Friday, March 10, 2006

A bird in the head is worth two in a bush.

Jacob Weiberg's inane piece in Slate on "The Three Stooges" of Pelosi, Reid and Dean has already been eviscerated by better than myself but I do find myself in agreement with one small portion of his screed. He writes "...But Democrats do not have a charismatic schemer like Newt Gingrich to lead the way. Instead, they have Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Howard Dean." Except for the "charismatic" reference to Newt (ick) the leadership of the Democratic party is laying the groundwork for a pending defeat from the jaws of victory of epic proportions in the 2006 mid-terms. This defeat won't come because Democratic leaders like Pelosi are too liberal ("...Washington's answer to Barbra Streisand") or because Dean's too angry ("...what he stands for in the minds of most people is incandescent rage and upscale socialism") but because they aren't too anything. They don't stand for a damn thing.

Matt Stoller on MyDD nailed the problem in a take-down of Pelosi's House Democratic Caucus:

A few weeks ago, Representative Louise Slaughter came out with a report called 'America for Sale' on the cost of Republican corruption. The link is no longer working, and I'll explain why in the next paragraph. The report itself was well done, and actually quantified the cost to taxpayers of what has been so obvious for so long, the looting of America by corrupted elites. The report elicited attacks from Republicans, who smeared Slaughter with charges that writing the report itself was an unethical use of taxpayer funds. Now, Louise Slaughter is a member of the House Rules Committee, so documenting the costs of corruption was completely reasonable. What is truly remarkable is that not one Democratic member stood by her. Not one issued a statement. No one from the progressive caucus - most of whom are in safe seats - came forward public to stand by their colleague. I'm sure there were pats on the back in private, but then, that's kind of the point.

And now, in a final insult, the report was removed from Pelosi's leader web site, apparently because of worries that the Republicans will file ethics charges against Pelosi for hosting it (it supposedly violates House Franking rules, which are incoherent and a huge mess and part of the tyranny of Republican rule in the House). Enough is enough. Whoever made the boneheaded decision in Pelosi's office is just out of touch. Leaders serious about ending corruption do not hang out to dry members who stand up against the looting of the country. Leaders serious about governing and wielding power do not scurry in hiding every time Republicans talk about ethics. They do not try to obey arbitrary incoherent rules that are written by Republicans and broken by the other side at will.

If Democrats win in 2006 (which is quite uncertain), Pelosi does not sound like she can do what is necessary to save this country. She acts like a small-minded summer camp councelor for spoiled Democratic members, and unless we are vigilant and aggressive this mindset is going to carry on over to whatever gains we make in 2006. Right now, there's this half-joke among Congresscritters that members don't speak in caucus meetings without first thanking everyone in the room. Members waste each others' time. Staffers are kept out of the loop, and lie to each other in vicious and pointless turf wars where the only goal is to get better offices. This diseased culture comes from years of being smacked around by Republicans, with little indignities like Republican Committee staffers getting better Blackberries and big indignities like Republicans changing rules whenever it suits them. The way to reverse this culture is to have leaders who do not back down.

There's something to be said for tradional political strategy best embodied by the phrase "giving one's opponent just enough rope to hang themselves." But if this is the strategy that Reid and Pelosi (I'll leave out Dean for the moment) are hoping will carry the party to victory this year then they really are on an extended trip to candyland with a stopover in leprechaun city. As has been demonstrated time and time again; if you give Karl Rove enough rope he'll use it to fashion a giant ropey weapon thing (I'm currently at a loss for metaphors) and beat you over the head with it. Not only have the leadership of the party blown signifigant political opportunities on issues like the Dubai ports deal or the NSA spying scandal but it's becoming clearer and clearer that the administration will move on Iran sometime this year and Pelosi and Reid had better get out in front of that or risk getting steamrolled yet again.

If they're not too busy spinning on the floor going "woo, woo, woo, woo, woo" and poking each other in the eyes, that is.


Don Snabulus said...

I am concerned that the bumbling, incompetence, and circular firing squads of the DLC, etc. might be feigned. Clinton and Gore are both heavily invested in the energy and defense industries that have warped our economy and government beyond all recognition. I tend to think that the bad money is in the pockets of all of them.

I think back to the little fires of hope from Howard Dean and John Kerry in 2004 right before they either did something stupid or walked into an ambush of some variety and did so little to fight it afterward.

Even the Green Party is not above shooting themselves in the foot whenever they are in danger of competing in a race.

Something weird is going on. How can a group of people be pretty good at organizing and running a country, but so bad at organizing and running an election? I'm not sure, but I think it is the same pattern that brought us some polarized issue to talk about every time people started thinking too much about the important stuff (see terror alerts, Terry Schiavo, Dubai Ports, Gay Marriage, Abortion laws, Harriet Myers, repeat, repeat...).

Please pardon my cynicism.

Dean Wormer said...


I think there's a lot to what you say. Probably a large part of the grassroots frustration with party leaders is the perpetual repetition of strategies that fail. It only takes a child one time putting their hand in the flame to get that's not such a good idea. The leadership of the Democratic party keep putting their hands in the flame, crying "ouch" and repeating.

Were Kerry and Dean undone by their own actions? To an extent I think that's true. The one, seminal thing that killed the Dean campaign was the "YEARRGGGHH!!!" moment which led to the charges of him being mentally unstable (a meme that exists still today.) Yet we find out afterwards that he was yelling in order to be heard in a crowded hall.

I'm not sure what else Dean could of done to stop that frame but the Democrats could have done something, especially Kerry. Even though Dean was a political opponent they should have recognized the frame that was building around the "scream" and rushed to his defense. They didn't.

As for Kerry I'd be inclined to believe he threw the election except I just can't get that first debate with Bush he had out of my head. I remember watching the whole thing and thinking how could any rational human being vote for that nattering bundle of idiocy over the obviously intelligen Kerry. Kerry cut Bush to ribbons in that debate.

But the rest of his campaign, yech. Failling to adequately deal with the Swift Boat thingy was inexcusable. He should've been in Bush's face over that and he just let it pass.

Perhaps the skills it takes to run a successful political campaign and the skills it takes to run an effective government are mutually exclusive...

Don Snabulus said...

I'm with you on all that though I saw more lampooning of the Dean Scream on the left than the right (esp. Atrios for some reason).

Perhaps the skills it takes to run a successful political campaign and the skills it takes to run an effective government are mutually exclusive...

I think that is the main point and source for hope. A political race deals very rarely with reality (as the Swift Boat Liars so deftly illustrated) whereas running a good government requires a tremendous and complex grasp of reality.

Given the warlike rhetoric out of Hilary Clinton (to the point where I won't vote for her) and Joe Lieberman, perhaps the element of intentionalness may lie with the DLC rather than the party as a whole. They've shot down a couple of progressive veterans in elections already and are hampering other progressives. It might be that those people need to be cleaned out of the party before it can become what we want it to (I oddly say that as someone who will likely remain an independent).

That will require patience as the "enemy within" will take time to remove before the "enemy without" can be engaged. That means more corporate welfare queens and reverse Robin Hood wealth redistribution before it can be set right again. Most of all, it requires a strategy to effectively marginalize the monied DLC without completely splitting the party.

Let's hope somebody has figured this out.