Sunday, March 19, 2006

Clift Notes

I often like what Eleanor Clift writes, but her recent piece on Russ Feingold and the censure strategy is really off the cliff (you knew I couldn't resist that). She begins by explaining why Feingold has just single-handedly destroyed the Democrats' chances of getting the House back in 2006:

Republicans finally had something to celebrate this week when Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold called for censuring George W. Bush. Democrats must have a death wish. Just when the momentum was going against the president, Feingold pops up to toss the GOP a life raft.
It's brilliant strategy for him, a dark horse presidential candidate carving out a niche to the left of Hillary Clinton. The junior senator from New York is under attack for being too soft on Bush and the war, and most of the non-Hillarys are to her right. There is a vacuum in the heart of the party's base that Feingold fills, but at what cost? His censure proposal looks like a stunt, "the equivalent of calling for a filibuster from Davos," says Marshall Wittmann, a senior fellow with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. To win in '06, he says, "Democrats need to take the Hippocratic Oath: first, do no harm."

Just as John Kerry's belated effort to stop Judge Samuel Alito's confirmation to the Supreme Court failed to rally his fellow Democrats, Feingold's move toward censure has been received like a foul odor, sending Democrats scurrying for the exits. Only two of his colleagues, Iowa's Tom Harkin and California's Barbara Boxer, signed on as cosponsors. And for good reason. The broader public sees it as political extremism. Just when the Republicans looked like they were coming unhinged, the Democrats serve up a refresher course on why they can't be trusted with the keys to the country. Nor could it have come at a better time for a Republican Party still battered by bad news in the polls. The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC survey, released earlier this week, shows that Bush's job approval rating at its lowest ever—37 percent—as a majority of Americans lose confidence that the Iraq war will end successfully. The same poll shows a significant uptick in the country's willingness to accept a Democratic Congress, with 50 percent of those questioned saying they would prefer the party to control Congress. Thirty-seven percent say they want it controlled by Republicans.

I like the image of "Democrats scurrying for the exits". They might as well, for the amount of good they are doing right now.

I also like the idea of the Hippocratic Oath in this context: first, do no harm. Or in slightly different terms: softly, softly, catchee monkey. Except that this is neither medicine nor catching wild animals but politics, and the Democrats were voted in by people who, you know, expected them to do stuff. Not to wait very quietly in a corner to see if they will then look like a better option than the foaming-at-the-mouth wingnuts. How do you like them choices: either Attila the Hun or someone cowering in the corner, waiting, waiting.

Clift's argument is that Feingold has energized the Republican base by this stunt, and that the Republican base will, once again, somehow turn up to vote in numbers much greater than their actual numbers are, and then the Republicans win again. And all because of one Russ Feingold.

Well, not just because of him. We (the Democratic base of rabid latte sipping limousine-riding welfare-sucking feminazi types) are also to blame here:

The Democrats' dilemma is how to satisfy a restive and angry base without losing the rest of the country. "If someone proposed stringing up Bush like they did Mussolini, that would have a lot of support in the base of the party, too," says a Democratic strategist. "But it's not smart." Democrats want the November election to be a plebiscite on Bush's job performance, not a personal vendetta. "Republicans will rally round him if they think it's a personal attack just like we did with Clinton," warns the strategist.

Do you notice something very interesting here? The Republican base is dangerous and must be treated hush-hush carefully, but the Democratic base is a nuisance, something that is a hindrance to the Democratic party. It is always dangerous to placate us, always. We are good for one thing only, and that is to provide money for the party.

What is odd about this asymmetry of the bases is that what worked for the wingnuts could work for the Democratic party, too. If Bush gets votes because he manages to energize his base, why isn't Feingold's move a good way to energize the liberal base and to get these voters to vote?

And note the whole positioning of the middle so that people who think Bush's illegal wiretapping is illegal are now rabid extremists. Never mind that most opinion polls suggest that the rabid extremists who dislike Bush a lot are now the majority.

It's an interesting form of political debate, the Democrat bashing. Either they don't have any clear alternative proposal to Attila the Hun and friends (so they cower in the corner) or if they act they benefit Attila the Hun and friends (Feingold's censure proposal). You can't win if you're a Democrat.