With Democrats sporting a 10-15 percentage point advantage over Republicans in some generic head-to-head congressional polls, Democrats do appear poised for a comeback. But for many Democratic supporters who've expected gains in other recent elections, this early optimism is beginning to sound all too familiar.
Yes, George W. Bush and Republicans in Congress are weaker than they have been since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. But many analysts wonder whether the Democrats are ready to take advantage of the openings that Bush's imperial style and administrative ineptitude have created.
Have Democratic Party leaders learned to fight with sincere passion and to articulate a clear national message that connects with voters? Have they moved beyond a sum-of-the-parts, laundry-list message that clangs over the airwaves as nothing more than bullet points aimed at disparate Democratic constituencies?
But Bush may have given the Democrats a valuable gift: His actions over five-plus years in office suggest the outlines of a powerful counter-message.
In essence, the message would be that Bush has made himself a kind of modern-day monarch who has exaggerated dangers to scare the American people into surrendering their liberties, that he is a self-aggrandizing leader who has abrogated the Constitution and the Bill of Rights through claims of "plenary" - or unlimited - powers as Commander in Chief.
Meanwhile, with only a few exceptions, the Republican-controlled Congress has failed to conduct serious oversight of Bush's actions. Instead, Republican strategists, such as Karl Rove, have talked openly about their desire for indefinite GOP control of the federal government, from the White House to Congress to the courts.
In developing a response to this Republican arrogance, Democrats could rally the American people around some of the nation's most beloved principles, from the concept of "unalienable rights," to "the rule of law," to "the checks and balances" devised by the Founders as a way of stopping the encroachment of oppressive government.
The Democratic message could even turn some favorite Republican buzz words against them. For instance, Bush's Republican Party is now vulnerable to a charge it has become the party of "Big (Wasteful) Government, Big Deficits, Big Brother and the Big Lie."
By targeting the GOP's "Four Bigs," the Democratic message would have the potential to reshape the electoral landscape - transcending business-as-usual politics and creating common ground among liberals, centrists and traditional conservatives.
The Democrats could be the ones standing for effective and competent government, fiscal responsibility, traditional constitutional principles, and truth-telling.
But if the Democrats don't act aggressively in defining themselves and redefining the Republicans, the problem is sure to grow more critical with each passing electoral defeat. That's because, since the 1994 GOP victories, Republicans have become America's default party.
In a national election where there's no overwhelming Democratic advantage, Republicans have built the broad messaging themes and the political-media infrastructure to deliver winning margins in key races.
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