Saturday, December 28, 2013

New Year's Resolutions for Republicans and Democrats

Okay so now that 2013 is wrapping up - thank God - it's time to look ahead to 2014. I've taken the liberty of compiling a wish list for both major political parties that, if heeded, should improve their prospects. I've done my best to be as objective as possible here, but let's be honest, I am a progressive, so I do have a horse in this race.

Liberal leanings aside, I really feel that the nation is at a crossroads. It's obvious that business as usual is unacceptable. Barring the Democrats taking the House and holding the Senate, we are going to have a divided government until at least 2017. Clearly, something has to give. And while I don't for a moment subscribe to the ridiculous notion that both sides are equally to blame for the mess we're in, I do believe that both sides could do some soul searching as to their conduct in 2013 and how they plan on improving it in 2014.

So, with that in mind, I sincerely hope that this piece resonates with its intended audience.

First up the Republicans. The grand old party has been anything but grand over the last few years. 2013 was its low water mark. A government shutdown and a near debt-ceiling default were bad enough. Now the Party appears to be in the midst of an all-out civil war between the establishment and the Tea Party factions that portends trouble for its plans for taking the Senate in the midterms.

So here are some resolutions that could help.

1. Move as far away from the Tea Party as possible. A close look at the November elections proved conclusively that America has had it with the this freak show. Chris Christie's win in New Jersey and, more importantly, Ken Cuccinelli's loss in Virginia underscore that point definitively.  Across the country, in geographic areas that Republicans need to win on a national level, candidates who showed willingness to work with their counterparts and were seen as less extreme in their positions, fared much better on election night than their Tea Party colleagues.

2. Stay away from social issues. It's as clear as the nose on your face that the biggest problem besetting Republican candidates is their stance on issues like abortion, gay marriage, etc. Poll after poll has revealed that the nation is left of center when it comes to social issues. In the 2012 election, comments by Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin cost the GOP two senate seats. The more Republicans open their mouths on these issues, the more they shoot themselves in the foot.

3. Concentrate on the economy. As hard as it is for me to acknowledge, when Republicans stick to the economy, most polls show them in a favorable light. In fact, up against Democrats, it's usually a horse race. The reason for this should be self-evident. Most Americans, even those who identify as Democrat, still lean slightly to the right on the economy. A carefully crafted message that targets that demographic group could considerably improve Republican fortunes both in 2014 and 2016.

4. Give up trying to repeal Obamacare. This is the one dangling fruit that the GOP just can't resist. But resist it, they must. The law is here to stay; it isn't going anywhere. Attempts to defund it last fall cost Republicans an awful lot of political capital; capital that could've been spent elsewhere. Even David Frum has made it clear: reform and not repeal should be the mantra for Republicans in 2014. Whoever comes up with the fixes needed to the ACA will most likely do well next November.

5. Support immigration reform. There is simply no pathway to the White House that doesn't include Hispanic support. Every political strategist says this. It is time that the Republican Party embraced immigration reform and 2014 would be a good year to start. The Senate bill is by no means perfect, but it's better than nothing at all. Listening to wingnuts like Mark Levin and Iowa representative Steve King will only accelerate the GOP's slide into electoral oblivion.

6. Work with and not against Democrats. The budget deal struck by Paul Ryan and Patty Murray was hardly the breakthrough some had wanted; but in a town that has become polarized and gridlocked, it was a breath of fresh air. One hopes the GOP was taking notes. This is how things used to get done in Washington. Constantly saying "no" may play well to the base, but it is killing the national brand. When your opinion poll numbers are just north of insurance salesmen and child molesters, clearly you have a problem. If they know what's good for them, Republicans will reach across the aisle a lot more in 2014 than they did in 2013. 

And now for my Democratic friends, some friendly advice along with a bit of caster oil. No spoon-full of sugar for you.

1. Stop wetting your pants over Obamacare. The election isn't for another ten months. Yes there are problems with the law, but most of those problems are fixable. What isn't fixable is the sight of a bunch of wussies running for the hills because of a few setbacks. You went to the mat for this law - hell, you called John Boehner's bluff during the government shutdown - so stand up like adults and show some spine. Instead of buying into Republican talking points about "trainwrecks" and "canceled policies" go on the offensive. Now would be a good time to point out that of the 60% of people who don't like Obamacare, almost half don't think it goes far enough. Can you spell SINGLE PAYER?

2. Stop worshiping at the alter of Bill de Blasio. Yes, the mayor elect of New York won a huge landslide victory which prompted many progressives to boldly predict that liberal values are the way to retake the House in 2014. Let me just cut to the chase; that is the best way for Democrats to not only fail to retake the House, but lose the Senate as well. No matter how hard it may be for them to hear, de Blasio's win was an outlier. Put succinctly, the mood of the electorate is, if anything, becoming less ideological and more middle of the road. The reason that the GOP is getting shellacked is because it is seen as too extreme. Appearances count in politics. The Party that looks more centrist will prevail in 2014 and 2016.

3. Come up with solutions for entitlement reform. Now that the public has thoroughly rejected the Republican plan to turn Medicare into a voucher system and convert Medicaid into a block-grant program, Democrats should come to the table with concrete solutions for both. Both programs badly need fixing and relying on the GOP to continue to fumble the ball is NOT a good long-term strategy.

4. Continue to push immigration reform. While the GOP insists on hemorrhaging over this issue, Democrats should push it till it gives. The last thing they should do is assume that they get an E for effort. Whichever Party successfully gets this legislation passed, or is perceived as doing everything it can to get it passed, will have a leg up with the Hispanic community for the foreseeable future. Here's a thought that should frighten Democrats: had Mitt Romney gotten the same percentage of Hispanic voters that George Bush did, he might've won the 2012 presidential election.

5. Stop counting on Republicans to commit political suicide. Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin were gifts from heaven. Seriously, does anybody with half a brain actually doubt that had Akin not shot off his mouth and Dick Lugar not been defeated in a primary Missouri and Indiana would've been in the red column?  For the record, Claire McCaskill was trailing prior to shit-for-brains "legitimate rape" comments. Face it, Democrats have been the benefactors of some pretty incompetent and negligently run campaigns by the GOP. And while you never look a gift horse in the mouth, you don't, as a rule, bank on such generosity. Not if you like winning. Sooner or later, Republicans will start fielding candidates who don't fall on their swords.  And when that happens, Democrats better come to the table with some pretty good candidates of their own or they will get beat. Period.

6. Stop pushing away the faith-based vote. While this isn't meant for all progressives and liberals, it is meant for a huge chunk of them. The Democratic Party has developed a reputation, deserved or not, over the years as a party that shuns overt expressions of faith for a more secular view of the world. The result is that a lot of evangelicals, who otherwise would align themselves with and identify as liberals, end up voting for Republican candidates. The recent comments made by Pope Francis on trickle-down economics and greed have presented a unique opportunity for the Democratic Party. President Obama, to his credit, has embraced the Pope's stance. His Party would do well to follow his lead. I have never understood this fixation within the base to eschew religion, especially since the New Testament is ripe with examples that support many Democratic policies. 

Okay, that's my list of New Year's resolutions that I hope both Parties adhere to. Of course, things being what they are, I wouldn't hold my breath. That's the problem with resolutions; they usually last about as long as the hangover from the party they were hatched in.

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