Last Sunday, the NY Giants and Miami Dolphins played a playoff game at London’s Wembley stadium. I know it seems that has nothing to do with politics, but stay with me. As the game came down to its final two minutes, the Giants had the ball, they were ahead, and they utilized the common NFL strategy of hiking the ball to the quarterback and having the quarterback go down to one knee, ending the play without any attempt to advance the ball. This is a risk free way to run out the clock and end the game favorably for the team in the lead. Londoners booed loudly to show their displeasure at the tactic. To anyone new to the game of football, it must seem a boring, timid and somewhat unfair and cynical tactic. Underlying this tactic is the fear that if you try to run a play, the risk is too high that your players may fumble the ball or throw an interception.
Democrats have the same fear of running a real play since taking back the congress. They know that anti-Republican sentiment is so high that the only real chance the Democrats have of losing the congress and not capturing the Presidency in 2008 is if they try to do something significant and it ends up a monumental failure. It is thus clear that the the back room developed and agreed upon party strategy is one where Democrats are biding their time and attempting to run out the clock and are betting on the election of a Democratic President in 2008 after which, bully pulpit in hand, they will begin their attempts to govern in earnest. The problem is, we need leadership now and this strategy may turn people off to the party for the foreseeable future. It is a cynical strategy and it disrespects the people who worked and voted to put them into their offices.
People expect leadership from their elected officials. When I say people, I mean all people in all countries since the beginning of time. In the absence of good leadership from good people, people will listen to the first voice that acts like it is providing leadership, or as a character from American President said, “They will listen to the anyone that walks up to the microphone”. The ancient Greeks had a saying, “Nature abhors a vacuum”. What else do we have in American politics today than a leadership vacuum? We have a Republican President to whom no one wants to listen, and a Democratic leadership that isn’t saying anything. The Democratic Party mistake is that they have an opportunity to step up and be the leaders and they aren’t taking it. If someone else steps up to the microphone who knows how to use it, Democrats could easily again find themselves on the outside looking in for the next several years.
Democrats in congress and at the DNC should take a page from the British Labor party and how they acted when running their successful bid to take power from the conservatives after 18 years of consecutive conservative rule. The UK conservative party was similarly poorly thought of and Labor’s strategy could have been one of running out the clock, but they instead chose to put forth a bold set of policies and said “This is how we are going to run things if elected”. Sure, putting those policies forth invites attack, but if your competition that has been in power has failed so miserably, if they attack you, it invites the perfect counter-attack. “I don’t understand how the party opposite can attack our proposals when they have been in power, they have tried their own policies and they have failed miserably. The people want a change”.
The power of the purse is the best way to get Democratic Party priorities accomplished if there is the will to do it. There is no way Bush can stand up to this simple strategy. Write a package of bills that includes funding for the budget and healthcare for children and bringing home the troops (& the other major priorities from the 3-5 list above), pass them and send them to the President. If he vetoes any of it, pass no funding bills on anything for 45 days, and then submit the same bill(s) again. If he vetoes it, again, pass no funding bills on anything for 60 days and submit the same bill(s) again. Repeat this, increasing the interval by 15 days each time until the President passes it/them or until he is out of power. By my calculations, there would be a maximum of four iterations of submitting the bill(s) that would be possible between now and election 2008 and it would stop Bush from doing anything else in that time if he refuses to sign.
Is there risk in the above strategy? Sure, but if Dean, Pelosi and Reid agree that the 3-5 priorities that they come up with are the right ones and reflect good Democratic Party principles, then the fight and risk are worth it. This cynical, fear-based, run-out-the-clock strategy has to be stopped right away.