Sunday, March 26, 2006

Democrats: Duck Duck Dodos

Ari Berman reports in the The Nation, "On the advice of top party consultants, the Democrats in the run-up to the 2006 midterm vote are either ignoring Iraq and shifting to domestic issues (the strategy in the 2002 midterm elections) or supporting the war while criticizing Bush's handling of it (the strategy in the 2004 presidential election)."

The political problem with this, according to Berman, is that: "Fiddling while Iraq burns will likely only reinforce Republican stereotypes of Democrats as calculating, gutless and unable to develop a strong and sensible foreign policy that will protect Americans in a post-9/11 world."

For months the Democrats have resisted calls from their liberal base to more aggressively challenge President Bush. Now a maverick Democratic senator from Wisconsin has forced his party and Congress to confront head-on the question of whether Bush should somehow be punished for secretly ordering warrantless wiretaps of U.S. citizens.

Wisconsin Senator Russell Feingold accused fellow Democrats of cowering rather than joining him on trying to censure President Bush over domestic spying. "Democrats run and hide" when the administration invokes the war on terrorism, Feingold told reporters.

William Greider of The Nation describes Feingold as a peculiar politician: an "embarrassment to the US Senate, which makes him an authentic hero of the Republic. The Wisconsin senator gets up and says out loud what half of the country is thinking and talks about every day. This President broke the law and lied about it; he trashed the Constitution and hides himself in the flag. Feingold asks: Shouldn't the Senate say something about this, at least express our disapproval? He introduces a resolution of censure and calls for debate."

At the same time that Democrats are sensing missed opportunities, describing a growing sense that they have failed to take full advantage of the troubles that have plagued BushCo since mid last year, they are running from Feingold like a bunch of scared banshees.

Ironically, while denegrating those who talk up censure and impeachment, Republicans seem to be defecting from the Bush camp faster than the Dems can run from Feingold. GOP irritation at Bush, it seems, has been long bubbling just beneath the surface.

So what exactly is going on here? For the Democrats, it's business as usual--reactive vs. proactive behavior--in other words, a gross lack of leadership. Their fear? That Republicans will make good on their threat to turn liberals' call to impeach or censure Bush into a new rallying cry to Bush's base.

How likely is such a strategy to succeed? In this writer's opinion, not very. Certainly it will appeal to the diehards who defend Bush no matter what outrageous thing he does or says. But, according to recent polls, more and more Republicans are not only disapproving of Bush's policies, but rapidly jumping ship.

What will assure the Republican's of success, ironically, is the Democrats themselves, by living up to the Republicans' depiction of them as weak and offering no proactive alternatives. The Democrats are coining their very own definition of stupidity: If you want to win elections, keep on doing exactly what you did to lose the last two elections.

Voters--regardless of party affiliation--tend to respect and respond to decisive, moral leadership--something sorely lacking in most Democratic and Republican politicians today. It was strong leadership and decisiveness, after all, that was the ballyhoo of Bush's success--until the lies, secrecy and incompetence of his administration negated all else.

When a leader, such as Russ Feingold, arrives on the scene, votes and speaks his heart and conscience, regardless of the political consequences, it behooves voters to sit up and pay attention. Moral Leadership doesn't come around often these days. Opponents will try to dismiss someone like Feingold as a "maverick" or an "opportunist," but the truth is, he is one of the very few sticking his neck out to do what is right, when everyone around him is burying his head in the sand.

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