For months, Democrats running for office this fall, their
campaign consultants and pollsters, have all trembled
in the face of Bush's 70 plus approval ratings. This has
led to a rather odd dynamic in their campaign strategies.
In places like Montana and South Dakota, incumbent
democratic Senators are actually running ads touting their
closeness to the President. Call me crazy, but I see this
strategy as a disaster in the making.
I happen to believe Bush's popularity is a mile wide
and an inch deep, because it is purely a function of the
American patriotism stirred by the 9-11 attacks. But
even if I'm wrong and it isn't, none of it is likely to rub
off on any Democrat running for office, no matter how
hard they grovel at Bush's feet. So the only thing
running as a not-so-in-the-closet Republican is going
to do is to dishearten their Democratic base.
Instead of this contrarian insanity, I would recommend
a conventional campaign. For Democratic challengers
willing to buck the "wisdom" Democratic campaign
gurus are apparently preaching, I offer a bold strategy
sure to get them into office:
Point out that the "GOP government" is a failure.
Instead of tripping all over yourself trying to prove
your patriotism by promising your undying loyalty to
Bush's war on terror, take that as a given. Then point
out that for the average taxpaying American, no matter
how good they may sound on paper, when you look at
the data, the policies of the GOP controlled government
have made things worse. All you have to do is point out
the facts, and suggest that it is time for a change. By virtually
every measure available, ever since Bush moved into the
White House, things have deteriorated. OK, you might
have to admit that for the millionaires in the audience,
taxes are lower. But other than that, the facts are on your side.
The stock market? Down. Job growth? Down. Income growth? Down.
Crime? Up. Unemployment? Up. The deficit and national debt? Up.
Sure, the GOP will squeal that none of it is there fault,
but come November, when the swing voters get in that
booth, the buck is going to stop somewhere.
Ronald Reagan persuaded millions of blue collar union
members to vote for him when he asked Americans
"Are you better off than you were four years ago?" I
would suggest a variation on that theme. I would ask,
since the Republicans took over complete control of
our government two years ago, can you name one
thing that has gotten better? Whether we are talking
about jobs, the environment, the health care system,
the capital markets, or the even the social fabric, can
you name one thing? The answer for a vast, vast
majority of Americans is no.
You don't have to take on Bush personally. You don't
have to educate the public about the rampant corruption
and incompetence of the Bush administration. You can
ignore the myriad of ways the Bush administration has
used the war on terror to shred the Constitution, Cheney's
secret energy policy, the failures that led to 9-11, and all
of the cover-ups that continue to this day. You don't have
to point out that the anthrax mailer, Osama bin Laden, and
most of al Qaeda, are all still at large. You can give Bush a
complete pass on all of this and still win.
You don't need to convince people not to like Bush.
You don't even have to convince anyone that the
across the board downturn in every economic, social
and health indicator is Bush's fault. All you need to do
is point out that the rise in unemployment and crime,
the drop in consumer confidence and the US dollar,
the return of deficit spending, the implosion of investor
confidence, and the Enron, Arthur Anderson, and
Merrill Lynch scandals, are symptoms of real problems
in budget priorities and regulatory philosophy, and that
the Democrats will fix them, and the Republicans won't.
The operatives in the White House have adopted a
strategy of continually stoking the war on terror in a
ploy to create fear they believe will keep Bush on top.
All those terrorist warnings about dirty bombers make
people edgy and uncomfortable. Karl Rove's plan is to
steer the frightened herd toward the GOP, by promoting
Bush as their protector. But Bush won't be on the ballot,
and people blame al Qaeda for their anxiety, not the
Democrats. A frightened herd is an unpredictable quantity,
which creates a potential flip side to Karl Rove's "scare the
daylights out of them" plan.
Fear is fungible. Given the right information, the anxiety
of swing voters is just as likely to turn people against
the GOP as toward them. All a cagey candidate has to
do is to blur the line between the anxiety created by
the war on terror with anxiety about the domestic
policies of the Republicans, and the whole thing could
blow up in Rove's face.
High levels of tension create a desire for change, and
the Bush administration has turned up the tension to
obnoxious proportions. To win, Democrats have to
turn that tension against Republicans. Don't point
fingers, don't cast blame. Simply point out the facts.
The Republicans have been running the show, and
things have gotten worse. Be a sunny optimist. Offer
the can-do spirit that we can make things better. Offer
America a new direction, and they will take it.