Democrats in 2006--Probably Not

Much ado has been made in the press about a Democratic version of the highly successful 1994 Contract with America. Such unified platforms are rare in off-year elections and hinge on a number of factors that are not present.

First, unified platforms need to have an "enemy" to focus on, one that has increasingly frustrated Americans. In 1994, there were many obvious failings by the Clinton White House and the Democratically controlled House of Representatives. Between the nationalized health care fiasco and the House ethics problems, there was much to be maligned by the GOP.

In 2006, the Democrats have such an opporunity due to missteps by the Bush Administration and the ethics problems of the House GOP as well as the floundering leadership in the Senate. (Will the Senate GOP Conference finally elect Mitch McConnell their leader and be done with it!!). The domestic surveillance issue seems to be one ripe for the picking, but I wouldn't count on the issue going much further and the Democrats can't either.

So the Democrats have the first requirement and enemy. Arguably, many Americans are frustrated with the current Administration and may protest vote, thereby punishing the GOP.

The next requirement for a unified platform is quite simply, unity. On the small issues, like student loans or minimum wage, the Democrats are pretty unified. But on the big issues of the day, no unity at all.

On Iraq, the ploethora of opinions on the Democratic side of the aisle is so bad, that Nancy Pelosi actually attempted to spin the dissension as a good thing. It is not. If the Democrats are trying to sell themselves as a viable alternative to the GOP, they will need to do a better job reminding people that they have a defined position upon which most of their leaders and rank and file agree. Without agreement on this particularly important issue, there is nothing to appeal to middle of the road voters to abandon the course.

While the war presents an extreme problem for the Democrats to find some sort of unity on, issues that hit a little closer to home also present conundrums for Democrats seeking to take control of Congress in 2006. One big issue is entitlement reform. With the three main entitlement programs, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, representing nearly one half of all federal spending in 2004, Democratic consitutencies among the elderly and the poor want these programs to grow or at the very least stay the same, the fiscal consequences will all but guarantee losses for Democrats.

Granted, the GOP doesn't have a plan beyond the President's essentially DOA proposal for private accounts and other structural changes. However, the Democrats don't have the luxury of a divided opinion or mere platitudes about ensuring the presence of Social Security. Despite all the rhetoric from the Bush Administration regarding the overhaul of Social Security, the Democrat never put forth their own plan, leading inevitably to the belief, true or false, that the Democrats support a status quo. While we as a nation can't agree on what should be done to reform these budget busting entitlements, we can agree that we need to do something. Silence from the Democrats is deadly.

On immigration, Democrats also fail to seize any initiative and devise a unified strategy. With rising concerns about immigration, even the House GOP is largely opposed to the President's proposals regarding immigration policy, Democrats would be able to craft a position that would set them apart, making their position clear, instead--silence.

The Democrats have called their plan, Campaign for Change. A great marketing play, but there is no substance. Alledgedly, the House Democrats will come up with a plan during their winter retreat in January, but unless they can get a consensus on the big issues of the day, their plan will carry no weight with voters. The Democratic platform is a shambles of silence and simplicity, with nothing that distinguishes them from the pack. Without a reason to change, most people are subject to mental inertia, it simply requires too much energy to change.

Posted by Matt Johnston at December 28, 2005 10:42 AM