Tuesday, 6 April 2010

How to avoid a repeat of 1994

First of all, this is not 1994. There are a great many differences.

One key difference is Republican leadership. In 1994 the GOP had Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole and of course Haley Barbour, who was arguably the most effective Republican party chairman ever. Now those three positions are held by John Boehner, who is not taken very seriously as a potential Speaker; Mitch McConnell who is a master tactician but lacks the sheer nastiness that Dole brought to the game; and Michael Steele, the nonstop gaffe machine: the Voyeur club, the committee member’s daughter getting thousands of dollars, the phone number to the sex line, and so forth.

On the Democratic side, in 1994 Clinton, aided weakly by his nebbish-like Congressional allies, was reeling from his failures on health reform, gays in the military, and energy policy. Obama in 2010, however, has health reform, the stimulus package, saving the auto industry, turning around the jobs market and the stock market, cutting taxes, cutting the deficit, taking better care of our troops, turning things around in Iraq and Afghanistan, killing the pirates, the Russian nuclear treaty, and a little thing called the Nobel Prize. As Humphrey Bogart intimated in The Maltese Falcon, you could quibble with one or two of these, but look at the number of them. And that is a very abbreviated list of Obama’s achievements.

Also, in 1994 Clinton still dreamed that bipartisanship was possible. After eight years of Bush, Cheney and their open contempt for Congressional Democrats, and then eight months of Republican obstruction, lies and teabaggers, Obama knows better, as his recess appointments indicate. He’s ready to fight this fall.

And Obama has Pelosi, which Clinton didn’t have.

Another thing to look at is timing. The tide changes quickly in congressional elections. In 2006, for example, the GOP lost the House partly because the Mark Foley bombshell exploded in late September, only weeks before the voting, and the fire raged all through October.

So let’s compare 1994 and 2010. In 1994, Clinton signed a controversial crime/gun bill in mid-September, just before the election. The NRA, which was already targeting Clinton because of the 1993 Brady bill, whipped their troops up into a fury. Of the 54 House seats lost by the Democrats, Bill Clinton believes the NRA were responsible for grabbing 15 of them, and without those 15 the GOP could not have taken the House. This time, however, the teabaggers may have peaked too early: their biggest explosion of anger came more than a year before the election, and their second major explosion, in March 2010, backfired as the media focused on the associated violence.

Also, America is a different country now. Between 1992 and 1994 there was a huge shift in support from the Democrats to the Republicans, led by older, white, southern and Christian voters; the GOP targeted those people, and the Perot voters, and the centrists, with their Contract With America. People bought it: they still believed in the Reagan dream. This time is different in a number of ways: America saw what the “Contract” meant during eight years of Bush: recession, Iraq fiascos, a war on gays, and an endless series of crimes and follies. Voters don’t want to go back there again. The Republicans, challenged to come up with a new plan, are essentially offering an empty folder and promises of more obstruction, as they showed us on health care, the kind of Republican do-nothing attitude that Truman exploited during his 1948 victory. And the GOP can’t make gains this time by rounding up the old white southern Christian vote because they already have that voting bloc. In fact it’s pretty much all they have.

Fundraising has also changed in 16 years. In 2008 the Obama team taught the Democrats how to raise money more effectively than ever, although the ardor of the donors may have faded since 2008, particularly in light of Obama’s tilt away from liberalism and toward centrism. The Republicans, meanwhile, have serious problems: the national committee and its two congressional party committees are running behind their Democrat counterparts in fundraising, particularly with respect to the House where the Democrats have three times as much money in the bank.

The Republicans have two other challenges. First, the teabagger movement which they helped create is aiming a lot of their energy and money at teabagger candidates instead of Republicans. A number of mainstream Republican candidates are seen by the wingnuts as insufficiently wingnutty. Second, Steele’s problems have become so acute that top donors are actually telling people not to donate to the RNC, right in the middle of a midterm election. Even Palin is distancing herself from the RNC, and she is arguably the party’s biggest gun for fundraising. So right now the party itself has alienated both its deep-pocket donors and its most fanatic rank-and-file ground troops, the two groups they need to win.

A few things for Obama to do:

It’s a war, you have to fight. The time for reaching out the hand of bipartisan friendship is over, and it’s been over for months. Pound on the Republicans for their lies and attacks, and pound on the media for not reporting the lies and attacks. You can serve up Republican ideas like offshore drilling to throw them off-balance, but don’t beg for their approval.

Sell the truth about the health bill, particularly with respect to all the baseless warnings about death panels etc, coming from the same Republican crapmongers who promised that the Clinton budget of 1993 would cause disaster and the Bush tax cuts would cause a boom: wrong both times.

Focus the health care provisions originally championed by guys like Romney, who now admits that the new plan is similar to his plan. You already have the Republicans cornered on the issue of repealing the bill: don’t let them off the hook.

Also, the truth about the reconciliation process, if people are still steamed about it, although the people who matter most, the non-crazy voters, might just forget. This is a vivid reminder of what happens when the other team has message discipline and you don’t: if they tell the same lie over and over, using the same words, people will believe it, if you’re not fighting back with the same discipline.

Also remind voters of the truth about all the other things Obama has done: people forget quickly.

You need something to fire up the base that put Obama in the White House in the first place. Offshore drilling ain’t it. Although it’s fun watching the GOP try to criticize the drilling after demanding it.

Write a popular bill and dare the Republicans to filibuster it in the fall. A jobs bill, or the bank bill, which the GOP is already fighting….Currently the efforts to help the flood victims in the northeast are being held up by Republican obstruction too, but will people remember in November?

Win the scandal battle: more troubles for them, less for us. Keep Biden on a script, too. Especially in October: everybody watch your step!

Remind voters why they turned away from the GOP in the first place, particularly Bush’s damage to the economy.

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