With only just more than eight months until the 2006 congressional midterms, Americans watching the nightly news coverage of the Republican Party's implosion in slow motion - and it's not over yet, folks - are beginning to wonder whether Democrats might actually retake both the Senate and the House this fall. However, recent polls, while unsurprisingly finding Republican approval ratings reaching new lows, are surprisingly finding Democratic approval ratings in the tank as well. Simply standing by as the other guy falls down is not proving the way to appear taller.
The Democratic Party has spent the last almost five years doing little more than aiming cannon fire at the Republican armada, albeit quite often justifiably. But as those once unsinkable Republicans are finally taking on water, Democrats, for too many years having offered no big ideas of their own to set them apart and keep them afloat, are sinking right alongside them.
Political parties win elections by winning the battle of ideas, however simplified or even misrepresented they may actually be. They win by offering a vision, even if that vision is sadly little more than one of safety and security. They don't win control solely because their rivals seem to be losing it. They don't win by being the lesser of two evils. History shows that when faced with a choice between evils, voters will always choose the evil they know.
Democrats, if they are to ever again taste national political power, must move beyond being the anti-Bush, anti-Republican party. If that were all it took to win elections, John Kerry would be in the White House, and Democrats would be in control of the Senate rather than having in fact slipped further into minority status in November 2004.
However justified, the Democratic Party's anger-driven, single-minded focus on the person of George Bush, rather than his palpably unjust policies, has been their undoing. An anti-Bush platform, cannot, by itself, hold the weight of all the pressing national needs deserving of center stage. An anti-Bush platform only serves to confirm the negative nature of politics, and harden the assumptions of powerlessness many feel to change what is.
To have any chance of capitalizing on the Republican Party's self-inflicted wounds, Democrats must begin laying out a positive agenda beyond just kicking the Republicans while they're down. As good as that might feel, voters, especially the large swath of voters in the moderate middle, are waiting to hear from Democrats about their big, positive, visionary ideas that address multiple problems simultaneously while strengthening progressive and American values.
Weak-kneed slogans such as "there is a better way" inspire no one. Shotgun negativity on the part of party leaders appearing on morning talk shows brings in no new voters. And simply continuing to be the anti-Bush party will only sink the hapless Democratic Party further into the minority.