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November 30, 2006

More About Democrats and the South

My response to Tom Schaller at Salon about Democrats and the South got a decent buzz; I especially appreciate the shout-outs from the impeccably fair Chris Bowers at MyDD, and my ol' buddy Armando at TalkLeft.Their takes and some of those in their comment threads illustrate an interesting anomaly about this debate on writing off, or even demonizing, the South. You've got a small contingent that thinks Democrats should significantly modify their platform to win in the South. And you've got a somewhat larger contingent that would just love it if Democrats not only wrote off the region, but shared their strong antipathy towards all sorts of aspects of southern culture, from fried foods to militarism to SUV-mania.But Bowers, Armando, plenty of their commentors, and yours truly, present a cross-ideological United Front in favor of the basics of Howard Dean's 50-state strategy. We think the progressive message, presented with sensitivity to regional variations, can create a long-term Democratic majority, and that anything less will likely squander that opportunity. As Chris Bowers in particular notes, positioning Democrats as the anti-southern party won't work any better than the Republican positioning as the anti-northeastern party ultimately did, as exhibited by the 2006 election results.The estimable Rick Perlstein posted an article on the New Republic site yesterday that escalated the Schaller hypothesis into an attack on the white South as hopelessly racist, and on anyone who doubts that argument as hopelessly myopic, if not dishonest.I'll have more to say about the Perlstein article here or there.

November 29, 2006

The Big Dog of Baghdad

The news that Moqtada al-Sadr's politicians--including five Cabinet members and 30 members of parliament--have "suspended" involvement in Iraq's government was a very timely if unwelcome reminder that the man once derided by U.S. officials as a "pipsqueak cleric" is a big dog indeed these days.The "suspension"--falling short of an actual withdrawal from the government, which would cause it to fall--was transparently a reminder to Iraqi prime minister Maliki that he's on a very short leash in Amman, where he's to meet with George Bush tomorrow.In case you've missed it, Sadr's virulently anti-American Shi'a militia, the Mahdi Army, is generally held responsible for the vast wave of indiscriminate killings of Sunnis that has helped mobilize Sunni support for the insurgency while plunging Iraq into civil war. Used to be the experts thought Sadr was a paper tiger who was being quietly restrained by moderate Shi'a cleric Ayotollah Sistani. Not any more.Here's a chilling summary of Sadr's current status in Iraq posted today by the Washington Post's David Ignatius:

Sadr has been the biggest winner in the power vacuum of Iraq. A senior U.S. intelligence analyst told me this week that Sadr's forces are eight times larger than they were in August, 2004. If provincial elections were held today, the intelligence official said, Sadr's party would win in every Shiite province of Iraq but one. And Sadr for sure has been the most powerful political muscle behind Maliki's fragile coalition.
So that's what, and whom, we are dealing with in any effort to somehow create a viable government of national unity in Iraq.UPDATE: When I wrote this post, I didn't immediately think about the fact that calling someone a "dog" is often taken as a deadly insult in Arab culture. I certainly don't want to exhibit any ethnocentricity here. If Moqtada al-Sadr joins the long historical ranks of bloodthirsty killers who aspire to statesmanship, and become peace-keepers, I'll take it back. But until then, I'll say it again: he's a dog, albeit a big dog.

One-Car Funeral

You just have to wonder how much more fouled up the Bush administration's Iraq policies can possibly get. The Prez was supposed to meet with Iraqi prime minister Maliki and King Abdullah in Jordan today, on the wings of a leaked National Security Council memo basically saying Maliki doesn't know his butt from page eight. Then came the news that five Iraqi Cabinet members and 30 parliamentarians aligned with Moqtada al-Sadr--whose support is necessary to Maliki's continuation in office--were "suspending" participation in the government indefinitely, to protest the summit. And now we learn today's Bush-Maliki-Abdullah meeting was canceled, as a "social event" that wasn't important (Bush and Maliki will still meet tomorrow). Add in the massive anti-Bush demonstrations on tap for Amman, and you've got a public relations disaster of serious magnitude, instead of the confidence-building event the whole show was supposed to represent.A long, long time ago, a Georgia colleague of mine, at the nadir of Jimmy Carter's handling of the Iranian hostage crisis, said: "Well, Jimmy's just become the first president to show he could screw up a one-car funeral." That probably wasn't fair to Carter, but it's increasingly becoming an apt characterization of George W. Bush when it comes to Iraq. I don't know if the Baker-Hamilton commission will indeed give Bush a way to back out of virtually everything he's said and done since the invasion of Iraq, but something's got to give, and very soon.

November 28, 2006

Concerning Dixiephobia

Today Salon is featuring a piece I wrote (at their invitation) responding to Tom Schaller's post-election restatement of his hypothesis that Democrats should not only write off the South, but even campaign against the region in order to solidify a non-Southern majority. I'm not arguing for any particular focus on the South, but do think it's a mistake to write off whole regions, and a potentially disastrous mistake to attack a Southern culture that pervades so much of our latter-day national culture. Check it out.

New NewDonkey

Since this blog first went up in August of 2004, it has been sponsored by the Democratic Leadership Council, where I have been Vice President for Policy and/or Policy Director for a good while.I've now gone part-time with the DLC and its think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute and am no longer acting as a spokesman for the DLC. And in an act of real generosity, the DLC is letting me take NewDonkey.com completely independent.I want to emphasize that my new status does not represent some sort of rift with the DLC. After nearly twelve years there, it was just time to do some other stuff as well, while enabling myself to work at home for the most part. Moreover, regular readers of NewDonkey probably won't notice much of a change in content. Nobody at the DLC tried to censor NewDonkey, though I did occasionally censor myself (e.g., on Iraq) so as to avoid "disarray at the DLC" blog entries among the organization's many detractors. Now that I'm no longer officially or unofficially speaking for anyone but myself, I'll say exactly what I think. And that may well continue to include occasional ripostes to those who have lurid and completely inaccurate views of what the DLC is all about.This change in NewDonkey, I guess I should add, has absolutely nothing to do with the recent decision by my former colleague The Bull Moose, to shut down his own, DLC-sponsored blog. He decided to do that because he's going to be a full-time spokesman for Joe Lieberman. I don't have that handicap at present, but will shut down NewDonkey if any conflicts of interest develop in my non-DLC work (I am, for example, doing some contractual speechwriting work for a potential Democratic '08er, and will strictly avoid blogging about the Democratic presidential nominating contest so long as that arrangement exists). In any event, I hope old readers stick with the New NewDonkey. I'll try to keep it interesting.

November 26, 2006

Glory Glory

I won't do any more posts about college football for a while, but I do have to report I was able to attend the Georgia-Georgia Tech game in Athens yesterday. As you may have heard, Georgia won a thriller, 15-12, over the nationally ranked Jackets (out of respect, I won't call them Dirt Daubers today), their sixth straight win in the intrastate series. Tech goes on to play in the ACC championship game against (surprise) Wake Forest, while Georgia has salvaged a disappointing season with back-to-back wins over Auburn and Tech, and will probably go to the best of the non-BCS bowls, the Chick-Fil-A (formerly the Peach Bowl).Georgia true Freshman Matthew Stafford showed why he will probably, if he stays healthy, be an all-American QB before he leaves Athens. But perhaps the two biggest stars were on defense: the routinely brilliant LB Tony Taylor, who alertly plucked a Reggie Ball fumble from a pile-up and ran it in for Georgia's first TD, and defensive back Paul Oliver, who held superstar Tech receiver Calvin Johnson to two receptions for 13 yards, and made an interception to ice the game.It was truly a fun late afternoon and evening in the Classic City, and left me looking forward to next season like a child counting the days until Xmas.NOTE: In my next post, I'll explain some significant changes in this blog and my own professional life. It's not as dramatic as The Moose's sudden blog shutdown and his departure for Liebermanland, and certainly won't get any attention beyond regular readers, so I'll make it snappy and return to previously scheduled blogging.

November 22, 2006

Katherine Harris' Ghost

Boy, talk about a strange but appropriate development: it's increasingly clear that voting machine errors probably robbed Democratic candidate Christine Jennings of a victory in Katherine Harris' old Florida House seat. You can read about it in the link, but the basic facts are that the electoral results showed a very large (18,000 vote) "undercount" (i.e., disparity in total votes cast) of House votes in a single county. Moreover, the ballots where voters seem to have skipped the House race in unaccountable numbers were those where every statewide Democratic candidate won by a margin that exceeded the district-wide margin for Jennings' opponent, Vern Buchanan.This didn't keep the Florida Secretary of State's office from certifying the Buchanan win, replicating Harris' famous quick certification in the 2000 presidential elections. There are a number of ways this result can be overturned: a state audit of voting machine performance; two separate lawsuits, and a direct challenge to the U.S. House. But the problem is that absent any way to exactly recover the uncounted ballots, the only remedy is a new election, which would likely produce a much smaller turnout than occurred on November 7. There's no evidence of fraud at this point, but this electoral miscarriage of justice reinforces the already powerful case for requiring some sort of paper trail for electronic votes. I guess the good news is that Katherine Harris herself lost by so huge a margin in her fiasco of a Senate race that no manner of errors or quick certifications could have possibly saved her.

November 21, 2006

Hasta La Vista, Moose

Well, it's now out in the open, after an announcement by Joe Liebeman's office: my colleague The Moose, a.k.a. Marshall Wittmann, is shutting down his blog and leaving the DLC to become Communications Director for the Independent-Democrat from CT.I was travelling last week when The Moose suddenly did a post saying he was going into "hibernation." I guessed pretty quickly where he was headed next, but couldn't say anything until Lieberman made it public.It's obviously the perfect gig for Marshall, and he's the perfect spokesman for Lieberman. When he first came to the DLC in 2004, he had just changed his registration from R to Independent, endorsed John Kerry for president, and burned a lot of bridges to the Right--bridges he had already undermined in his work for John McCain in 2000. And although he wrote some of the most withering critiques of Bush, Rove, DeLay, the K Street Strategy, and the whole culture of the GOP appearing in the English language, he could not bring himself to join Our Team in the polarized politics of 2005-06, and was increasingly uncomfortable working in an unambiguous Democratic environment, even at the very tolerant DLC.The Moose became a passionate advocate for Lieberman's primary and general-election campaigns in no small part because he sincerely believes both parties are in danger of abandoning the political center, and quite frankly because he is happiest free of either party's yoke. This is obviously where Joe Lieberman is today. After voting for Harry Reid as Majority Leader, Joe will likely view himself as a completely free agent, much like The Moose.For regular readers of this blog, it's been no secret that I disagree with Marshall on many issues, including Iraq, how Democrats should deal with polarization, the nature and significance of the progressive blogosphere, and the general political landscape.. I cannot count the number of times we've disagreed in internal DLC discussions, or around the office water cooler.But as I indicated a while back in a post defending The Moose against his blogospheric detractors, he has been a boon companion and good friend through thick and thin, not to mention one of the smartest and funniest people I've ever met, which counts a lot with me. And I still think his exceptionally well-informed attacks on the whole rotten culture of the latter-day GOP contributed far more to the Democratic Cause than he took away in his occasional ripostes against what he called the "nutroots," especially among the media types who came to him so often to diagnose the conservative meltdown. It's about as much as any Democrat could expect from a guy who, after all, was a self-proclaimed independent.I sincerely wish The Moose well in his new gig, and hope that his transition from a Democratic organization to an Independent-Democratic Senator will not slake his thirst for attacking the continuing ideological extremism of a GOP that's half-convinced it lost on November 7 by being insufficiently right-wing.So let me say Hasta La Vista to the Moose. I don't know if we will meet down the road as allies or friendly adversaries--hell, we both may be in assisted living before long--but I do know the blogosphere will suffer from the absence of his antlered presence.

November 20, 2006

Iraq and Vietnam

One of the most frequent and controversial lines of argument about the Iraq mess has been the idea that it represents a repetition of the U.S. experience in Vietnam. The parallels are obvious: an overwhelmingly powerful U.S. military gets itself bogged down in a theater related to, but ultimately distinct from, a broader war. An administration (or two) unwilling to admit mistakes or tell the truth gets ensnared in its own lies and spin, which then become the justification for continuing the mistakes in the name of preserving U.S. credibility. And the American people, who are divided on what they think should actually be done, eventually reject the status quo and demand a new course of action.Lots of younger political analysts and bloggers view the whole Vietnam analogy as just another example of Baby Boomer narcissism. Far as I'm concerned, if you could make the case that the U.S. effort in Iraq reflected mistakes made by FDR and Truman in WW2, Wilson in WW1, or for that matter, Napoleon in Russia or Cromwell in Ireland, I'd be interested to hear about it.Now that Iraq is semi-officially an ongoing disaster, it's actually Republicans, including George W. Bush, who seem to be into the Vietnam analogy, but not in a way that indicates any understanding of the lessons of Vietnam. Here's Josh Marshall's take on the subject, based on Bush's quick trip to Vietnam:

Isn't this trip a really odd venue for the president to be arguing that staying the course basically forever is the only acceptable solution? Though it took a tragically long time, the US, for all the moonwalking, eventually decided to pull up stakes in Vietnam. And what was the result? One might make arguments that the Soviets and Soviet proxies were temporarily emboldened in Africa or Latin America, though I think that's debatable. But what of the real effects? The Soviet Union was dismantling itself within little more than a decade of our pull-out. And now we have a Vietnam that is politically repressive at home but proto-capitalist in its economy and, by any measure, incredibly eager for good relations with the United States.If geo-political standing and international repercussions are really the issue we're discussing, it seems very hard to argue that our decision to pull out of Vietnam had any lasting or meaningful ill-effects. And there's at least a decent argument to the contrary.And yet here we have President Bush, stepping on to Vietnamese soil to further our rapprochement with Vietnam, and arguing, in so many words, that the lesson of Vietnam is that we should still be there blowing the place up thirty years later.We're really deep into the primitive brainstem phase of our long national nightmare of presidential denial and mendacity on Iraq.

Yeah, it's odd, though not that suprising to anyone who followed this year's House debate on the Murtha proposal for Iraq, in which most of the Republican debaters explicitly and reduntantly suggested that we could have won the War in Vietnam if we had really tried. For every Democrat who attacks Bush on Iraq without a clear plan for what to do next, there is at least one, or probably two, GOPers who think America has not sufficiently thrown its military weight around in Iraq or elsewhere. These are the ideological heirs of those who argued that we could have prevailed in Vietnam if we had basically killed everything in sight, and escalated the military presence to the gates of hell, and victory. As Josh noted, sometimes even the most hawkish observers have to be able to figure out that Iraq has been and continues to be a huge propaganda defeat for the United States. There are probably no real victories available at this point, but you'd like to think American policymakers can figure out how to pivot from Iraq to the broader war on jihadist terror. It's out there, all the time.

November 19, 2006


There's a fun article in today's Washington Post by DeNeen Brown that captures a bit of the slow-motion riot associated with a change of partisan control of Congress. Sure, the important thing is that Democrats will control the flow of legislation in the House and Senate, and the agenda of committees. But underneath the surface is the human drama of Very Important Members becoming nonentities, and all sorts of havoc at the staff level. For one thing, the majority party controls a significant number of committee and subcommittee staff positions. The turnover of congressional staff jobs doesn't create the kind of employment tempest associated with a change in the Executive Branch, but it still produces a ripple effect throughout the political world; suddenly unemployed high-level Republican staffers will displace all sorts of people in think tanks, law firms, lobbying shops, and so forth. Conversely, it's a good time for Democrats to move in or move up in Washington. Moreover, the majority party gets the really good offices on Capitol Hill. Given the rabbit warrens most congressional staff occupy, a few extra square feet make a big difference. All these small, subtle but significant changes on the Hill won't be fully implemented until the next Congress is sworn in next January. But the political culture of Washington is already adapting to the New Regime. Since 1994, Capitol Hill has been a strange right-wing cigar-and-martini-bar enclave in a very Democratic city. To paraphrase David Bowie, that's about to ch-ch-change.

November 16, 2006

Hoyer Cruises Past Murtha

So, House Democrats voted today, and elected Steny Hoyer Majority Leader over John Murtha by a big 149-86 margin. I´m happy with that result, and not terribly surprised, given the dues Hoyer has paid, the broad support he had across the usual factional lines, and various issues raised by Murtha´s non-Iraq voting record over the years.Nor am I surprised that the Washington Post reported the vote as a big setback for Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi. I still don´t understand Pelosi´s reasoning in publicly endorsing Murtha, attributing the entire election victory to Murtha, as she did, was weird, as was her suggestion that his election as Leader would magically end the war in Iraq.Whatever the impact of this result on the internal dynamics of the caucus, I don´t think this should be interpreted as some sort of ideological Gotterdamerung among Democrats. Sure, a lot of progressive blogospheric types basically endorsed Murtha or said negative things about Hoyer. But they sure didn´t go to the mats on this (beyond the predictably shrill David Sirota), and have quickly moved on to other topics. I don´t know if this was just a matter of counting votes more accurately than Pelosi, or a sign that many threatened post-election intraparty fights just ain´t happening.

Elephants With Short Memories

Sorry for the hiaitus, but I´ve been on the road and offline. I was not terribly surprised, however, to learn how quickly George W. Bush got tired of the bipartisanship rap he dusted off and rehearsed several times last week. In case you missed it, Bush´s first official action after the November 7 debacle is apparently going to be to send up a big batch o´previously rejected conservative judicial nominees. Here´s how the Wall Street Journal summarized it:

After calling for bipartisanship, President Bush surprised Senate Democrats with plans to renominate a controversial list of judges – some of whom may be unacceptable even to a few Republican senators. “It’s an unfortunate signal,” said one senior Democratic Senate aide.The Senate Judiciary Committee has not received the nominations yet. As word spread about the nominations, however, the committee’s Republican Chairman Arlen Specter told reporters: “It is obvious they cannot move during the lame-duck session.” After January, he added, questions about the fate of the nominees should be “directed to someone else.”The White House action is viewed largely as an effort to appease the party’s conservative base. An administration official says there will be a formal White House announcement on the renominations later today. The president is in Moscow, having left Washington last night.
Appease the party´s conservative base? Lord a´mighty, Bush is right where he was in the runup to the elections. This has to be the longest political learning curve in history.

November 12, 2006

Pelosi and Hoyer

I did a post on Friday deploring the idea of a purge of Howard Dean as DNC chairman. This one deplores the idea of a purge of Steny Hoyer as the number-two official among House Democrats. It's motivated by a statement made by Speaker-Elect Nancy Pelosi supporting Jack Murtha's strange challenge to Hoyer as Majority Leader in the next House. It's strange because there's really not a case to be made for any failing by Hoyer as Whip; it's all about Murtha's late-life emergence as an antiwar icon. It's not as though Steny has done anything to undermine House Democrats in their criticism of Bush Iraq policies. And it's not as though Murtha has any other case to make for being a good representative of House Democrats. He's actually been a bit to the right of Jimmy Dean Sausage on a host of issues over the years. I don't necessarily hold that against him, but I do object to the idea that he's an impeccably good Democrat, and Steny's not. It's just not true. Hoyer's probably going to win, unless Pelosi really goes to the mats for Murtha. Let's hope she's made her statement for Murtha precisely because it sends a nice signal to those in the party who think Iraq is literally the only issue that matters, without staking House Democrats to an unnecessary internal fight and an exclusive commitment to Murtha's views on redeployment. And maybe Nancy Pelosi and James Carville should get together, compare notes, and eschew intraparty battles for a while. This we don't need.

November 11, 2006


I haven't blogged about college football in a while, in part because the political news has been more compelling, and in part because my beloved Georgia Bulldogs were going through a 1-4 stretch in which they lost to Vanderbilt and Kentucky, and nearly lost to Mississippi State.But today the Dawgs hammered fifth-ranked Auburn, at Auburn 37-15. And the score was indicative of the nature of the game (Georgia outgained Auburn 444-172). Indeed, if true freshman QB Matthew Stafford hadn't lost two fumbles in the course of his inspired scrambling (he gained 76 yards rushing, with a touchdown), the margin might have gone even higher.Stafford actually deserves a lot of praise (his overall performance was amazing), and Mark Richt deserves some praise for putting the ball in the hands of his most talented QB in a lost year and letting him get experience. Georgia's butter-fingered receivers rediscovered their Velcro. Kregg Lumpkin rushed for over 100 yards. Tre Battle personally made 3 of 4 Georgia INTs (Auburn QB Brandon Cox got sacked early, and seemed to be off-target the rest of the day). The GA defense was generally impressive. And the GA offensive line, down to a handful of reliable players due to injuries, was fanstastic.Georgia's bad season has been somewhat saved, though a win over the nationally ranked Dirt Daubers of Georgia Tech week after next would do wonders for morale in Athens.

Democrats and National Security

It's obvious that the Bush administration's handling of Iraq was a big factor in the Democratic midterm victory (though surprisingly, the national exit polls placed Iraq fourth in the ranks of "most important issues," after corruption, the war on terrorism, and the economy). And in the wake of the victory, I can't blame the most avid antiwar Democrats for crowing about the steady trend of public opinion in the direction of a rejection of the war as a bad idea from the beginning.But given the likely long-range prominence of national security in American politics, and the persistent doubts of many voters about Democratic credibility on national security (which mattered a lot in 2004, and might have mattered this year if Bush and company had not discredited themselves so thoroughly), it's important for Democrats to be clear-eyed about the challenges they face. That's why I was troubled by a TPMCafe post by the usually excellent Greg Sargent the other day that suggested the intra-party divide on national security was between those who (correctly) wanted to be loud and proud in attacking the administration on every front, and those who (incorrectly) wanted to stay silent and fight out the election on domestic issues. Greg's right that some Democrats have habitually wanted to ignore national security issues and some habitually have objected (going all the way back to the 1970s), but this is a divide that cuts across the left-right, pro-war anti-war differences of opinion. The apotheosis of the change-the-subject approach was in the last midterm elections, those in 2002, and it was promoted and opposed by Democrats on both sides of the decision to invade Iraq (the DLC, to cite one example, ranted against the concede-national-security point of view relentlessly). Indeed, this was a debate that never ended within the Kerry general election campaign in 2004.Within the now-triumphant don't-ignore-national-security camp among Democrats, a secondary argument has been, as Greg briefly discusses, whether to attack the Bush administration and the GOP for its incompetence on Iraq, or for its basic decision to go after Saddam Hussein. I strongly suspect a lot of voters would consider this a theoretical and backward-looking dispute that is irrelevant to the basic judgment that Bush and company lied and bullied their way into a war they didn't know how to win. And that's why Democrats were almost certainly smart to frame their party message on Iraq almost exactly that way. Going forward, perhaps the most significant divide among Democrats on national security is between those who view the Iraq war, however it ends, as a distraction from the broader fight against (substitute your favorite terms) jihadist terrorism, and those who think that broader war is a chimera or a mistake as well. The latter camp (which extends over into the GOP "realist" ranks) implicitly agrees with Bush, Cheney and the neocons that you can't separate Iraq from the U.S. reaction to 9/11; the failure of the former indicates a basic misconception of the latter. I don't think this represents anything like a majority of antiwar Democrats, but it's a debate that needs to be flushed out in the open, and resolved before 2008.

November 10, 2006

Carville and Dean

I was out of pocket travelling most of today, and initially missed the brouhaha over the alleged plot to get rid of Howard Dean as DNC chairman. Having now read my emails; the Ryan Lizza Plank post that seems to be the source for James Carville's suggestion that Dean be replaced by Harold Ford; and the angry reaction of the blogosphere, my first thought is:Lordy, lordy. I've always liked Carville, as a guy with impressive strategic and tactical instincts, and impeccable partisan credentials. And I also like Harold Ford, who I suspect was as surprised as anyone by Carville's dropping of his name. But this is a really bad idea, at a really bad time. In the wake of Tuesday's victory, party committee chieftain Rahm Emanuel and Howard Dean appear to have buried the hatchet, and there's a general sense among most Democrats that they both did their very different jobs during the campaign well enough. We do not need any purges at present, thank you. Since I'm sure it's a matter of time before someone suggests the DLC is behind the Plot Against Dean (Markos has already indicated that his post-election attitude of sweetness and light and unity does not extend to the DLC, for whom he holds an especially personal, intense and consistent hostility), allow me to say that Dean's long-range 50-state-strategy, and the broader insistence of the netroots that Democrats should not write off big swatches of the country, reflects what the DLC has been saying for eons. Hell, it was exactly what the DLC (and most explicitly, PPI president Will Marshall) argued for in the wake of the 2004 elections. There are undoubtedly legitimate differences of opinion about exactly how and how far to "expand the battlefield," but this is actually one political issue where the netroots and the DLC tend to agree, against the ancient habits of the party professionals, who so often fight the last war in the narrowest possible trenches.In any event, James should get off the purge-Dean bandwagon, if indeed that's what he's riding, and focus his considerable talents on the very different challenges Democrats will face in 2008. I see nothing other than good things in the rear-view mirror of the 2006 elections.

November 8, 2006

Go Everywhere, Dems

The first installment of the inevitable intra-party Democratic debate over what yesterday's victory means has been stimulated by Fox Newsish claims that Dems took Congress by running conservative candidates who will be at odds with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. And this spin war has converged with a pre-election argument about where Dems should look for a national majority.One Democratic spin on the results has been that the Donkey Party won by consolidating its Blue State strength, snuffing congressional Republicans who had previously survived by pretending to be more moderate than the national GOP leadership.There's some truth to this take, if only because a national "wave" election tends to take out the Nancy Johnsons and the Jim Leaches who indeed were living on borrowed time.But the results do not provide a good argument for Democrats to write off Enemy Territory and focuse on their Blue State geographical base.15 of the 28 Democratic House gains were in Red States, most of them in Red or Purple Districts.3 of the 6 new Senators are from Red States.3 of the 6 gubernatorial pickups for Democrats were in Red States.About half of the state legislative gains were in Red States.We are beginning to turn Purple States blue, and Red States purple. I can't imagine why any Democrat would think of this as bad news, but there is clearly a point of view among Democratic intellectuals that messing around with voters in Red State areas, particularly in the South, represents an exposure to ideological contamination.I am beginning to slog my way through Tom Schaller's recent book, Whistling Past Dixie, that makes the most intellectually credible case I've read so far for Democrats to eschew any southern strategy. I will probably review the book somewhere or other, but the bottom line is that Schaller's worried about the ideological risks involved in any Democratic strategy that involves the weird, religiously-oriented, "backward" South, as opposed to allegedly progressive ground in the Midwest and West.I don't know how much time ol' Tom has spent in the Rocky Mountain West, which he posits as a vastly more progressive region than the South, but I have to tell you there are a whole lot of rednecks there, which doesen't bother me but should bother Schaller. And I'm not sure I understand why it's okay for Democrats to focus on states like Indiana, which have not gone Democratic since 1964, but not okay to pursue votes in places like Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennesse, Kentucky and Georgia, which have cast their electoral votes for Democrats in the last decade or so.On the more general point of whether it's a problem for Democrats that their freshman class has some alleged "conservatives" on board, the much-esteemed Mark Schmitt nailed it over at TAPPED:

Unlike Tom Schaller, I have to admit, I wasn’t bothered at all by the spin that the Democrats won because they embraced a lot of candidates with conservative views and backgrounds....

[T]he bulk of the Democratic majority came from Northeast, Midwest and Mountain seats where the winners were not conservative.So the spin that the Democrats won because they moved in a more conservative direction is inaccurate. But so what? Consider the alternative spin, which is that Democrats are a bunch of extreme liberals, who will be as far out of touch as the Republicans and who will be destroyed in 2008? I’d rather have a party that’s fairly liberal but has a reputation or image as moderate than one that’s really moderate and over-cautious but has a reputation for being extremely liberal, which was the situation through much of the 19990sThe fact is that the Democratic Party has been a centrist, moderate party for some time, in the sense that on balance the party’s governors, legislators and policy agenda fully represent the center of public opinion. (As shown, for example, by the fact that the viewpoint of independents was very much in line with that of Democrats.) But it was a damaged brand; it needed a remake of its image. This is a chance to do it, by showing that the party has in fact incorporated the center. Highly visible veterans, openly religious candidates, and social conservatives like Casey send a cultural signal, not an ideological one, a signal that this is a party you can be comfortable in. Sometimes you need to seem like you have changed just to make people understand what’s been going on all along.

Truth is, moderate Democratic candidates do pretty well all over the country, given a chance. But if we perversely decide not to compete where such candidates do particularly well, we will handicap our party, just as Karl Rove handicapped Republicans by demanding partisan loyalty to a highly ideological agenda.

War Hymns

I've just watched about all I could stand of George W. Bush's press conference announcing the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld. Not surprisingly, he got a lot of questions about the implications of yesterday's elections, and started yammering about his desire to work with Democrats.Yeah, right. Next thing he'll be telling us he wants to be "a uniter, not a divider," and usher in a "responsibility era." Day before yesterday, he was finishing up a campaign swing that focused on the argument that the Democratic Party was basically a terrorist front organization. And even in today's remarks, he couldn't stop himself from suggesting that anyone who questions his and Rumsfeld's sorry record on Iraq is undermining the troops and frightening the Iraqis.As for the timing of the decision to finally let Rummy go, a couple of years too late, I'm sure we'll hear from right-wing chatterers that it couldn't happen before Election Day because it would have discouraged the conservative "base." If, God forbid, I were a conservative base voter, I'd be pretty damn insulted by the idea that Rumsfeld, who has done more to discredit Republican national security bona fides than anyone not named Dick Cheney, was one of my heroes. The real issue is that the administration needs to pretend it's rethinking Iraq before Democrats ride into Washington, take over congressional committee gavels, and start asking questions about Iraq that should have been asked by Congress a long time ago.Rumsfeld's proposed replacement, former CIA chief Bob Gates, is currently president of Texas A&M University. Let me be the very first to suggest his replacement in College Station: my colleague The Moose. He'd love to return to his native Texas; his original strategy of joining the staff of Governor Kinky Friedman hasn't exactly worked out. And the timing's perfect: he could get out of the political arena on a high note, just after the humiliation of Karl Rove and the apotheosis of Joe Lieberman, and before John McCain has a chance to break his heart. Despite his yankeefied higher education in New York and Ann Arbor, the Moose is totally an Aggie Wannabee. I can attest to the fact that he knows every word of the Aggie War Hymn, and can sing it at a considerable decibal level.So if anything really good is to come of the latest Bush maneuver, maybe this is it: A&M President Marshall Wittmann. To paraphrase the War Hymn:Rummy's horns are sawed offRummy's horns are sawed offRummy's horns are sawed offShort! A!

Other Shoe Drops In the Senate

There's still a lot of confusion about where things stand in the Senate, but now that the networks have called Montana for Tester, we are going to have a Democratic Senate. In VA, Webb is up 7,000 votes with nothing much out but a couple of very small boxes and then some provisional ballots. The provos will almost certainly boost Webb's margin. As things currently stand, Allen can ask for a recount, but here's the rub: he has to wait almost three weeks until the results are certified. It's hard to imagine a recount can reverse Webb's lead, so Allen and GOPers generally have to decide if they really want weeks of derisive commentary about their stance on recounts in Florida six years ago, when it's unlikely the delay will do them any good.The other irony, of course, is that Democratic control of the Senate now depends on Joe Lieberman. Nobody has any reason to think he won't do what he promised and caucus with Democrats, but there may be a little bit of uncomfortable crow-eating among those who have spent months arguing that Lieberman's not a Democrat anymore, and should be stripped of his seniority.

Virginia the Next Florida?

I'm about to try and get a couple of hours of sleep, but the most interesting electoral story at 3:30 a.m. EST is whether the skin-tight Webb-Allen race in VA will wind up deciding control of the US Senate. If Jon Tester hangs on to his lead in MT, it will indeed all come down to VA. Jim Webb's current 7,000 vote lead gives George Allen a statutory right to a recount. And as we know from 2000, all hell could break loose at that point. Tomorrow's not too soon for Democrats to get lawyered up for a sustained battle over VA. Republicans will certainly initiate it, and this time, it would be nice if Democrats figured out how to simultaneously win in court, and in the court of public opinion.

Late Night

Well, my suggestion that this would be an early night for political junkies was obviously wrong. A combination of close races, slow counts (caused largely by high turnouts) and very cautious media "calls," has made this election a real nail-biter.At this point, the net Democratic gain in House seats stands at 25, and climbing.In the Senate, we've won three seats so far. Tennessee is gone; Virginia (where Jim Webb leads by about two thousand votes with a handful of scattered Democratic and Republican precincts still out) is going into Recount Land; Claire McKaskill has taken a late narrow lead in MO, and Jon Tester has a steady but still early lead in MT.We've won 6 net governorships so far; the only real disappointment has been in RI, which was excrutiatingly close.And further down ballot, we've won control of a number of state legislative chambers: both Houses in IA (where Dems pulled off the trifecta of holding the governorship and flipping both the state legislature and the congressional delegation), the IN House, the MN Senate, the NH Senate, and the MI House.It's taken a while to develop, but this is a good late night for Donkeys, with the possibility of getting better by Dawn's early light.UPDATE: CNN has called MO for McCaskill. So it's now down to VA and MT.

November 7, 2006

Lest We Forget....

As we wait for the votes to start trickling in, and get ready to focus on a vast landscape of close races, it's a good time to pause and reflect on some unclose races where the bad guys have already lost. First up, there's Ricky Santorum of PA, who is sort of a poster boy for all those big-time Washington pols who get a little ahead of themselves. Not that long ago, after establishing himself as a hero to the Cultural Right, and serving as the Senate point man for the lobbyist-shake-down K Street Strategy, Ricky was lookin' damn good in the mirror each morning. Indeed, as recently as late last year, he was maneuvering to succeed Bill Frist as Republican Leader in the Senate, and envisioning himself occupying the Oval Office in 2009. He reportedly regarded the Democrat who is likely to trounce him tonight, Bob Casey, somewhat like a pit bull regards a raw steak. Now Ricky's about to become an ex-senator. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.Then down in FL, there is Senate Republican Nominee Katherine Harris, who perfectly represents the blowback from the savage Bush-Cheney endgame in 2000. Having done more than anyone outside the Supreme Court to secure the presidency for W., she became the Conservative Republican Base Champion par excellence, and thus could not be denied a Senate nomination when she asked for it. Her bizarre, if-you-love-Jesus-you-gotta-love-me campaign, which was marked by repeated resignations of her staff and consultants, will end tonight with an ignominous defeat by Bill Nelson. And for dessert, Democrats could pick up her old House seat. It wouldn't be quite accurate to call OH Secretary of State Ken Blackwell the Katherine Harris of '04, but there's no question in my mind that he aspired to the title. Along with Harris, he's a living advertisement of the case against partisan election administration. He's also so violent a cultural conservative that none other than George W. Bush (according to the recent Bob Woodward book) called him a "nut." And in his doomed gubernatorial race this year, he showed his class by letting his campaign drop broad hints that his opponent was gay, soft on sexual predators, or both. On top of everything else, his political meltdown tonight should convince GOP strategists that African-Americans are not going to vote for just anybody who is African-American.When these three folks go down hard tonight, I will pause to enjoy the moment. And let's not forget the earlier fine moment when another bad guy, Ralph Reed, lost the opportunity to lose tonight (the Republican who beat him in the Georgia Lieutenant Governor primary, Casey Cagle, is in a tight race with distinguished Democrat Jim Martin tonight).

Early Night?

Ah yes, it's finally Election Day, when the only poll that really matters is the one in which voters actually vote. And unlike some recent elections, we'll probably know most of what we need to know nationally well before midnight. That's because so many of the key House and Senate races are in the eastern and central time zones. Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post's "The Fix" political blog has posed a very nifty "viewer's guide" for tonight that identifies, by poll closing times, the races that will pretty much indicate how well Democrats will ultimately do. In addition to the possibility of an early night, it's also clear political junkies will have to get a life before the polls close as well. In reaction to the exit poll debacle of 2004, The Powers That Be in the news media are swearing that the handful of network analysts who will have access to exit poll data during the day will be locked in a room, stripped of their blackberries and cell phones, until 5:00 p.m. EST, at which point they will be allowed to speak to their employers. Maybe leaks will occur shortly thereafter, but the odds are that no reliable data will be out there until the nets make their calls. Pollster.com has the full story, and more about exit polling, here. I'll be posting randomly during the day and night, for those who want a change of pace from the tube or the big political sites.

November 6, 2006

Anticipating the Aftermath

About three weeks ago, Washington Monthly editor Paul Glastris called me with an interesting proposed writing assignment: pretend it's the day after the elections, and you're writing an op-ed for a major newspaper advising your party's leaders about what to do now. But here was the twist: write two of these fictional op-eds, one based on the presumption that Democrats will take over both Houses of Congress, and the other based on the opposite proposition that GOPers shock the world and maintain control of both Houses. Glastris approached some other folks with a similar offer, and it's all up on the Monthly's site now. In the end, Mark Schmitt and I were the only ones who wrote the op-eds both ways. But the package has Tom Daschle, Daniel Levy, David Gergen, and Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein addressing the day-after realities of a Democratic win, while Dick Armey and David Greenberg write up an unlikely GOP victory. The title the Monthly gave my "Dems win" piece--"Kick 'Em While They're Down"--is a little misleading, but I like it. Check it all out as you get out the vote, with fingers crossed.

November 5, 2006

Last-Minute Jitters

It's t'wo days til Election Day 2006, and there's a lot of nervousness out there about how things will break at the very last minute. Yes, it's hard to find much of anybody, even in GOP circles, who doesn't think Democrats will retake the House. But today, a new Washington Post/ABC poll has the Democratic generic ballot advantage dropping to 6 points. And Mason-Dixon has dropped a batch of new Senate polls showing Chafee up in RI, Corker romping in TN, Burns drawing even with Tester in MT, and Steele within 3 of Cardin in MD. Tomorrow, of course, may bring other polls that contradict this latest burst of semi-cheer for the GOP (I know Markos is a big fan of Mason-Dixon's accuracy, but I've always suspected them of a fairly heavy thumb on the scales for Republicans), but today's buzz is illustrative of a general uncertainty about what will really matter at the very end. I suspect a lot of this is derived from (a) the unexpected tilt of last-minute trends in the last two midterm elections, (b) the confounding two years ago of the common assumption that undecided voters break against incumbents in stormy weather, and (c) the mythology that has developed around the GOP's 72 Hours get-out-the-vote system. Add in to these factors the remote possibility, being trumpted by hopeful Republicans, that the Saddam verdict and sentence--or even less credibly, the Kerry furor of last week--has had a significantly positive effect on conservative base turnout.The final factor, of course, is the infamous "horse-race" psychology of the political chattering classes, who love close elections and thus tend to promote them. I don't know if Democrats will take the House narrowly or massively, or take the Senate at all, but I do know you will have to get pretty deep into the expectations game to view any likely result on Tuesday as anything less than a Democratic triumph. Not that long ago, the CW was that gerrymandering made any Democratic takeover of the House almost impossible until 2012, and that the red-state/blue-state divide guaranteed virtually perpetual Republican control of the Senate and of most state governments. No matter what happens, Democrats will defy those expectations on Tuesday.

November 2, 2006

Back On Their Heels

In all the flurry of last-minute polls, ads and talking points, one of the most interesting Signs of the Times of this midterm election is the highly selective deployment of the President of the United States. Not wanted in many competitive states and districts, and following the Rovian strategy of energizing a very dispirited conservative GOP base, Bush is going into very red territory and nowhere else: Georgia, Texas, Kansas, Montana, Nevada. This is reminiscent of the limitations experienced more than thirty years ago, heading into the very similar 1974 elections, when, before his resignation, Richard M. Nixon wasn't wanted much of anywhere. Indeed, in Kansas that year, when Sen. Bob Dole was embroiled in a very tight race, he was asked if he wanted the President to appear in the state for him. "I wouldn't mind if he flew over Kansas," quoth Dole. Actually, Nixon spent a good part of early 1974 flying around the world to places where locals could be counted on to show up in large numbers to cheer him and wave American flags. This is obviously not an option for George W. Bush. Republicans are clearly back on their heels going into Tuesday's elections. George W. Bush is a negative factor for the GOP nationally, and I doubt he's going to have much magic for candidates even in the reddest of red states.

November 1, 2006

Where's the Outrage?

Lost amidst the manufactured outrage over John Kerry's study-hard-or-go-to-Iraq line has been the genuine outrage that Americans ought to feel about the president's and vice president's coordinated message two days ago that essentially said a vote for Democrats is a vote for terrorism.It's odd: the Washington Post played up this story in a banner front-page headline, but it hardly got picked up anywhere else in the major mainstream media. Perhaps that's why I didn't see the explosion of anger in the progressive blogosphere that I expected, either. Indeed, about the only sharp reaction I saw was from the Democratic Leadership Council, whose New Dem Dispatch tore Bush and Cheney new ones for arguing that their national security failures meant that American voters had lost their right to hold them accountable for their vast series of mistakes.Here's a sample of the DLC take:

After botching the Iraq War about as thoroughly as possible, and refusing to admit errors, change strategies or hold anyone responsible for their incompetence, the Bush administration is now arguing that the American people don't have the right to hold them responsible, either, since a Democratic victory would cheer terrorists in Iraq and elsewhere. In effect, Bush and Cheney are trying to hold America hostage to their own mistakes.This breathtaking line of "reasoning" is all the more deplorable because it expresses a sense of complete U.S. helplessness in the struggle against jihadist terrorists. We can't change direction because that would be a victory for our enemies. So they effectively control us. Given the administration's obsession with denying there are any practical restraints on U.S. freedom of action in Iraq or anywhere else, that's an especially ironic point of view.
Check it out and pass it on. As Michael Crowley observed over at The Plank, Kerry may have bungled a joke, but Bush bungled a war. And that's why the gleeful right-wing assault on Kerry may backfire: it reminds voters of the issue on which they have already decided to repudiate the administration and the GOP. In the end, the joke may be on Republicans.