Jonathan Weisman of the Washington Post has an article on the Democrats’ strategy for taking back the House. It’s a typical Washington Post piece, in that it relies heavily on former GOP House leader Dick Armey as a source, and that it makes the following extraordinary claim (emphasis mine):

This year, the House is engulfed in bribery and influence-peddling scandals that have forced the resignation of former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), sent former representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.) to jail, and yielded guilty pleas from two former DeLay aides and former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

But those scandals are also linked to a Democrat, Rep. William J. Jefferson (La.), leading some Republicans to conclude they have been inoculated.

No Republican thinks that they have been inoculated, and for Weisman to write that unattributed sentence is just dishonest. It’s disgusting. It’s a disgrace. But, that is the formula for print journalism these days…as Stephen Colbert said:

But, listen, let’s review the rules. Here’s how it works: the president makes decisions. He’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put ’em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know – fiction!

Weisman’s wife must be a happy woman.

Despite Weisman’s buffoonery, he has put together an interesting article. First, let’s look at the prognostications. We need a net pick up of 15 seats to take over the House of Representatives.

Despite waves of redistricting that have solidified the positions of incumbents from both parties, Pelosi said 50 Republican seats are in play, while fewer than 10 Democratic seats face strong challenges. That figure of GOP seats is disputed by independent analysts, but even the most cautious estimates put more than 15 Republican seats in jeopardy.

Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, said his most expansive estimate classifies 52 seats as “unsafe,” 40 of them Republican, 12 of them Democratic. But, he said, only a tidal wave would dislodge the incumbent party from many of those seats, and more realistically, 30 Republican seats and five Democratic districts are vulnerable.

By Rothenberg’s analysis, then, in a best case scenario we could pick up 40 seats, lose none, and have a 25 seat majority in the House. That’s kind of depressing, considering that the Republicans picked up 54 seats in 1994. I think it is still possible for the Dems to match that total, but we will need some help from the Cunningham and Abramoff scandals to get there. We’ll also need a powerful nation-wide message that resonates with the voters. The Dems seem to have settled on the following platform:

Their leaders said a Democratic House would quickly vote to raise the minimum wage for the first time since 1997. It would roll back a provision in the Republicans’ Medicare prescription drug benefit that prohibits the Department of Health and Human Services from negotiating prices for drugs offered under the program.

It would vote to fully implement the recommendations of the bipartisan panel convened to shore up homeland security after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Democratic leaders said.

And it would reinstate lapsed rules that say any tax cuts or spending increases have to be offset by spending cuts or tax increases to prevent the federal deficit from growing.

Armey dismissed the substance of the Democratic proposals as demagoguery but said that the politics “really, frankly, are not too bad.”

To recap, the Dems are going to run on raising the minimum wage, lowering the costs of prescription drugs, strengthening our homeland security, and balancing the budget. In addition to these themes, they are going to provide government oversight.

[Nancy] Pelosi also vowed “to use the power to investigate” the administration on multiple fronts, starting with the task force convened in secret by Vice President Cheney to devise the administration’s energy policy. The administration has successfully fought lawsuits since 2001 that sought to reveal the names of energy company executives tapped to advise the task force.

“Certainly the conduct of the war” in Iraq would be the subject of hearings, if not a full-fledged House investigation, Pelosi said. Another subject for investigation could be the use of intelligence on Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction to make the case for the 2003 invasion.

[Steny] Hoyer added that he would like to see investigations into the extent of domestic wiretapping by the National Security Agency, and the billions of dollars wasted by contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As Dick Armey noted, the politics of this “are not too bad”. It does have a few weaknesses. There is nothing in here about getting our troops out of Iraq. The war there is costing us $10 billion a month. Silence on a withdrawal from Iraq allows the Democrats to speak with one voice, but it also undercuts our credibility when it comes time to investigate the handling of pre-war intelligence and it undermines our seriousness over balancing the budget.

This platform is also strangely silent on a number of things. It says nothing about some of our most pressing issues: global warming, outsourcing, foreign ownership of key infrastructure, illegal immigration, and gay rights. It deals only obliquely with energy prices, stating that Cheney’s 2001 energy task force will be the highest priority investigation, but offering no concrete policy proposals.

By choosing to push the minimum wage and the cost of prescription drugs, the Democrats are going back to their bread and butter base. If they really want to make inroads into the Republicans’ base they need to work on a better message on energy prices and foreign ownership of key infrastructure. They also need to better articulate the manifest ways that the Republicans are screwing the little guy. Sportsmen need to hear a strong environmental message. Church going Christians need to hear more about the values inherent in raising the minimum wage and making medical care more widely available and more affordable.

The Democrats are on the right track here. But, they need to expand their net to be more inclusive and more ambitious. They don’t want to promise a bunch of things they cannot deliver. But they do need do a better job of explaining why they are pushing this agenda and for whom these policies are designed. And if they cannot come to a consensus on Iraq, gay rights, or illegal immigration, they should also know that they will pay a price for that. Wedge issues cannot be safely ignored, that’s why they are called wedge issues.

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