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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Here’s a little pop test, folks. Read over this assessment of the country’s condition, and venture a guess at its provenance:

America is in danger. Our ability to meet and solve the problems that face us is seriously compromised. National surveys reveal that an unprecedented seven out of ten citizens believe that life for our children will not be as good as their own. We are headed in the wrong direction. We share their deep concern and frustration. Our nation is indeed at risk.
–Approval for the United States around the world has dropped to historically low levels, with only one out of four people approving of our country’s actions, even in nations that are our longtime allies.
–We have eroded America’s credibility and capacity to lead on urgent global and foreign policy issues, including terrrorism, nuclear profileration, climate change, and regional instabilities.
–Our budget and trade deficits are out of control. We are squandering our children’s future. The ominous transfer of our national wealth has made our economy vulnerable, and our economic strength and competitiveness are both declining. Middle-income Americans are struggling to keep their homes and jobs and educate their children.
–We are not as secure as we should be. Our military is stretched thin and our nation remains vulnerabvle to catrostrophic terrorism.”
–We are being held economically hostage because we have no energy policy worthy of the name.
–Our educational system is failing to prepare our children to succeed in a globalized and technological world.
–Nearly 50 miillion Americans remain without health insurance, and the cost of medical care continues to spiral.
–The failures of bridges in Minnesota, and levees in New Orleans are harsh metaphors for the reckless neglect of our infrastructure.

Sounds like, say, every Democratic presidential candidate, wouldn’t you say? I certainly haven’t heard many Republicans talk this way. So this “wrong track” preroration would logically lead to a call for a Democratic president and Congress in November, right?
Wrong. Here’s the next passage in this statement:

These critical issues are uniquely interlocked and we must have a national strategy and priotiorization of resources. We are failing to address them because rampant partisanship has paralyzed the ability of our government to act. If we allow polarizing politics to continue, we will remain a nation divided and no matter who is elected this fall, he or she will not have a mandate for governing. Too many in both our parties have sought to energize their bases instead of reaching out to address the issues that concern our nation as a whole. They appeal to extremes and marginalize those in the commonsense center.
In order to break this partisan impasse, we urge the presidential candidates to provide:
–clear descriptions of how they would establish a government of national unity
–specific strategies for reducing polarization and reaching bipartisan consensus
–plans to go beyond tokenism to appoint a truly bipartisan cabinet with critical posts held by the most qualified people available regardless of political affiliation
–proposals for bipartisan executive and legislative policy groups in critical areas such as national security.

If you haven’t guessed it by now, these quotations are from a “bipartisan unity statement” read aloud by my former boss Sam Nunn at the conclusion of a confab in Oklahoma yesterday designed to threaten both parties with an indie presidential run, probably by the leading non-candidate candidate Michael Bloomberg, unless they improbably agree to build some sort of Government of National Salvation upon winning the White House.
Some people might read the Nunn statement and think it sounds like Barack Obama. But whereas Obama pledges to reach across partisan lines, and outside them as well, to build support for a progressive agenda, he’s not talking about abandoning his party and sharing power directly with people who don’t share his (or Nunn’s) assessment of the challenges facing America, and who would oppose any progressive agenda with every political weapon available. Best I can tell, Obama’s offering an extended hand to the GOP that he’s willing to make into a fist. And his argument with some in the Democratic Party, most notably John Edwards, over how to enact progressive policies, mainly reflects differences of opinion on how to marshal public opinion to reverse most of the GOP policies of the Bush era.
I know Nunn well enough to believe he’s sincere in the desire to go back to the days when Democrats and Republicans truly cooperated on matters of urgent national importance, particularly in the defense arena. But Nunn left Congress in 1997, and had limited experience with the savage partisanship, ideological extremism, and money-lust that has come to characterize the party primarily responsible for the conditions he deplores.
The same year Nunn retired, Bob Dole gave up his Senate leadership post to run for president, and delivered a highly emotional speech touting the bipartisan traditions of the Senate (a speech that was broadly panned by conservatives, BTW). Dole was clearly living in the past, and today Sam Nunn and his Bipartisan Junta colleagues are living in the distant past. It’s revealing that the Republicans involved in this effort are, frankly, a bunch of marginal has-beens, plus one heretic (Chuck Hagel). Today’s GOP is totally uninterested in power-sharing unless it’s on their own terms, and there are no alternatives. And no one who agrees with the Bipartisan Junta’s bleak diagnosis of America’s condition should succumb to its prescription, which would, ironically, perpetuate partisan gridlock for the foreseeable future and thwart any genuine movement for change, which now depends on Democrats.

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