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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Go Comparative, Democrats!

This item by Ed Kilgore was originally published on January 6, 2009.
There’s an interesting and potentially misleading theme developing in coverage of the 2010 political season: vulnerable Democrats will try to turn attention away from their record in 2009 and, in the words of a Tom Edsall post today, “make the race about the other guy.” The implication many will draw from this theme is that Democrats, having no popular positive agenda, will “go negative” on the GOP.
This is an interpretation that Democrats should fight tooth and nail. Elections are, by definition, a choice between candidates and parties. The framing that Republicans would like to impose, that the election is a “referendum” on the Obama administration or the Democratic Party, is absurd. Without any question, the administration inherited a recession, a financial crisis, a budget crisis, two wars, and a dysfunctional and gridlocked Congress, from a Republican administration. The views of Republicans as well as Democrats about what to do with that inheritence are deeply relevant to the 2010 elections. Yes, Democrats have a specific agenda to defend and explain; to the extent that Republicans have identified their own agenda, that’s on the table, too, and to the extent that they haven’t, that’s of interest to voters as well.
To the extent that Republicans have engaged in extremist rhetoric this last year, and flirted with atavistic nullification theories and race-baiting conspiracy theories concerning ACORN or the president’s credentials as an American, that needs to be pointed out. That’s not “going negative” or “changing the subject;” it’s a matter of presenting the actual choices, which are not “the status quo” and “something better” but one party and the other, and one candidate or the other.
Another relevant issue is what will happen to the country’s interests in the immediate future if a violently obstructionist GOP is strengthened this November. Will Americans welcome two years of partisan conflict and inaction? Are they prepared to resolve the problem by electing any of the currently available Republican leaders their president in 2012?
These questions are all necessary, if not entirely sufficient, to a Democratic message for 2010. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, Democrats.

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