Friday, August 20, 2010

Bush Whacked!

Watching Democrats these days is a little like watching the New York Mets play a baseball game. You know they have talent, but you also know that at some point they are going to blow some crucial play that will, if not totally cost them the game, at the very least turn an easy win into a squeaker.

Blessed with a resounding mandate from an electorate that had thrown out the Republican Party like yesterday’s trash, they have spent the last year and a half committing error after error, turning a seeming route into a nail biter whose outcome is now in doubt. Not even Marv Throneberry could’ve been so inept.

It reminds me of the classic Saturday Night Live skit featuring Dana Carvey playing George H. W. Bush and Jon Lovitz playing Michael Dukakis. After watching Carvey repeat the same useless phrases like “We are on the right track,” “a thousand points of lights,” “stay the course” over and over and over, Lovitz turns towards the camera and says, “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy.”

Believe it, both then and now. The lesson is the same, and it’s a lesson Democrats seem unable or unwilling to learn. It’s as though they enjoy getting their lights punched out. To use one more baseball metaphor, it’s like watching an infielder play back on a short hop (i.e., playing it safe). It almost always results in an error. You have to charge the ball to make the play; otherwise the ball gets by you. As of now the bases are loaded with Republicans and the Democrats can’t seem to buy an out.

And it’s not as though the Republicans are hitting the ball out of the ballpark. Like Dana Carvey’s Bush character, they are saying the same old tired and worthless phrases over and over and over. Except that they have been relentless and consistent with their message while the Democrats seem all over the place, e.g., out of position. The result?  The ball drops in instead of getting caught. Here are a few of the high (er, low) lights.

The G.M. bailout: Government takeover!

The stimulus bill: Skyrocketing deficits!

Healthcare reform: Socialized medicine and death panels!

Financial reform: Institutionalized bailout!

Extending unemployment benefits: Rewarding laziness!

And my favorite so far,

Allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire: The single greatest tax increase in history and the Obama ticking tax bomb!

The Democratic response to the above gibberish? Well, in deference to the remaining forests in Canada, let’s just say there isn’t enough paper left south of the border to get a handle on what their individual responses have or, in some cases, might be when they actually get around to it. And that has been the biggest problem so far. The Democrats are quite simply lousy at calling out the other side’s stupidity. When presented with the prototypical “thousand points of light” moment they go all John Kerry and look for deep-seated and thought-provoking things to say, rather than just charge the damn ball and throw out the runner. If the Democrats were any more on their heals they’d be on their backs!

Take the lower Manahattan mosque situation as a case in point. It was no less than President Obama himself – old Captain Pragmatic – who bravely and appropriately defined what the real issue was. Religious freedom and expression, no matter how it may irk some, is sacrosanct. Period. End of discussion. That is until the rest of the Meek Old Party got weak in the knees, and started backtracking.

Harry – I never met a serious issue I couldn’t defer leadership to someone else on – Reid did the ultimate mea culpa on the topic with this lame statement from his spokesman: “The First Amendment protects freedom of religion. Senator Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else.” Where would you like it to be built Harry? In the Village? Uptown? Central Park? How about Coney Island? Imagine the delight in the Angle camp when they realized that their opponent was conceding to their xenophobic viewpoint.

Stupidity thou art a donkey.

When are Democrats going to get it? Running away from who you are only gives your opponents more ammunition to shoot you with. It also makes you look as though you don’t believe in your principles. There was and is an appropriate way to handle the mosque situation and Obama handled it for you. Instead of backing him up, you left him out in the rain and made yourselves look foolish in the process. Duck hunters have a more difficult time shooting ducks than Republicans have of picking off Democrats.

And now with less than three months to go before the midterms, Democrats are scrambling to find answers to the Carvey-like statements that Republicans are famous for making. It is going to be a dogfight and that usually spells trouble for Democrats. They are not good in one-run games, especially when they have to field their position.

The President has done his best. He has gone on the stump and tried to make the connection between what the Republicans are proposing and what Bush had already done to the country. It isn’t working, at least not to the extent that Democrats are hoping. The problem is that while most of the country gets it that Bush dug this hole, they are looking for solutions from Democrats as to how they are going to get us out of it. When you’re out of work, you don’t want to hear what the other guy did to you – you already know that. You want to hear how you plan on getting him a job!

Frank Rich had it pegged right in his op-ed piece in The New York Times called, “How to Lose an Election Without Really Trying.”

“But rather than wait for miracles or pray that Bushphobia will save the day, Democrats might instead start playing the hand they’ve been dealt. Elections, the cliché goes, are about the future, not the past. At the very least they’re about the present. It’s time voters were told just how far right the G.O.P. has lurched since Bush returned to Texas.”

In some instances this is working. Before the mosque boomerang, Harry Reid was leading Sharon – space cadet – Angle by two to four points depending on which poll you were looking at. That represented a fifteen-point slide for the GOP nominee. No telling what will happen now that Reid has stepped on his own third rail. As more and more voters get a closer look at the Tea Party candidates they look less and less appealing.

Democrats must seize on this opportunity and shine the light of day onto these xenophobic, and backwards-thinking Neanderthals. The only way to kill a vampire, so the story goes, is either by a stake in the heart or with a sunrise. The Rand Pauls and the Sharon Angles have made more than enough ridiculous statements to use against them successfully. It’s time to challenge them in the light of the morning sun.

It is getting late in the game. At stake is the country’s future. The Republicans know they will not have a shot at the White House until 2012. Their objective is obvious. Get either one or both Houses of Congress and effectively gum up the works for the next two years. That means nothing will get done and millions more will needlessly suffer while the Party of No holds the nation hostage. Democrats must make this argument and make it effectively.

Looking backward is useless. All it gets you is recrimination. Hindsight is 20 / 20. You can’t do anything about the errors you’ve already committed. What you can’t do is let the guy at the plate beat you. There’s no place to put him – all the bases are filled – so you have to pitch to him. The Democrats need to get out of this. They need to find the voice inside of themselves that will redefine the narrative that Republicans have made for them

It isn’t going to be easy. But then climbing out of a hole never is.

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