is complaint, whose only hope is failure, and who are, moreover, genuinely unlikeable people. Howard Dean, Michael Moore and Markos Moulitsas are probably genuinely loved by their followers. The failure of the Democrats is to realize how these folks are perceived by the broader population, and further how disastrous it is to march them out before the voting public screaming, "I told you so!"
Many Republicans will remember that in the wake of the 1992 elections, in which all three branches of government were delivered to the Democrats, there were two distinct and necessary elements that led to the victory of 1994. First, you had Rush Limbaugh keeping the base fired up behind the scenes, and providing a voice for those who felt disenfranchised by the current makeup of the government. Rush even went so far as to publish a book called, "See, I Told You So." As I recall, he at one point promised that he'd release a sequel "See, I Told You So" book every year that Clinton was in office (thankfully, we were spared 8 of these books.) On the other hand, the wonkish and smiling Newt Gingrich became the public face of the party, pushing a positive agenda in the Contract with America which was at once simple to understand, popular in its principles, and daring in its scope. The Democrats these days have managed to out-Rush Rush in their scorn for the other side. Where they have failed is in locating someone who is at least marginally likeable, who has a grasp on what the American people really want (Free hint: It's not socialized health care), whom they can place before the microphones to propound a positive legislative agenda that the American people can stand behind.
What is further depressing, if you are a Democrat, is that it's hard to determine where such a person might potentially even come from. Who do they have waiting in the wings who engenders warm feelings in the average American? Harry Reid? God help us, Joe Biden? Easily their best hope was probably Harold Ford Jr., but they denied him a platform from which he could have done some real damage in favor of the immacuately coiffed and intellectually substandard Nancy Pelosi. Likewise, Barack Obama is too new to the game and has no real bully pulpit to use, at least for another 4 years.
Unless they discover a purpose, a vision, and a personality, the Democrats will be doomed to repeat the same political note over and over again - namely, tying themselves to the possibility of American failure in Iraq, or at the very least, Republican failure at home. However, they will always have a problem taking this approach: no one is inspired by someone who looks for failure, who barely contains their glee when it occurs, and who seeks to capitalize on a misfortune that affects a whole country. That is not the sort of agenda that almost anyone votes for, and it certainly isn't one that's capable of flipping a ten-seat majority.
So, here's hoping the Democrats keep taking Jerome Armstrong's advice. Given the performance of the Republicans recently, we're going to need all the help we can get.