It’s now becoming obvious that the Congressional Republican leadership, buttressed by the institutional GOP, the White House, and most conservative media, have adopted a three-pronged strategy for minimizing the damage associated with the Abramoff scandal and related outrages:1) False Moral Equivalency: the “everybody does it” defense for GOP corruption may not be morally or intellectually respectable, but it does benefit from its consistency with the views of a large and abiding segment of the electorate, who assume absent compelling evidence to the contrary that indeed “everybody does it.” Democrats have to pound away on the unusual, unprecedented (at least since the Gilded Age) and systemic nature of Republican corruption to overcome this argument. (Tom Toles’ cartoon today is a simple and useful example of the picture we must paint). And countering this false equivalency is another powerful reason for offering a strong and comprehensive reform agenda and a new set of rules that Democrats openly ask voters to hold themselves accountable to.2) Scapegoating Hopeless Cases: The “few bad apples” defense is obviously designed to lay all the blame for GOP corruption on people who are already destined for disgrace, if not a stretch in the hoosegow. That’s what’s already happened to Abramoff, and may now be happening to Tom DeLay (though the slippery Bug Man, if he manages to get re-elected this year, should not yet be counted out, given his long-standing ability to control his colleagues without officially taking on the mantle of maximum leadership). And that’s why it’s critical for Dems to consistently draw attention not only to the many and longstanding ties between disgraced figures like Abramoff and Scanlon to the highest figures in the GOP, but to the pattern of abuse of power and money madness that suffuses the whole Republican machine. In other words, Abramoff’s follies are examples of the problem, not the problem itself.3) Embracing Minimal Reforms: The most devious strategy of all is for GOPers to suddenly proclaim themselves interested in a reform agenda of their own, as reflected by the laughable designation of Sen. Rick (K Street) Santorum as a point person for Senate Republicans on lobbying reform. And aside from deriding the hypocrisy involved in such efforts, Democrats must focus on offering reforms that Republicans cannot afford to co-opt, such as making it a federal crime to offer lobbyists access to the legislative process in exchange for partisan affiliation or campaign contributions.Contra those Democratic commentators who say we should just forget about corruption and focus on the GOP’s ideology and policy positions, I strongly believe the GOP three-pronged defense can and must be countered in ways that constantly connect corruption to the ideology and money-driven political strategy of the entire Republican Party from top to bottom. It may be the only way to batten on the powerful anti-Washington sentiment out there, while assuaging cynics that Democrats actually offer an alternative approach to governing.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
This year’s big media narrative has been the confirmation saga of Neera Tanden, Biden’s nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget. At New York I wrote about how over-heated the talk surrounding Tanden has become.
Okay, folks, this is getting ridiculous. When a vote in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on the nomination of Neera Tanden was postponed earlier this week, you would have thought it presented an existential threat to the Biden presidency. “Scrutiny over Tanden’s selection has continued to build as the story over her uneven reception on Capitol Hill stretched through the week,” said one Washington Post story. Politico Playbook suggested that if Tanden didn’t recover, the brouhaha “has the potential to be what Biden might call a BFD.” There’s been all sorts of unintentionally funny speculation about whether the White House is playing some sort of “three-dimensional chess” in its handling of the confirmation, disguising a nefarious plan B or C.
Perhaps it reflects the law of supply and demand, which requires the inflation of any bit of trouble for Biden into a crisis. After all, his Cabinet nominees have been approved by the Senate with a minimum of 56 votes; the second-lowest level of support was 64 votes. One nominee who was the subject of all sorts of initial shrieking, Tom Vilsack, was confirmed with 92 Senate votes. Meanwhile, Congress is on track to approve the largest package of legislation moved by any president since at least the Reagan budget of 1981, with a lot of the work on it being conducted quietly in both chambers. Maybe if the bill hits some sort of roadblock, or if Republican fury at HHS nominee Xavier Becerra (whose confirmation has predictably become the big fundraising and mobilization vehicle for the GOP’s very loud anti-abortion constituency) reaches a certain decibel level, Tanden can get out of the spotlight for a bit.
But what’s really unfair — and beyond that, surreal — is the extent to which this confirmation is being treated as more important than all the others combined, or indeed, as a make-or-break moment for a presidency that has barely begun. It’s not. If Tanden cannot get confirmed, the Biden administration won’t miss a beat, and I am reasonably sure she will still have a distinguished future in public affairs (though perhaps one without much of a social-media presence). And if she is confirmed, we’ll all forget about the brouhaha and begin focusing on how she does the job, which she is, by all accounts, qualified to perform.