May 08, 2006
Hate to be a buzzkill, but read Ron Brownstein on the difficulties of racking up huge midterm election gains. I fear some serious lowering of expectations here, as Democrats talk up their chances of gains ("Three chambers of Congress! The House, the Senate, and one Rahm Emanuel HASN'T EVEN INVENTED YET!") and the Republicans inflate their likelihood for loss. If this gets bad enough, I fear anything less than a a total, crushing victory, particularly in the House, will be seen as a "win" for Republicans.
Meanwhile, I'm fairly convinced that Dems would be better off radically shaving GOP margins in 2006 but not actually capturing Congress. Creating a 50-50 split in the Senate and a closer margin in the House would allow Democrats to be effective in the opposition without getting tied to the continuing implosion of the GOP's policy agenda. That's not to say it's my favored outcome, but it seems the most politically advantageous (or am I just lowering expectations myself?).
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Don't you want subpoena power? We could investigate tons of stuff Bush did and destroy the GOP's reputation on lots of issues (foreign policy, clean government, etc.) for a generation.
Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | May 8, 2006 4:02:27 PM
Yeah, I guess I lack faith that it'll actually go that way, rather than subsuming their policy failure beneath investigations the media will spin as partisan overreach. But yeah, I'd love subpoena powers.
Posted by: Ezra | May 8, 2006 4:06:25 PM
I've been thinking about that myself.
The obvious analogy is 1946 vs 1958. In '46, Truman lost Congress, but the Republicans overreached to the point that he won re-election. Meanwhile in 1950, Republicans made significant gains but failed to win either House, then won the Presidency and the House in 1952. Though that didn't last long.
If you assume that the 2008 Dem candidate will run on a promise of "peace with honor" in Iraq, or something like it, there's no damage from having Democrats take the House now.
The goal now is to make Republicanism/Conservativism into Bushism, so that the political fallout from the Bush regime lasts longer than the 2006 and 2008 elections.
Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | May 8, 2006 4:07:41 PM
I Think a 50/50 split might be good for the country. I would like to see the Dems at least get one majority though, I think the wiretapping thing needs to be investigated. Laws most likely were broken.
But any stunt into trying to impeach Bush for the war would backfire. The justifications for the war are so deeply matted in the grey area that any investigation would seem like taking political advantage by the democrats. Anything short of clear evidence wont do it and I don't think dems would find a smoking gun.
But instead of talking up what the democrats want to do once they get a majority, I think they should first focus on actually winning some elections for once. The right-wing machine is already out in full force trying to scare middle-right America into worrying about "Speaker Palosi" and impeachment hearings and things that are "bad for America."
Posted by: Tony | May 8, 2006 4:08:31 PM
Judging by current Dem. congressional responses to BushCo overreach and dismal performance, you may be right that narrowing the gap in 06 but leaving the Repubs in control would be good for the Dems in 08.
I fear the Dems in control would be so timid (out of fear of screwing up the 08 presidential race) that come 08 the Repubs will point at the 'do nothing Congress' as a reason for electing another Repub. president and returning control of Congress to the Repubs.
In particular, the federal budget is really a ship about to capsize, and it is clear that more revenue is the only practical solution. With the combo of huge interest payments on the national debt, a military consuming enormous sums that are unlikely to be cut or even stabilized, and a Medicare Drug program that will be expensive to be fixed, cutting the accounts that remain will prove to be as impossible for the Dems as it has been for the Repubs.
There is NOT the Dem. courage (or bi-partisanship) to repeal much of the Bush tax cuts, or raise other funds. Let the Repubs drown in their own soup on this issue - since Bush will veto any Dem. tax increases anyway. A nearly 50/50 Senate is probably enough for the Dems to halt the worst abuses of BushCo for a couple years with Bush in the 20's and 30's in approval polls. This may be a case where revenge is a dish best served after very slow cooking.
Here's a progressive reform needing to be done: redistricting of House seats performed by non-partisan bodies so that the Congress can be responsive to changes in national will. The House was intended to be responsive, but has wandered far from that intent.
The decrease in competitive seats partly reflects how district lines were redrawn after the 2000 census — with precision aimed at preserving safe seats for most incumbents of both parties.
"Voters get to choose their congressmen, but in redistricting, congressmen get to choose their voters," said GOP pollster David Winston.
A sad, but mostly true situation, that needs fixing to get the country back on the correct track.
Posted by: JimPortlandOR | May 8, 2006 4:10:55 PM
I don't know exactly what the prospects for investigating this are, but the number one thing I would want to see more attention given to is the failure to capture Osama at Tora Bora. WMD deceptions may have led to more serious consequences, and warrantless wiretapping is from a legal perspective a huge deal. The Medicare bill also plays nicely in a bunch of ways. But if you want to rip out the heart of everything that attracts ordinary folks to GOP foreign policy, make it clear that Bush wimped out and blew our chance to get the guy who killed 3000 of our people. (I liked the Rahm line: “Five years after President Bush said he would find Osama bin Laden, we’re all glad to hear that all he’s caught is an apparently harmless fish.”)
Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | May 8, 2006 4:19:11 PM
Having power is always, always better than not having power. If the Democrats capture either the Senate and House, Bush won't be able to get his way, nor evade responsibility for his actions as he has been. What's not to like about that?
Posted by: David W. | May 8, 2006 4:25:11 PM
Subpoena power is a very good thing.
Also, there's something to be said for building up your own bandwagon. If "The Dems are poised to swamp the GOP in November, recapturing one or both houses of Congress" becomes the conventional wisdom, that might set off backlash if Dems don't steamroller in the Fall. But getting that meme (ugh) circulating is useful in and of itself. It depresses Republican fundraising and organizing and grassroots activity and turnout. It's already hurt GOP retnetion and recruiting this year. It energizes Dems. Most importantly, it sweeps drifting-in-the-breeze "late undecided" voters into the Dem's totals. You wanna vote for the winner or the loser? Well, it seems that people without very strong partisan affinities often vote for the flimsiest of reasons, and "he looks so confident, everybody says he's going to win" is often the determining factor.
The perception of success breeds success. How, exactly, does it hurt the Dems in late October to have the GOP portrayed as "flailing" or "in full panic mode"? If we fall short (or way short) in November, and the CW becomes "the Dems screwed up", that doesn't seem like such an unfair conclusion - the Dems will have screwed up, and their electoral apparatus will need to be shaken down and rebuilt (again).
One of Karl Rove's favorite tricks is to have his candidate act like the presumptive front-runner, no matter what the situation is, because that invariably drives the media narrative, and perception becomes reality. Rove has managed to get a moron not just elected, but re-elected to the highest office in the land. Why not steal a page from his book?
Posted by: FMguru | May 8, 2006 4:58:20 PM
There are investigations, and then there are investigations. Investigating, say, defense contractor profiteering is win-win-win for the Democrats. Investigating prisoner treatment is much, dicier. Maybe you could investigate the private contractors. Investigating the run-up to the Iraq war could be done poorly, or done well. Not that I know what either one looks like.
So, it depends on what gets investigated.
Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | May 8, 2006 4:58:45 PM
Don't you want subpoena power?
I wrote about this a couple of months ago, laying out similar fears to the ones Ezra raises but then going a bit further. I am worried that subpoena power without muscle behind it could end up being a mixed blessing at best. To quote myself:
Premise D: The administration will stonewall any investigation from Congress into just about anything. For example, see the dismissive attitude revealed in the answers the Department of Justice gave to Democratic Senators’ questions about the NSA spying program.
Premise E: If Democratic Senators and Congressmen are often reluctant to rock the boat now (as revealed, for example, by their absurdly timorous reaction to Russ Feingold’s censure resolution), they will only be more so when they have more to lose—namely, the perks that come with even a narrow majority.
Premise F: Forcing answers from a stonewalling administration will require boat-rocking beyond simply delivering subpoenas.
Conclusion 2: Even if they control one or both Houses of Congress, Democrats will have a very hard time holding together even a bare majority to punish the administration for stonewalling investigations. This could have the effect of providing bipartisan sanction to Constitutionally indefensible programs, basically making Democrats complicit in a Constitutional crisis.
Posted by: antid_oto | May 8, 2006 5:41:23 PM
The expectations game can't work that way. It is generally accepted that the belief that one party is going to win is good for that party (on election day). Who cares if that party is disappointed the day after? By then, it has whatever gains it could make, and it's two years of media cycles until there is another election.
So, if you are a Dem, feel free to talk about sweeps and landslides, and if you are a Repub, talk about how close it is going to be.
Posted by: Pithlord | May 8, 2006 5:57:07 PM
Totally unrelated question: I haven't been able to access the Prospect website since last Friday. What's going on?
Posted by: Rebecca Allen, PhD, ARNP | May 8, 2006 6:57:43 PM
I think winning control of Congress would be the best option, politically. I remember how after 1998, there was all this talk of, "OMG, the GOP lost 5 seats and they're really unpopular. They're embroiled in this impeachment fiasco, caught in between the wishes of their base and the contrary wishes of the American public. Surely the Democrats will retake control of the House in 2000. They're so excellently positioned!" What happened instead was impeachment faded in the memories of the ADD American public, and the GOP used their powers of incumbency to set the issues in Congress to something more advantageous to them. And it worked. They're still in power.
Winning = Winning.
Losing, but regaining some lost ground = neither here nor there as far as future electoral success goes.
Posted by: Chris | May 8, 2006 7:12:06 PM
Does anyone think the Republicans were agonizing in 2000 about whether or not it was a good time to win the Presidency, given the Dot.Com bust? Good, because the Republicans definitely were NOT engaged in such second-guessing. They made their case, such as it was, and ran to win. For Democrats to quail now and hedge their bets in 2006 is not only a mistake, it's stupid.
Posted by: David W. | May 8, 2006 9:01:25 PM
I fear anything less than a a total, crushing victory, particularly in the House, will be seen as a "win" for Republicans.
Of course it will be portrayed that way. You've got to stop being afraid how the Republicans are going to paint things. It'll be portrayed that way whether the Democrats hype it up or not. It's sensible strategy to make your opponents victories look smaller than they are, and your own look bigger. Remember Bush's "mandate"? He barely squeaked through reelection and he was ready to dismantle the New Deal. That's chutzpah, and if you can get away with it, you get nothing but rewards.
Posted by: Mike | May 8, 2006 9:25:12 PM
I can understand that people are worried about long-term strategy. I think it's great that some of us are talking about the dangers of overreaching after Democratic victories in November - it means we are actually talking about winning!
But we need to understand that history is informative, but not necessarily predictive. The Republicans suffered a bit of a backlash from the impeachment fiasco, not because Americans can't stomach impeachment, but because it was over such a stupid thing. Clinton lied during a witch hunt about adultery. Whoop-de-fucking-do.
The religious nutjob faction of the GOP does not represent a majority of Americans. What they have is money and good PR, though they are starting to lose both.
If Democrats take back either House, they need to begin investigations. Lot's of them. They need to subpoena everthing they can think of. If we get the House, we need to initiate impeachment proceedings:
-over lying to us about the existence of WMDs
-over breaking US law, ordering torture of prisoners
-over violating US law in the NSA wiretappings
-over signing bills and adding notes stating that, as president, he doesn't have to actually implement or follow the parts he doesn't like.
If there's a backlash to impeaching the most corrupt, inept, purely evil administration to ever degrade the office of president, so be it. But I don't think there will be. To the victors go the spoils, dammit.
If we manage to actually impeach and remove him from office, that places the advantage firmly on our side - in fact, now that I think about it, the problem for the GOP with the Clinton farce was that they failed, even their own senators voted against it. Voters reward success.
Posted by: Stephen | May 8, 2006 9:43:57 PM
We'd have to win one hell of a victory to be able to succesfully pull off an impeachment. We can pretty much count all of the Republicans out on voting to drop the hammer on the White House, so an impeachment drive would have to be pure Dem.
As for over reaching, I don't see a problem. The GOP got where they are today by having brass balls the size of Mars. Voters seem to like people who fight hard for thier beliefs. The Democrats being agressive for the next two years until the 08 election might very well change the party's whole narriative.
If we get subpoena power, we need to start investigating EVERYTHING. Every single thing the Bush Administration has done that seemed illegal, or just obviously was, needs to be dragged out on the floor. Any branch of Congress we capture needs to become a warhammer we use to smash them in the face with over and over again every day of every week for the next two years. Call everyone to the stand. Cheney, Scotty, Goss, Chertoff, Scooter and Rove (Live from prison), even Bush himself, and this time a REAL intervew in front of the cameras with no hand holding from Cheney.
Posted by: Ross Taben | May 9, 2006 4:51:57 AM
I am not so optimistic about our chances to capture even one house. There really is a big gap in the numbers of seats and they have a big gerrymander advantage. Maybe if Democrats fire the consultants.
Posted by: Sandals | May 9, 2006 5:01:03 AM
Voters seem to like people who fight hard for thier beliefs.
You are absolutely correct.
Conventional wisdom tells us that the war is the culprit in the polls, but also, I believe that the president is on the wrong side of the immigration issue and his base is pissed.
If Bush wants to retain the House, he should get tough about controlling the border.
Posted by: Fred Jones | May 9, 2006 8:37:17 AM
Fred, in this segment of the multiverse, Bush has only 32% support in the population for the Iraq war. It's FUBAR because of the current folks in charge.
If you want to blame the MSM "liberal/socialist/communists" crowd, be my guest.
Posted by: The Dark Avenger | May 9, 2006 1:49:59 PM
Articles like this one which stress the difficulty of a Democratic takeover of the House because of factors like gerrymandering do not really understand what occurred in 1994. In that year, Republicans defeated 36 Democratic incumbents and they captured 20 districts which were open. One of those districts was open because the incumbent lost the Democratic primary.
In looking at the 1994 losers, it is true that many of them were in very competitive districts. Five of them had been elected in 1992 with less than 50% of the vote and fifteen others had been elected with less than 55%. However, it is also true that seven of them had been elected with more than 60% and thus were unlikely to have been on the radar screen of predictors.
It is also true that in some of these districts, especially in the South, voters had been supporting Republicans at the presidential level for several elections and perhaps that explains the congressional result. On the other hand, 18 of these districts (5 open and 13 where the incumbents lost) voters not only supported Democrats at the White House level in 1992, they also did so in both 1996 and 2000.
If there is a political tsunami in November, some of those swept away will be totally unexpected. This is the importance of having Democrats running in as many districts as possible.
Posted by: Vadranor | May 9, 2006 2:18:36 PM
Eh, politics isn't a game, it actually matters.
2 more years of increasing inequality hurting the middle class, abstinance only eduction pushing up teenage pregnancies, and wilful ignorance of the science meaning on progress on global warming or renewable energy (not to mention more doing nothing on health care) might help Dems in 2008.
But it's not worth it.
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