(Cross-posted at Daily Kos)

Some of the most prominent Democratic leaders seem to believe that with everything blowing up in the GOP’s face, now is not the time to take any unnecessary risks.  They counsel patience and caution, and a strategy of essentially letting Republicans hang themselves with rope from all the concurrent scandals involving Iraq, “Brownie” at FEMA, no-bid Halliburton contracts, Valerie Plame, Tom Delay, Jack Abramoff, Ohio’s Coingate scandal, Kentucky’s GOP Governor’s employment scandal, Randy “Duke” Cunningham, ad nauseum.

The center piece of this approach is the negative campaign buzzword phrase, “A Culture of Corruption” which if you haven’t heard parroted by Democratic mouthpieces on the Cable News shows yet, well — then you haven’t been watching Cable news.  The idea, as Senator Obama put it oh-so-politely, is not to make waves; i.e., don’t give the GOP any ammunition to fight with, just sit back and take potshots at them for their myriad failures.

Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it.  The ony problem?  It won’t work!

To find out why, follow me below the fold . . .

It won’t work because it has never worked in the past.  How do I know that?  By looking at the history of the Republican Party, that’s how.

You see, once upon a time, moderates ruled the roost of the Republican Party.  Instead of trying to roll back the progressive measures of the New Deal, they essentially accepted them as subjects that, from a political standpoint, were off limits.  They tended to focus on their perceived foreign policy and national defense strengths and to try to coopt the more popular domestic programs and policies which were the perceived strengths of the Democrats.  

On the domestic front, some of the most valued progressive programs were established during the Presidencies of Eisenhower, Ford and Nixon.  The best example?  Probably the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and various other emvironmental laws which were passed during the Nixon years.  There were many others, however.  Remember wage and price controls to stem inflation?  Not exactly the sort of move a conservative would advocate, now is it?

And were you aware that the Occupational Health and Safety Act was signed into law by Nixon?  Indeed, his administration vigorously enforced the civil rights laws, made food stamps a national program, and began a Federal affirmative action program.  

Yet whatever the value to the top of the GOP presidential ticket such a “move to the middle” or centrist strategy entailed, it did little, if anything to advance the party’s attempts to wrest control of Congress from the Democrats.  During the forty-two years from 1953-1994 (which included 28 years of GOP Presidential administrations) Republicans controlled the Senate for only 8 years (of which six occurred during Reagan’s administration). During that same time frame, they controlled the House of Representatives for only 2 years (1953-54).

Indeed, it was only when Republican candidates  for Congress (as a whole) adopted more consistently conservative principles and policy positions that they were finally able to regain control of the House in 1994.  That year, under the leadership of Newt Gingrich and his Contract with America campaign on behalf of Republican candidates, the GOP took control of the House of representatives and has yet to relinquish that control, despite the personal popularity of President Bill Clinton, a centrist (some would say conservative) Democrat whose personal electoral success, and effective management of the federal government, never equated with electoral success in Congress for the Democratic Party.

What created this seemingly sudden Republican resurgence? First off, it didn’t happen overnight.  I contend that it was a direct result of the Republicans abandoning the center for more hard-line and principled conservative positions.  In essence, they learned the hard lesson that an opposition party, a party out of power, gains no real benefit from abandoning it’s core principles in a desire to appeal to the moderate elements of the American electorate.  When forced to choose between real liberals (the Dems) and faux ones (Republicans during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s) Americans voted for the Democrats in far greater numbers.

Yet, as many Democrats began to weaken their liberal stance under the assault of the Conservative movement and the so-called “Reagan Revolution” it was the GOP that prospered, even as its candidates became more and more extreme in their stated views.  Ultimately, the GOP that took control of Congress despite the presence of a moderate and popular Democrat in the White House whose fiscal policies led to unprecedented economic growth for the country and the first real federal budget surpluses in decades.

The Republicans learned that it was better to stand for something, rather than merely claim that they could govern better and better execute the domestic  policies of their opponents.  They learned that compromise in order to pass the majority party’s legislative agenda earned them no “brownie points” (pardon the allusion) with their constituents.  

In the 60’s and 70’s one could legitimately claim that there were few differences between the two major political parties.  In those circumstances, tie goes to the incumbents (at that time mostly Democrats).  Now, however, with the GOP firmly entrenched, the same centrist strategy by the Democrats will lead to the same result: a failure to recapture control of Congress from the party in power.

Far better to adopt the strategy that conservatives used to regain control: adopt clear principles and propose policies consistent with those principles.  In the case of the Democrats that means not shying away from “liberal” or “progressive” ideals (and the policies that flow from those principles), but embracing them.  

Democrats should proudly stand up and state that they oppose the continuation of the Iraqi Occupation, and advocate for a timetable to withdraw our troops as early as possible.  They should vigorously push a plan for universal health care, and for increased environmental protections through new laws and regulations, and increased enforcement by the EPA.  They should demand real election reform to guarantee that as many Americans as can vote, do vote, and that those votes are all properly counted.  

They should proudly proclaim their support for a constitutionally grounded Right to Privacy, and promise to oppose any federal court nominee who refuses to fully answer questions about their views on issues concerning those rights.  They should promise to fight for the rights of consumers, and for the general welfare of individual Americans, and not quickly abandon that pledge in the hope of landing campaign contributions from industry lobbyists, whether that industry is composed of energy companies, automobile makers, banks and securities brokers, drug manufacturers or mega-media and telecommunications corporations.

In short, they ought to stand for the rights and well being of the common American man and woman, and the policies they advocate should enhance that well being, not tear it down.  This means they will have to take positions that some will call risky, or unpopular.  But in my view the greater risk is to stand for nothing but a watered down version of Republicanism.  Hoping that voters will throw the crooked [GOP] bums out and replace them with your (i.e., Dem) candidates is a pipe dream in the absence of handing voters a vision of what it is they are going to be getting in return for their votes.

The sooner the Democratic establishment gets that message, the better.  Otherwise in 2006 we will be singing the same old Why-can’t-we- beat-the-Republicans? blues once more.

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