« Maybe People Donít Think the Economy Is So Great Because It Isnít So Great | Main | Will the Real White Working Class Please Stand Up (Again)? »

How Should Dems Frame GOP Scandals?

by EDM Staff

Writing in The American Prospect Online Edition, Greg Sargeant has an interesting discusssion about how Dems should frame their critique of GOP corruption. In his article, "Democratic Alchemy," Sargent outlines the current strategy:

The short-term strategy appears to be twofold: Argue in unison that the GOP is the party of corruption, while aggressively countering GOP efforts to cast the scandal as bipartisan by hammering away at Abramoffís exclusively Republican donations and spotlighting the GOP-built K Street Project machine.

Seems like a workable strategy in the short run. But Sargent sees a larger opportunity here, which Dems must seize to convert popular disgust into votes for Dem candidates, long-term:

A few polls suggest this early strategy is yielding short-term results. But it nonetheless begs a big question: Can Dems really expect this argument to translate into the lasting gains theyíre hoping for? Or should they be trying to formulate a strategy that goes beyond merely tarring the GOP as the corrupt party and looks for ways of weaving the mushrooming scandal into larger arguments about the Republican Partyís most conspicuous domestic failings?

Sargent quotes Karl Agne, a senior advisor at Democracy Corps on how Dems can synergize concerns about corruption with discontent about health care and energy policy:

Dems have got to make this a change election, and two of the issues where the public is desperately looking for new ideas is on energy and health care...Pointing to the lobbying scandals becomes more potent if it's put in a larger context of Republican fealty to special interests in energy and health care, which makes it impossible for the GOP to bring about real reform on their most pressing problems

The GOP scandals also offer a clear opportunity to remind working class voters that the Republican Party is wholly dedicated to priviledge for elites --- "a larger argument about class in America" in contrast to "Clintonian incrementalism" focusing on small issues. As Sargent explains,

Such an argument might go beyond tying todayís corruption to the GOPís favoritism towards health care and energy interests, and describe the scandals more broadly as being part of a larger corrupt alliance between the GOP and wealthy individuals and big corporations across the board.

Other Dem strategists warn that such a class-based approach may be rigged for failure. Sargent quotes Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution:

If Democrats pointed to the scandals as a consequence of the GOPís efforts to align itself with big business, the corruption argument might connect up with ordinary people more. But as Dems have developed constituencies among professionals, a fair number of them high-income, theyíre less and less comfortable with anti-business broadsides. Plus, Clintonís policy successes are still seen as embodying the kind of economic responsibility and moderation that enable Dems to win. So they might be better off tying Republican corruption and incompetence to their alliance with specific sectors Ė energy and health -- where individuals feel burned, rather than to a larger anti-business argument.

An important debate --- and how it is resolved in the months ahead could determine the outcome of the congressional elections in November.