Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter provided some keen insight and encouragement for Democrats by describing FDR’s path to the New Deal. Alter was a panelist at the NDN Conference last week. He said FDR’s victory over Hoover didn’t depend on a neatly laid out plan to get us out of the depression. The entire New Deal was ad hoc or as Alter put it, “bold, persistent experimentation.” And so with the Iraq War, Dems should demand accountability and new initiatives to end it because what’s being done isn’t working. That’s not a weakness, it’s a strength.
So Democrats need to remind themselves that they can’t play Karl Rove’s game.
For more than a quarter century, Karl Rove has employed a simple, brilliant, counterintuitive campaign tactic: instead of attacking his opponents at their weakest point, the conventional approach, he attacks their strength. He neutralizes that strength to the point that it begins to look like weakness. When John McCain was winning in 2000 because of his character, Rove attacked his character. When John Kerry was nominated in 2004 because of his Vietnam combat experience, the Republicans Swift-Boated him. This year’s midterm elections will turn on whether Rove can somehow transform the Democrats’ greatest political asset—the Iraq fiasco—into a liability.
That was always Lee Atwater’s game: attack your opponent’s strength.
…some Senate Democrats got smart for a change. They recognized that the party out of the White House doesn’t need a detailed strategy for ending a war, just a general sense of direction. When Dwight Eisenhower ran for president in 1952, his plan wasn’t any more specific than “I will go to Korea.” When Richard Nixon was asked how he would end the Vietnam War in 1968, he said he had a “secret plan”—and got away with it. So now 80 percent of Senate Democrats are united behind something called the “Levin-Reed Amendment.” The details of it (begin withdrawal without a firm timetable for getting out completely; diplomacy with the Sunnis; purging the Iraqi military and police of bad guys) are less important than that they finally came up with something.
Of course parrying “cut and run” with “Levin-Reed” won’t suffice. But Sen. Joe Biden’s riposte to the GOP’s symbolic roll-call votes—”The Republicans are now totally united in a failed policy”—is a start. This isn’t rocket science. Unless things improve dramatically on the ground in Iraq, Democrats have a powerful argument: If you believe the Iraq war is a success, vote Republican. If you believe it is a failure, vote Democratic.
Alter is spot on. Democrats are not in power, therefore it is not their responsibility to come up with a specific alternate plan absent the critical intelligence they are not privy to. For all its talk of accountability for welfare moms, teenage girls, future retirees, etc. to take responsibility for their actions, this administration does not want to be held accountable for its decisions. And since its strategy is “stay the course,” or “keep going what’s been failing all these years,” it seems the Dems have a right to ask the tough questions Republicans on the Hill won’t.
Newt Gingrich engineered the ’94 takeover of Congress by criticizing Democrats in Congress. It was a “throw the bums out” campaign. The Contract with America didn’t come until six weeks before the election and after polls predicted the Republican take over. SO why should the Dems come up with alternative plans?
“United in a failed strategy” is a good mantra. Don’t let Rove throw us off the message. His strategy counts on weak-kneed Dems afraid of the cut-and-run charge. The percentage of Americans wanting a timetable is increasing, with nearly a majority demanding it. Time is on our side. If the Dems stick to their guns, they will get the same credit Bush has gotten for sticking with his, thereby at least neutralizing the Iraq issue. And if you look at The Post poll, there is little else Bush has to grasp. But to avoid the Iraq War will play into Rove’s strategy.