VandeHei/Harris Recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the Culture of Caution

by: Mike Lux

Wed Sep 19, 2007 at 10:53


Amazing quote from a Jim VandeHei/John Harris article in The Politico:

For the past couple of decades, the most successful national Democrats have been practitioners of defensive politics. These candidates practiced the politics of reassurance- letting independent voters know that they were not as secular, not as dovish, not as socially liberal as the popular perception of national Democrats.

What an amazing summation of the D.C. conventional wisdom culture of caution that the Democratic Party has been practicing. This statement's fundamental assumption is wrong at its core, in many different ways. Here are a few:

-Campaigns are won by going on offense and making your opponent play on your turf. While Clinton, who VandeHei/Harris cite as the ultimate defensive Democrat, inoculated himself on some social issues in 1992, he won by aggressively, consistently and forcefully calling for change- and by keeping the debate focused on "the economy, stupid."

-You don't build long-term majorities or govern by playing defense: you have to actually deliver on issues and produce tangible things for voters.

-The campaigns that tended to win last year were the aggressive, populist outsider campaigns. Sherrod Brown, Jon Tester, and Jim Webb each upset their opponents by running those kinds of campaigns, while Harold Ford played defense and lost. In Pennsylvania, establishment defender Lois Murphy lost while aggressor Patrick Murphy won. In Kentucky, establishment defender Ken Lucas lost while populist aggressor John Yarmuth won.

-Defensive politics on the war and FISA put Democratic congressional approval ratings in the toilet. When they were passing a bill to take us out of Iraq, their ratings were 40 points higher.

I have no problems if candidates want to inoculate themselves by carefully framing controversial issues, but it is a loser mentality to play defensive politics. Democrats, stop listening to the VandeHeises and the Harrises of the world, and get rid of the culture of caution.

Mike Lux :: VandeHei/Harris Recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the Culture of Caution

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It comes from the Politico .. (0.00 / 0)
which is a right wing rag in a love fest with Drudge.  Not only that, but they are Beltway people.  If Reid and Pelosi are listening to these two clowns then they deserve the approval ratings in the toilet.  Did VanderHei and Harris say where they come up with their hypothesis?  I don't want to give them traffic.

One or two points (0.00 / 0)
I'm not quite sure how Clinton's campaigns for AR governor are particularly relevant!

His skill as prez campaigner, surely, was to take the offensive even if the cause he was supporting wasn't that radical. Everyone loves to see their champion being unafraid to mix it with the opposition.

They haven't been seeing too much of that from the Dem Congressional leaderships!

On Reid, the journos have a point in talking about some occasional shoot-from-the-hip rhetorical outbursts: we had the secret session in November 05, for instance, that led precisely nowhere.

But no Congressional leader with as feeble a majority as the Dems enjoy in each house can be expected to do too much. Even with the (as yet) mythical 60, he can't expect to vote all his guys every time. And the more guys he has on the payroll, the more conservative the marginal guy is likely to be.

Assume a Dem incumbent in 09 and then you're talking. But not as volubly as some lefty spheroids may like.


Oh, Please! This is GARBAGE! (4.00 / 1)
> But no Congressional leader with as feeble
> a majority as the Dems enjoy in each house
> can be expected to do too much.

The Democrats have virtually the same House majority that the GOP had in 1995-96.

The Republicans had precisely 52 Senators at the time.

But the dominant narrative for about 6 months after the 1994 midterms was whether Clinton was irrelevant.

Not only was there no talk about how powerless the GOP was to get its agenda passed, the Congress took the unprecedented step of reopening the budget that had already been passed.

This has nothing to do with congressional majorities, and everything to do with the hegemony of rightwing elites, and their institutional stranglehold on Versailles.

More MoveOn ads please!  The whole rotten system has betrayed America for years.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
One or two points (0.00 / 0)
First, what had the 104th actually done by this stage (ie, September 95), in terms of legislation placed on Clinton's desk? Not a lot, so far as I can recall.

Plus we still had that boffo government shutdown to come...

Second, the GOP came into the 104th as youngish guys who had had nothing to lose, couldn't remember majority status, willing to try anything.

While the current bunch of senior Dem MCs (sez me) behave like 2006 was some kind of restoration of a Dem monarchy after a dozen years of usurpation that they will strain every sinew not to repeat.

Not only are these guys temperamentally unsuited to a Gingrich-style approach, but - frankly, that approach didn't work out so good even for the GOP Young Turks.

They needed the final stages of the unraveling of the Solid South to make up for the losses they suffered in the North in 96 on account of (amongst other things) their adventurism.

And, in 96, Clinton didn't do too bad out of their gung-ho antics, either.


[ Parent ]
Not So Fast... (0.00 / 0)
Some interesting, if debatable points, but all ultimately irrelevant to my original point:  There's nothing inherently feeble about the majorities that the Dems have.

Just because Gingrich was a narcissistic megalomaniac who mistook himself for Napoleon didn't mean he was powerless as a leader--just dreadfully misguided and (thankfully!) self-destructive.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
'Feeble' is relative (0.00 / 0)
Relative to the personnel in the maj parties in each house, the sort of prez they're dealing with - and also what activities you're talking about.

I had in mind the ability to see a legislative program through to enactment.  For this purpose, with the personnel that we have at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, the majorities that the Dems have are feeble.

For an all-out program of investigations and refusing to send Bush an Iraq funding bill, say, the Dems' majorities would have been perfectly adequate - but personnel would still have been a problem. (The current roster wouldn't have touched such a scheme with a ten foot pole.)

Which would be a reason for trying to change some of the personnel...


[ Parent ]
No, You're Still Wrong (0.00 / 0)
It's NOT the majorities inside the Congress.  It's the culture of Versailles that has, for example, normalized the practice of fillibustering, as this chart by McClatchy from July shows:

The point has been made with increasing frequency of late that the Democrats should be challenging this practice and make the GOP pay a price for pursuing it.  Doing this would not require anything extraoridnary from the personnel the Democrats have.  It would merely require a determination to actually fight.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Depends on the definition of "successful Democrat" (4.00 / 2)
I contribute money and time to the party NOT because I'm interested in helping individual politicians win elections and have careers as officeholders.  Quite a few people in DC seem to have "winning" as their only goal, and they've developed a rather intense feeling of entitlement to go along with that short-term focus.

I've got nothing against "winning", of course, but it's not an end in itself for the vast majority of us--nor should it be for anyone with a sense of ethical responsibility regarding the future of our country and world.

What's particularly frustrating, as you point out, Mike, is that in the current political environment the inherent conflict between principle and strategy is minimal to non-existent.  If they don't step up and stand for something, the Dems are going to squander both their opportunity to lead the country in the right direction and their chance to "win" big.


Well said. (0.00 / 0)
I guess that we'll get a chance to test the theories in 2008.  I am fired up to start the game.

By the way - did I mention that I'm running for president?

VandeHei and Harris - Talk about out of touch! (0.00 / 0)
I respect these guys somewhat as reporters and they have a lot of people who listen to what they say and write seriously, but all too often they write things like this, which make them sound like they just have their heads up their ass!  Both of you guys need to get out of D.C. for two seconds and stop listening to your own BS.  Below is an article from today's DailyKos that shows precisely what's wrong with this entire analysis.

Stuck in the wrong decade at the Politico Hotlist
by kos
Wed Sep 19, 2007 at 08:42:51 AM PDT

Politico:

  But [Democratic activists] do express concern that, in his efforts to build a larger majority, Reid might pull back from fights over gay marriage, abortion rights, gun control and spending on social programs.

Memo to Jim VandeHei and John Harris: this is 2007, not 1992.

The gay marriage fight is currently being waged at the state level. The only federal role in that debate is to prevent an anti-gay marriage amendment to the Constitution and all Democrats have to do to prevent that is bottle up the legislation in committee. Indeed, Rep. Musgrave didn't even bother to go through her annual ritual of introducing that Hate Amendment. There is no "gay marriage" fight going on at the federal level, so it's nothing Reid has to worry about.

Gun control is dead at the federal level. There's nothing happening on that front, and nothing will. What abortion fight is currently in the Senate?

And "spending on social programs" means what, exactly? Yes, there's a desire to fund the programs Democrats care about as opposed to the programs Republicans care about. Don't forget that Bush presided over the largest expansion of our government since FDR LBJ (and you throw out defense and homeland security spending, and Bush is second only to Nixon, with LBJ coming in third). So yeah, this one is a "concern", but one so vague and universal as to be pretty meaningless in the context of that article.

If VandeHei and Harris wanted to update that paragraph to reflect the proper decade we happen to live in, it would've read like this:

  But [Democratic activists] do express concern that, in his efforts to build a larger majority, Reid might pull back from fights over habeas corpus, electoral reform, global warming, domestic spying, rescinding Bush's tax cuts, and the undue politicization of the Justice Department, EPA, and other government agencies.

But I guess we're stuck with the political press we have, not the one we wish we had.


Re: Delivering (0.00 / 0)
-You don't build long-term majorities or govern by playing defense: you have to actually deliver on issues and produce tangible things for voters.

Ok but what have the Fundies gotten from the GOP? Abortion is still legal and FOX still shows soft-core porn.

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