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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

TDS Co-Editor William Galston Outlines Dem Battle Plan for 2010

In his latest article at The New Republic, TDS Co-Editor William Galston surveys the chaotic political realities of the moment, warns of serious hazards ahead and charts a path for Dems looking toward the 2010 elections. Here’s Galston on the daunting challenges of this political moment:

When the history of the Obama administration is written, this week may well be regarded as the moment when Democrats’ anxieties crystallized into genuine alarm. Factional fights within the party exploded into public view. Howard Dean—regarded by many progressives as a leader on health reform—denounced the Senate bill, declaring that it “would do more harm than good to the future of America.” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi made it clear that the Obama administration would be left on its own to make the case for its Afghanistan policy; odds are that a large number of House Democrats—perhaps even a majority—will oppose funding it. Thirty-eight House Democrats, many facing tough races, joined forces with the Republicans to turn the vote on a new jobs bill into a cliff-hanger that forced the Speaker to spend an hour on the House floor personally lobbying wavering members. Even E. J. Dionne Jr., an ardent liberal and congenital optimist, worried publicly that while “[a]n increasingly bitter and negative Republican Party may not be able to win the midterm elections … Democrats definitely can lose them.” The reason: Democrats’ “turmoil and backstabbing are making what is a rather good [health care] plan look like a failure while persuading political independents that they are a feuding gang rather than a governing party.”

Galston goes on to cite discouraging poll figures regarding the country’s direction, confidence in President Obama’s goals and policies, ratings of congress and feelings about the Democratic Party, among other concerns. He notes parenthetically, however that the “Democrat’s only consolation is that Republican leaders receive even lower ratings.”
Galston then offers some specific strategy suggestions, including:

Get health care done as quickly as possible. The House should recognize that any Senate bill that can garner 60 votes is likely the only bill that can do so. Logic suggests that the best course would simply be for the House to pass the Senate bill, avoiding a useless and time wasting conference.
Pivot hard toward the economy and jobs, and keep the focus there throughout 2010. That means keeping divisive issues—such as immigration and cap-and-trade—off next year’s legislative agenda. It also means more action—such as expanding the flow of credit to small business—to promote job creation in the private sector.
Acknowledge that public concern about spending, deficits, and debt is high and rising. That doesn’t mean turning toward fiscal restraint next year, while the economy remains fragile. It does mean endorsing the creation of a bipartisan fiscal commission—along the lines of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission—with the power to make recommendations after the mid-term elections to which Congress would be required to respond early in 2011.

“Beyond these specifics, ” Galston adds, “Democrats will have to shift their mindset and recalibrate the balance between stability and change. He adds that what Americans wanted most in ’08 was “getting rid of the Bush-Cheney administration. (The NBC/WSJ poll shows that they remain the two least respected public officials of the past decade.)” Now, however, “They want their government to be a rock of security in uncertain times…They want reassurance, jobs, and temporary assistance until they can find them, not a new New Deal. They will accept sensible change in measured increments, but not pell-mell and all at once.”
Tough advice from an experienced Democratic warrior — and it merits serious consideration from Party strategists.

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