E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s March 7 WaPo column “The Democrats’ Real Problem” puts some needed perspective on all the hand-ringing about the Democrats’ supposed lack of a coherent message:
The stories about the Democrats are by no means flatly false — Democrats don’t yet have a fully worked-out alternative program — but they are based on a false premise, and they underestimate what I’ll call the positive power of negative thinking.
The false premise is that oppositions win midterm elections by offering a clear program, such as the Republicans’ 1994 Contract With America. I’ve been testing this idea with such architects of the 1994 “Republican revolution” as former representative Vin Weber and Tony Blankley, who was Newt Gingrich’s top communications adviser and now edits the Washington Times editorial page.
Both said the main contribution of the contract was to give inexperienced Republican candidates something to say once the political tide started moving the GOP’s way. But both insisted that it was disaffection with Bill Clinton, not the contract, that created the Republicans’ opportunity — something Bob Dole said at the time.
Dionne offers Dems a reality check worth considering:
The Democrats’ real problem is that they have failed to show how their critique of the Republican status quo is the essential first step toward the alternative program they will owe the voters in the presidential year of 2008…the shortcoming of Democratic leaders is not that they don’t have a program but that they have not yet convinced opinion makers that fighting bad policies is actually constructive — and that, between presidential elections, keeping matters from getting worse is sometimes the most positive alternative on offer.
Dems will do fine in ’06 and ’08, if we make it clear that the Democratic Party stands for competence and honesty in government, peace, human rights and economic progress for working people — in stark contrast to the GOP’s deepening Iraq quagmire and lengthening record of corruption and incompetence.