With the arrival of Labor Day, and the end of Vacation Time for Americans lucky enough to have jobs with benefits, the options for changing the dynamics of the midterm elections have gradually but steadily narrowed. Significant external events could still happen, but probably won’t; the economy is not going to turn around between now and November 2.
Moreover, the opportunity to engineer a basic sea change in public opinion on the Obama’s administration’s agenda is probably past for the time being. Much as the White House’s earlier efforts to convince people that the economy would be far worse without unpopular market interventions made sense, basic judgments have been made by most persuadable voters. The same is true of health reform; the legislation’s beneficial effects will have to kick in before it gets a fresh trial in the court of public opinion.
What Democrats can — and must — do more of during the shank of the campaign season is to challenge Republicans to disclose their own agenda for the country, and draw greater attention to the extremist logic of where Republican positions of current events would lead. The vast majority of all Democratic messaging in the next two months needs to relentlessly focus on this single topic.
This is obviously easier in the case of Republican nominees such as Rand Paul, Sharron Angle and Joe Miller, who have called for phasing out Social Security and Medicare. But many other Republicans are demanding elimination of any federal role in education, energy environmental protection or agriculture, and virtually the entire party is reflexively opposing regulations on a wide variety of subjects where corporate misbehavior has had a devastating effect on the national interest and middle-class Americans individually.
Even those GOP elected officials and candidates who have been careful to avoid such specific positions have accepted the party-wide argument that federal budget deficits must be immediately reduced if not eliminated even as new tax cuts for high-earners and corporations are provided and the defense budget is protected (if not expanded via a new war with Iran which many Republicans have been agitating in favor of for years now). By any sort of math, the Republican agenda means massive steps to eliminate regulations and scale back Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other basic safety net programs.
Democrats need to hammer away at these general and particular implications of the GOP agenda every day and in every competitive contest across the country.
To those who argue that this sort of “negative” campaigning would represent an effort to change the subject from its own performance in office, Democrats must respond: it’s Republicans who are trying to change the subject from a proper comparison of the agendas of the two parties and of individual candidates.
There’s no secret about the Democratic agenda; the administration and the congressional Democratic leadership have been trying to implement it since January of 2009, against the active obstruction of the GOP, which is using every dilatory tactic, most notably unprecedented threats to use Senate filibusters. The public deserves to know exactly what the Republican Party will propose if it gains control of either House of Congress.
At this late date, such a “negative” campaign by Democrats is the right thing to do, and perhaps the only thing to do that can simultaneously persuade swing voters and motivate a high turnout by Democrats. Waiting until next year to force the hand of Republicans is both irresponsible and politically feckless.
However much conservatives and many elements of the media insist the midterm elections are a “referendum” on the Obama administration or this or that Democratic initiative, they cannot wish away the fact that every contest that will decide control of Congress or of state and local governments involves a choice between a Democrat and a Republican–with the former being held strictly responsible for every discontent with the status quo, and the latter free to demagogue and make vague or wild promises without immediate consequences.
Every Democrat reading these words knows the sort of extremist and very unpopular agenda the GOP will be forced to advance in the very near future by its own loose rhetoric, the logic of its conflicting promises, and the growing radicalism of its cadre of politicians. It’s time to tell the country about it right now.
This item is cross-posted at The Democratic Strategist
Photo credit: Tim Bradshaw’s photostream