washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ruy Teixeira’s Donkey Rising

This Is the Democrats’ Brain on Drugs

We’re getting closer and closer to passage of a bill providing a prescription drug benefit for Medicare. If it does pass and is signed by Bush, which seems likely, who stands to benefit politically? Will it open the door to privatization of Medicare (still Bush’s stated goal), while providing him with that compassionate conservative cover he so desperately wants going into next year’s election? Or, by providing a large new entitlement, does it play into the Democrats’ strength, who will then seek to expand and shore up the benefit, while criticizing Republicans mercilessly for standing in the way and having a secret agenda of privatization?
At this point, no consensus has emerged. Indeed, Democrats are all over the map on this one, as E.J. Dionne discusses in his most recent column. And The New York Times today covers conservative opposition within Congress to the bill, showing that Republicans are not completely united either.
DR suspects Bob Kuttner may have it right in his most recent column where he dismisses the doomsday scenarios of some liberals about the bill and its politics. He argues that, short of a truly horrendous bill, the issue will be “pay dirt” for Democrats in the future, because they can “expose its limitations, vote for it and pledge to improve it”. And the Democrats, of course, can still run against Medicare privatization, which continues to be vigorously opposed by the public, as shown by a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll on Medicare reform and prescription drugs.
And there may be another, hidden benefit. The passage of the bill makes it much less likely that Democrats will make prescription drugs central to the 2004 campaign, in the way they have in the last several elections. That’s a good thing, since it will force them to think creatively about other issues like the economy and education, instead of taking refuge in the matra: “prescription drugs for seniors”. And they’re going to need all the creative thinking they can get, if they hope to beat the Republicans in 2004 and beyond.

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men….

A front-page article in The Washington Post by Dan Balz details the ideas the GOP has for turning 2004 into a realigning election for their side. Perhaps “details” is too strong a term for mostly the article alludes vaguely to the Republicans’ plans for picking off from Democratic-leaning constituencies–Latinos, “security moms”, white unionists, etc.–while keeping their base mobilized. The devil’s in the details on this one and the article doesn’t do a lot of heavy lifting in explaining with any precision how exactly this is going to be done. In fact, there are good reasons for thinking a lot of the GOP’s plans –like, for example, their plans to reach Latinos (see the last several posts of Donkey Rising) or security moms–may encounter quite a bit of difficulty.
Less controversial is the GOP’s apparent intent of “maximizing the advantages of the war on terrorism”. That’s been quite successful and they certainly have been willing to stop at nothing to press that advantage. But is it starting to unravel? Another front-page article in The Washington Post reveals that the President’s claim of definite Iraq-Al Qaeda links in October was contradicted by important intelligence reports available at the time. And another article reports that Hans Blix, the former chief UN weapons inspector is now inclined to believe that that Iraq may have had little more than “debris” from their old secret weapons programs at the time the US invaded.
Will the accumulation of doubt combine with domestic discontent to finally drag down Bush’s personal popularity–the other seemingly solid part of the GOP strategy described by Balz? (Ralph Reed is quoted in the article as saying the parties are basically at parity, but the Republicans have George W. Bush.) Maybe it already is. According to a just released poll from Ipsos-Reid, more Americans think the country is on the wrong track, rather than going in the right direction, for the first time since before the Iraq war. And Bush’s job approval rating has slipped below 60 percent, again for the first time since before the Iraq war. Moreover, Bush’s hard re-elect number (those who would definitely vote for him) is down to just 40 percent, with 32 percent saying they would definitely vote for someone else (26 percent say they would consider voting for someone else). Finally, the poll gives the Democrats a 7 point advantage in the generic Congressional ballot. We’ll have to wait and see if these trends are confirmed by other polls, but it suggests that rather than forging realignment in the next election, the GOP may be doing well simply to squeak out a win.

More on Hispanics

In yesterday’s post, DR discussed the latest news from the Census Bureau about rapid Hispanic population growth and reviewed some of the public opinion and voting data that suggest this growth is a considerable boon for the Democrats.
Today, DR focuses on a very recent poll of Hispanics (by Bendixen and Associates for the New Democrat Network) that supports this case. According to this late May/early June poll, a generic Democratic nominee now runs 14 points ahead of Bush among Hispanics nationwide (48 percent to 34 percent). Considering that a generic Democratic nominee is currently running an average of 10 points behind among all voters that’s pretty darn good. In fact, it relicates the gap between Hispanic and overall voter Democratic support that we saw in the 2000 election. So much for Bush’s “magic” with Hispanic voters.
The top three issues among Hispanics are education (31 percent), jobs and the economy (29 percent) and health care (10 percent). Democrats, please note the very high priority accorded to education, an issue that most of the party’s candidates seem determined to ignore. DR continues not to understand this.
Moreover, Hispanics’ stance on the education issue seems tailor-made for Democrats. The poll asked Hispanics which kind of candidate they preferred–one who say we need to spend more money on public education to build new schools, modernize old schools, reduce class sizes and pay higher salaries or one who says we do not need to spend more money of public education and feels it is more important to focus on teacher accountability, enforce student discipline, emphasize school performance and improve students test scores. By an overwhelming 62 percent to 34 percent margin, Hispanic voters selected the first, education spending-oriented candidate.
The poll also finds that Hispanics believe, by 50 points, that Bush has not kept his promise to make Latin America one of his foreign policy priorities. Hispanics also believe, by 27 points, that it is the GOP, not the Democrats, who have been the party that has blocked many Latinos from being appointed to government positions. So much for the Estrada nomination as a GOP wedge issue with Hispanics.

More on the WMDs

Yesterday, DR gave a strenuous endorsement to John Judis’ and Spencer Ackerman’s mind-blowing expose of administration duplicity on the WMDs. If you haven’t read it yet, go and do so right now.
And, while you’re at it, here are some other recommendations. Jake Tapper in Salon.com has a nice run-down of how the administration’s rhetoric on Iraq evolved from halfway reasonable to cloud-cuckoo land over the year prior to the Iraq invasion. Also in Salon.com, Michelle Goldberg has a useful discussion of the “why don’t Americans seem to care about the missing WMDs?” issue, with citations to some of the key public opinion data. And Robert Dreyfuss, in the latest issue of The Nation, has an expose of yet another intelligence blunder: the failure to prepare an intelligence evaluation of what a post-Saddam Iraq might actually look like (as opposed to what Rumsfeld et. al. wanted it to look like). As the current chaotic situation continues, and US casualties mount, this particular failure could have serious political consequences for the Bushies.
The day also brings polling news that suggest the unsettled Iraq situation and missing WMDs are starting to take the shine off of Bush’s glossy approval ratings on foreign policy issues. According to the Gallup poll, his approval rating is down 7 points on the Middle East Situation, down 10 points on foreign affairs and down 13 points on the situation with Iraq.
In further signs of deterioration in the administration’s position, a Fox News poll finds an 11 point decline in those believing going to war with Iraq has been worth it. And the same poll finds the public split between those who believe either Bush or the intelligence agencies or both exaggerated the dangers of Iraq’s WMDs and those who believe there were not such exaggerations.

WMDs? We Don’ Need No Stinkin’ WMDs!

That seems to be the attitude of the Bush administration and its acolytes these days, as they scramble to escape the inconvenient facts that we can’t find any and that they cooked the data to justify the invastion in the first place. As reported yesterday in The New York Times, Republicans are avoiding the whole issue of the WMDs (“what, you thought we were serious about that WMD stuff!”) and shifting justification for the invasion almost entirely to Saddam Was a Murderous Thug and The Iraqi People Are Free. As Republican spin-meister Frank Luntz put it: “We may have gone to war because of weapons of mass destruction, but we have made our conclusions based on the reaction of the Iraqi people…Do we feel good about ourselves? Absolutely.”
Speak for yourself, buddy. And you better hope you’re right that Americans not only don’t care about the missing WMDs, but don’t mind being lied to either, because the case for conscious deception about Iraq’s WMDs grows stronger with every passing day. In fact, John Judis’ and Spencer Ackerman’s lengthy and copiously-documented article in The New Republic today really blows the lid off of the purposive manipulations of intelligence, and outright lies, that were used to sell the Iraqi war to the American people.
DR doesn’t see how any reasonably fair-minded individual could read this article and deny that the Bushies wanted to go to war and basically lied their little rear ends off to get us to do so. There was no Iraq-Al Qaeda connection. There was no Iraqi nuclear weapons program worthy of the name. There was no imminent threat that justified immediate military action.
It’s here in all its appalling glory. The phony Niger uranium purchases. The bogus centrifuge tubes story. The trumped-up Iraq-Al Qaeda connections. The administration’s shameless use of these fanciful stories to manipulate public opinion. And, above all, the spiked and re-spiked intelligence that would have exposed all this nonsense.
Howard Dean asked: “What did they know and when did they know it”. The answers are clear: “A lot” and “Quite a while ago”. Uncomfortably, it also appears to be the case that Dean’s question applies to Democratic Presidential candidates like Gephardt, Edwards, Lieberman and Kerry who are now acting like they’re shocked–shocked!–that there could have been anything wrong with the administration’s pre-war use of intelligence data. Almost all the analysis and information Judis and Ackerman look at in the article was publicly available before the war–especially to members of Congress–and could have been easily digested by those who cared to look at it. The answer, of course, is that they didn’t care to look at it, or looked at it and ignored it, because it was politically inconvenient (they thought) to raise questions about the administrations’ rush to war.
Well, besides Dean, at least Bob Graham’s out there hacking away. As for the rest, well, you can read the sad story in Ryan Lizza’s New Republic story. The most shocking of the bunch is Gephardt, who is so close to Bush on this issue that Ari Fleischer has been quoting him in press briefings. Says Dick: “There is long, consistent, clear evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and I’m still convinced that we’re going to find them.” Thanks, Dick. It’s nice to see you’re showing the same stellar leadership abilities on this issue that you used so effectively in leading the Democrats to their great victories in the 2002 campaign.
There are signs that Kerry may be ready to strike a more confrontational stance on this stance than the Gep, Edwards and Lieberman. He sorta, kinda, accused the adminstration of “lying” on an Iraq-related issue, suggesting he may be ready to jump in on the missing WMDs. Stay tuned.

Now, Exactly How Did You Say You Were Going to Fix the Economy?

In The Washington Post this morning, Dan Balz looked at the Democratic Presidential candidates’ “missed target”: the economy. Balz says that the candidates “have failed to make the economy a consistent and coherent focus of their messages” and that their critiques of Bush on the economy have “added up to little because no one has a full-blown economic program. Even Dick “Big Ideas” Gephardt doesn’t really have an economic program–just the dubious claim that the stimulative effects of his near-universal health care program constitute a blueprint for economic revival.
This seems kind of strange since polls regularly show that Americans are very negative about the economy and rate it as the number one problem the country faces today. Not only that but Bush’s approval rating on the economy–in contrast to his overall approval rating–is quite abysmal, with disapproval generally higher than disapproval. So what is the Democrats’ response to this apparent demand for economic change: let them eat health care!
Wierd. And voters don’t seem to be too enthusiastic about this approach either. In a recent NPR poll, voters who said that the economy and jobs was their most important issue actually favored Bush over a generic Democrat by one point! Looks like the Democrats have some work to do. A reasonable guess might be that unless the Democratic presidential candidate–whoever he might be–can win among economy and jobs voters by at least 10 points (and preferably quite a bit more), he’s toast.

Can Youth Move Democratic?

Andrew O’Hehir has a long interview in Salon.com with Danny Goldberg, author of the new book, Dispatches from the Culture Wars: How the Left Lost Teen Spirit. This really should be required reading for all Democrats. Goldberg doesn’t pretend to have the answer to how exactly the Democrats can capture the youth vote, but he says a lot of things that ring true about young voters’ lack of enthusiasm for the Democratic party, especially the lack of a clear vision and ideology that such voters might find compelling.
He asks with good reason why it is that the Republicans frequently seem more idealistic than the Democrats. Youth, he argues, needs inspiration and something to believe in, and most Democrats just aren’t providing it. No wonder Howard Dean is making such an impact; he seems to stand out from this crowd.
Interestingly, though, recent polling data, from both the 2002 election and since then, seem to indicate that youth (18-29 year olds) are starting to favor the Democrats. Perhaps they see the Republicans as just having gone too far in their militaristic fervor, anti-environmental zeal and drive to de-fund the government. Whatever the reason, Democrats should heed Goldberg’s advice and seek to build on these tendencies to awaken a full-fledged pro-Democratic idealism among young voters.

Vive le Difference!

Remember how the gender gap was supposed to be going away because women were attracted to the GOP on national security issues (“security moms” and that sort of thing)? Well, it’s back (if indeed it ever went away).
In the latest Zogby poll, Bush’s typically weak re-elect number is 44 percent to 37 percent for an unnamed Democratic opponent. But break it down by gender and you get 49 percent to 33 percent for men and 40 percent to 40 percent for women. Wow. And this is 17 months before the election. By the time the election actually gets here, women should, as usual, be strongly pro-Democratic.

So, Was That Iraq Thing Really Worth It?

A recently-released NPR poll has a fascinating result that was not widely reported. Likely voters were asked whether: 1) the Iraq war was a success and was worth the cost in lives and dollars; 2) the Iraq war was a success but was not worth the cost; or 3) the Iraq war was not a success. The replies were split down the middle between boosters and doubters of the Iraq war. Forty-eight percent said the Iraq war was a succcess and worth the cost, while 48 percent said either that the war was a success, but not worth the cost (33 percent) or the war was not a success (15 percent).
This is more proof, if proof were needed, that Democrats should not be holding back in their criticisms of the Bush administration’s lies and deceptions on the WMDs. People are already wondering whether the Iraq war was worth its considerable costs (costs which continue to mount, of course). The Democrats’ job should be to add fuel to that fire. Don’t make Bob Graham, God bless him, do all the work. Every Democrat should be out there hacking away (and Lord knows there’s enough material to hack with; see John Prados’ excellent recent run-down on TomPaine).
But just raising doubts about Bush’s approach isn’t enough, of course. As Michael Tomasky astutely points out in The American Prospect online, Democrats need to provide a solid alternative to that approach. Many Americans are indeed wondering whether the Iraq war was worth the cost, but they’re also wondering what would be worth the cost. How can we round up the bad guys and make American safer? DR suggests we all put on our thinking caps about that one.

For God’s Sake, Will You Kids Quit Fighting?

Reading the paper Thursday morning, DR was struck by a couple of articles. In the Washington Post, there was an article about the “Take Back America” conference that highlighted Wes Boyd and MovingOn.org (see yesterday’s post) and characterized the rest of the conference as a call to liberals to loudly assert their values against those in the party (read the DLC) who would sell them out.
That is probably the way the conference comes across–a few neat ideas and whole lot of internecine Democratic warfare. That’s a shame.
The other article was in the the New York Times and covered the emergence of a new think tank led by John Podesta and dedicated to battling Bush and the conservatives. Podesta characterizes the new organization as specifically not being involved in internecine Democratic squabbles and focused instead on combatting the Republican agenda.
I don’t know about you, but DR knows which article he found more encouraging.
DR did return to the “Take Back America” conference today and–alas–cannot report that it got all that better. As DR and an old progressive friend discussed at one point, if you wanted to know how the Dems can take Arizona in ’04–or other similarly practical questions–this was not the place. Less rallies and more concrete strategy was the verdict of many in the halls.
DR did see candidate John Kerry speak….and he was fine. That was the problem. There was nothing wrong with what he said….but nothing particularly right either. Kerry just hasn’t found a way to deliver his message in a distinctive way. It’s all too carefully parsed.
Then again, DR isn’t crazy about the rest of the field either. Kerry could potentially break away from the rest of the pack if he’d put his chips on something distinctive to sell besides his resume and military experience. For now, though, he seems to be languishing. See the rundown in the Daily Kos for a pretty good sense of how he’s faring.