Republicans bet the farm on Security

Several pieces over the weekend preview the fall Republican strategy - argue that electing Democrats will weaken the war on terror, making us less safe.  To do that, the Times reports today, they will have to give up a passing the pending immigration bill.  Not a big suprize, given that the House Rs believe attacking Democrats for being soft on immigration - meaning that they support the bill passed by the Senate and supported by President Bush - will be one of their key issues this fall. 

To me the collapse of the immigration bill is a clear and potent sign of why the Rs are in trouble this fall.  An unprecendented bi-partisan bill is created, bringing together labor, business, immigration groups and folks like NDN.  It is supported by Bush.  It passes the Senate.  The President gives his only prime time speech this year promoting it.  It is a good bill, going a long way to solving the vexing immigration problem.  But of course these guys, who have shown themselves to be so good at politics and so bad at governing, can't pass it.  And so today we learn that is won't pass.  No big suprize here. 

But what comes next is millions of dollars of ads saying that Democrats weakness on border issues is creating more terrorists.  We saw it in an NRSC ad for Lincoln Chafee against a fellow Republican two weeks ago.  So it is coming.  But Democrats have nothing to fear.  We have a plan - the Senate bill, supported by McCain and Bush - that solves the immigration problem.  They have "seal the border."  Ours is a plan that will work, there's is a press conference.  We can win this battle this fall, with the American people, on tv ads. 

But this security first and only strategy leaves exposed what is a major Republican weakness this fall - the economy.  The Post has a very good story on this today, and a new CNN poll released last night shows now that the economy is the number one issue of voters today.  From the Post piece:

"At first glance, the economy's role in this year's midterm elections is a puzzle. Economic growth and unemployment are at levels that in past years would have been a clear political asset for the party in power.

But one layer down in the statistics, the answer is more clear. Flat wages and rising debt nationally have converged to leave millions of middle-class households feeling acutely vulnerable to bumps in their financial planning. The most visible of these are rising energy prices and a softening housing market.

A less obvious but powerful variable is the interest paid by people carrying credit card debt or mortgages whose monthly payments vary with interest rates. People buffeted by these trends have given rise to a new and volatile voting block.

"People like this are making a large ripple across the body politic," said Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies. When added to the growing opposition to the war in Iraq, he said, worry about this economic crunch "is creating a political environment that is not that friendly to the party in power."

Every election cycle has its own important set of undecided, or swing, voters. In 2000, it was the "soccer moms," targeted by both parties with appeals based on education and quality-of-life concerns. In 2004, it was the security moms, normally Democratic-trending women whose concerns about terrorism helped give Bush his margin of victory.

This year could mark the emergence of what might be called mortgage moms -- voters whose sense of well-being is freighted with anxiety about their families' financial squeeze. Democrats are betting that this factor is strong enough to trump security or cultural values issues."

The rise of the economy as an issue should come as no suprize to NDNers.  Our globalization project has been banging on this theme for 18 months.  And we've been working hard, for over a year, to pass meaningful immigration reform.  No matter how salient the security issues are this fall, for a governing party to ignore the current economic plight of average Americans, and let a good and sensible immigration reform bill collapse, says more about why they may lose power than the epic failure of their foreign policy. 

NDN: Finishing Strong

As we prepare for the home stretch, I am proud of the contribution NDN and its family and affiliates have made this cycle.  Over the next few weeks I will be writing about the transformation of NDN over these past few years, from a centrist PAC called the New Democrat Network to the advocacy and strategy center now called NDN.  We may no longer have a federal PAC, and be endorsing candidates as we did, but we are making an important contribution to restoring the promise of our great nation, and giving others the tools to also make themselves more effective at this critical time. 

Expect a great deal of activity from NDN and our affiliates these next two months.  We will be focusing on three distinct campaigns: mas que un partido, tools and wages.  The first, conducted by our affiliates, the NDN political fund, is speaking to the hopes of Hispanics through a sustained national Spanish-language media campaign.  NPI's tools campaign is helping progressives learn and use four new tools - cable, search, blogs and Spanish-language media.  Finally, our wages campaign, begun 18 months ago, is working to put declining wages front and center in the national debate. 

Of course there will be more, as there always is, with NDN.  But these three powerful campaigns is how we are closing in this critical year.  Each of them have already made a significant impact, but there is much more we can and must do together. 

Rate the miracle: 60 Books vs 10 divisions

In a new, very occasional feature on the NDN blog, we present the Lunchtime competition. Today's question: which of the following stories do we believe less ? The miracle of the President's reading habit, or the miraculous progress being made in the middle east? First up: President Bush Renaissance Man from US News and World Report.

President Bush now wants it known that he is a man of letters. In fact, Bush has entered a book-reading competition with Karl Rove, his political adviser. White House aides say the president has read 60 books so far this year (while the brainy Rove, to Bush's competitive delight, has racked up only 50).

Second up, Republican Senator James Inhofe from Oklahoma on the situation in Iraq (via CAP).

Contrary to most reports, Inhofe said, many Iraqis are pleased about the U.S. intervention. "Iraqi security forces now number 275,000 trained and equipped," he said. "The commanders in the field and the Iraqis say when this reaches 325,000, that would equal 10 divisions..... What's happened there is nothing short of a miracle."

Answers on a post card.

Good to be back

Returned last night from two weeks away.   Caitlin and our three kids went on a tour of California, spending a week at Lake Tahoe, a few days in Monterey and ending with beach time in La Jolla.  The weather was great, seeing friends always comforting, and the time with our young family so important. 

Of course a lot happened in these last few weeks.  Castro became ill, Lamont won the CT primary, and a cease fire is being tried in Lebanon.  We awake this morning with the news that global diplomatic efforts to bring peace to the region are failing, as the Europeans are balking at providing troops for the proposed peacekeeping forces.  

It is good to be back, and it was great to be away, but this new diplomatic failure is a grim morning reminder of how much work we all have to do.  The Bush era has ignored some important challenges - health care, the retirement of the baby boom, declining wages, global climate change - and created many more.  The mess in the Middle East today cries out for a grand vision, subtle diplomacy and broad international cooperation for a sustained period of time.  In the old days, creating this new process would be America's job.  In today's world, in the Bush era, in an era of diminished American influence, it is hard to see how we all get to where we need to go in Lebanon and the region. 

NDN in the News

Simon was quoted in Dan Balz's interesting take on the Lieberman race, in Saturday's Post.

Simon Rosenberg, founder of the Democratic group NDN that has sought to be a bridge between centrist Democrats and the more liberal world of bloggers and Internet activists, said: "Lieberman's calculation here that there is a revulsion against Washington is not correct. There's revulsion at Republican governance."

NDN in the News

Simon is in the USA Today discussing Senator Lieberman's decision to run as an Independent.  For more of Simon's thoughts on the CT primary, check out his blog entry from yesterday. 

"Simon Rosenberg, president of the centrist New Democrat Network, called Lieberman's loss "a political failure of great magnitude" and urged him to "end this part of your remarkable career."

Where the smart money is after Connecticut

And a big NDN hello! to our new readers, after yesterday's fun and excitement. I'll be leaving the state of the nation stuff to Simon, and go for the fripperires instead. Much discussion today of how yesterday's events in Connecticut will play out during the coming three months. Its a toss-up between Democrats heading for cut n'run rack and ruin if you believe the Vice President; Democrats energised and united if you believe the Democratic leadership; or the country hungry for the McCain-Lieberman Party, if you believe David Brooks. How can you tell who is right? Enter a nifty website a friend sent me this morning, Tradesport.com, which uses betting patterns to provide odds on all manner of good things. What do the punters say? Yesterday, it showed that the long term slide in odds of the GOP retaining the House in November continued. Not quite as rosy on the Senate, however. Joementum or not makes little difference in a fairly steady bet that the Dems are in an uphill struggle to take back the Senate. To think: all of that commentary ink spilled, and the betting men are unmoved. A lesson for us all?

The Connecticut race

A whole lot is going to be written about what happened in Connecticut.  Whether Lamont wins or not, we know that a major national politician has been seriously challenged by a newcomer.  How did we get to this point? I think there were three critical moments in this race which left the door open for Lamont to make his remarkable run:

1. Lieberman attacks other Democrats over Iraq.  Last year the Senator choose to publically chastise other Democrats for challenging the President over our failing policy in Iraq.  Many, including me, thought this was way over the top.  The Administration used the Lieberman lines against other Democrats for weeks.  What is critical here is that Joe went after Democrats not for our policy choices, but for even wanting to have a debate over whether Iraq was working or not.   Understanding this part of the story is essential, for the anger towards Joe has always been more about his defending a failed President against other Democrats than it has been his stance on the Iraq War itself. 

2. Lieberman ignores and discounts his opposition.  In a period that lasted from last year to until a few months ago, Lieberman, in a very dangerous move, essentially told those who were unhappy with him to pound sand. His first ad of the campaign told voters that even though they disagreed with him on the War, there were many other things they did agree on - the message there being I know you are unhappy with me but too bad.  And what is incredible is that he used his own money to remind the voters of the state why they were angry with him! 

During this time the inchoate anger towards him for betraying those that brought him to office was buttressed by this incredible arrogance and self-righteousness.  Remember a third of the country was against the War when it happened; meaning that perhaps half of all Connecticut voters were against the War when it happened; meaning that more than half of all Democratic voters were against the War when it happened three years ago.  Today more than three-fourths of the state believe the President is doing a bad job, and that the War is a failure.  To tell voters that on the issue they most care about that they are wrong, and I know better isn't principle, as Joe has asserted, its arrogance.  Particularly when it is clear the voters are right on this one.  The President and the War are a disaster. 

During this long period many tried to intervene and help the Senator.  His path was simple here - just make it clear that though you are sticking to your guns on Iraq, you want to listen to the concerns of those who are concerned and unhappy about the War.  Sit with folks who are angry.  Listen.  Attack the President in your ads, and in your speeches for Katrina, for a declining middle class, for the high levels of corruption in Washington, for the estate tax, etc.  If the main attack against you is that you are too close to Bush make it clear you think he is doing a bad job - something two thirds of the country agrees with you on. 

None of this happened.  Millions of dollars and countless days were spent on messages to the voters of Connecticut that nothing to do with what was on their mind - why is our Democratic Senator seemingly so uninterested in what Democrats think and believe, why is he defending a War that seems like such a disaster, and why is he so close to Bush?  This campaign will go down as one of the worst of modern times. 

3.  Lieberman goes independent.  So Democrats are wondering whether you a Democrat any more and whats the answer? File as an independent, essentially proving that the opposition's attacks on you were right.  This was the most important moment in the campaign, and the one that if Joe loses, I believe, is the main reason why.  Prior to going independent, Joe was up by 20 points in the polls and in command of the race.  Lamont was still ill-defined, and Joe plenty of money to take control of the dialogue and the race itself.  All were waiting to see what Joe would do with this stronger than expected challenge.  He choose to cut and run, and not stand and fight.   

Within weeks of this decision the race shifted dramatically.  20 points in some polls, 30 in others.  Shifts of this magnitude can only happen with extraordinary external events.   In this race one of those extraordinary external events happened - a popular and respected Senator had proven that his critics were right - he no longer cared about being a Democrat.  He was going independent, leaving his Party.  And that is the reason this decision to go independent was so fateful.  It reinforced the essential concern Democrats in the state had.  And it was the kind of bad decision that causes even people like Joe Lieberman to lose an election. 

Final thoughts.  Joe Lieberman is my friend, and a mentor of mine.  He is a remarkable man, a good leader and one of the smartest people I know.  It has been personally very painful for me to watch this political trainwreck over the past year.  I offered my advice, weighed in when asked, tried to help, but not suprisingly, there was very little interest from the Senator and his people in what folks like me had to say.  They never really believed it was going to be a race until it was too late.   

While I believe there are larger lessons here for the Party about our passion, our principles, our ideology, the rise of the netroots etc, I think first and foremost the story of the Connecticut race is one of a good man who had lost touch with the people that brought him to office; and the main lesson is that candidates who get too close to Bush and his failed government this fall could pay a terrible price. 

But of course all of us will have more to say about this in the days ahead.  Very interested in your thoughts. 

Morning Roundup

In a recurring theme of this blog, it seems remarkable how on the sidelines of world affairs America sits today.  Tom Friedman hit this point hard on Meet the Press yesterday.  Brent Scowcroft in a Washington Post op-ed lays out a multi-pronged strategy for bringing peace to the Middle East.  While imaginable for the American government, its diplomatic maturity and complexity is unimaginable for the current "yo Blair" administration, one that has a hard time talking to the opposition party in its home country let alone adversaries aboard. 

Where the battle in Lebanon takes us next is hard to know.  Certainly the death of innocents yesterday - whether hezbollah used them as shields or not - has altered the game.  I have been very sympathetic to Israel's actions, believing that it was time to let Iran understand the consequences of their flouting of the international community.  Remember that in the early days of the Lebanon battle Sunni Arab states rallied to Israel's cause, pleased by the bloodying of the Shiite's nose. Perhaps Israel's actions have backfired now, causing a rallying for Hezbollah and the extremists.  But the current rise of Iran and Shiite extremists cannot be tolerated.  This didnt work out as well as it needed to.  Something else must be tried. 

But what is America's role in all this? Can we possibly take on Iranian-backed extremists, given our investment in Iraq's Shiite-led government? Can we suggest the coming to power, through elections, of extremist political parties with militias in Palestine and Lebanon, is a problem given that these elections were brought about with American urging? Can Bush publically state that rising oil prices are fueling global instability and needs to be tackled head on?

At a time of great global turmoil, America sits on the sidelines, without the credibility, resources, imagination or will to make a difference.  And the sidelining of America, in of itself, is contributing to global insecurity and instability. 

For more be sure to read Noah Feldman's excellent essay in yesterday's New York Times, and Henry Kissinger's op-ed in today's Post.   For more on these matters from NDN see here and here. 

An interesting piece on how Jane Harman handled her primary

McJoan from Dailykos has a very good piece on how Cong. Jane Harman successfully handled her recent primary challenge, and the differences with the way Lieberman has handled his.   There are many important lessons here for those trying to master the new politics of our new century. 

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