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Sunday, January 15, 2006

Off Message

I'm not sure what is worse: the fact that Democratic Senators and their staffs couldn't be bothered to do serious work on the Alito nomination hearings and coordinate a coherent and focused strategy for the hearings, the message and beyond over the Christmas break because they were too busy doing personal fundraising or hanging out at the club; or that they felt the need to publicly whine about it, in all its infinite detail, to the NYTimes before a vote was even held on the Alito nomination in the Judiciary Committee.

And I am so angry this morning, I am shaking. I've had to read through the freaking article three times in order to reach any sort of equilibrium other than wanting to yell "Damn it! Damn it! Damn it!" as loudly as I can. (And I didn't think that was appropriate analysis, frankly, because this deserves a hell of a lot more discussion than just being pissed off.)

Let's start with this gem from the beginning of the article, shall we?
In interviews, Democrats said the lesson of the Alito hearings was that this White House could put on the bench almost any qualified candidate, even one whom Democrats consider to be ideologically out of step with the country.

That conclusion amounts to a repudiation of a central part of a strategy Senate Democrats settled on years ago in a private retreat where they discussed how to fight a Bush White House effort to recast the judiciary: to argue against otherwise qualified candidates by saying they would take the courts too far to the right.
First of all, the fact that someone (or several people, frankly, because that's what it sounds like) are spewing this defeatist crap to a nationally distributed newspaper before a vote is even held in the Judiciary Committee -- and before we start gearing up for the 2006 election cycle -- pisses me off beyond my ability to even put it into words. STFU, you morons!

Sure, you can discuss this behind closed doors in strategy sessions. Sure it needs to be said -- because we need to examine what went wrong and what went right in order to do better next time. But what in the hell are you doing talking about this with the NYTimes? And then wallowing in it for a two page article that might as well have been titled "Democrats: Flogging Ourselves in Public Because We Can." I mean, hello?!? THIS is political strategery?

Then there is this gem:
The Democratic push began in earnest on the last weekend of April 2001, when 42 of the 50 Democratic senators attended a retreat in Farmington, Pa., to hear from experts and discuss ways they could fight a Bush effort to remake the judiciary.

"There were very few principles on which we could all agree," said Mr. Daschle, who was Senate minority leader at the time of the meeting. "But one was that we anticipated that the administration would test the envelope. They were going to go as far as the envelope would allow in appointing conservative judges."
Well, here's a freaking clue: how about agreeing that you are all willing to do whatever it takes to coordinate several key themes that you can push, over and over, regarding nominees so that these themes begin to stick with the American public.

You know, little things like "individual liberty is more important than a President who acts like a King." Or the ever popular "the President is not above the law -- and his nominees to the Federal bench for a lifetime appointment should share that viewpoint, or they do not deserve a seat on the court."

Or the even more important to Joe Six-Pack theme of "The President is trying to pack the Courts with judges who will reward his corporate cronies, by selecting nominees who say screw the little guy and rule in favor of big money corporate interests."

Or, hey, how about this one -- "A lifetime appointment to the Court will impact your children and your grandchildren, and generations to come. Citizens in this nation do not get a free ride, and neither should the President. We are doing our jobs for the good of the all of the American public, not just the President's extremist political allies and big money cronies."

I could keep going, but you get the picture. The fact that Democrats couldn't agree on a central theme or two after a retreat that was attended by only a portion of Senators (and am I the only one wondering where the hell the others were?) just makes me disgusted at the state of leadership in the party.

Look, I know we are a representative democracy and each Senator has to stand up for the specific point of view of his or her constituents as much as for some overarching Democratic party themes, assumption is based on the theory that we actually have some fucking party themes.

Other than the spate of internal Democratic fingerpointing and rending of garments in the article, the overall message that comes out of this is "we are doomed unless we pick up seats in 2006 and beyond." Well, here's a little question then: Do you think the best way to do that is to talk with a national newspaper about how you think our efforts up to now have been a miserable failure and that we have no freaking strategy above "gee, it sure would be nice to win once in a while?"


The worst part of this is that I know that Judiciary Committee staffers were working on some message issues. I know that the Democratic party has worked on some overarching theme issues and that some strategy (notably the Dean work on his 50 state strategy) has been ongoing. But did any of that make it into this sackcloth and ashes article? Nope.

Is there any moment of a Democrat talking with the reporters about what is being done that is positive -- what strategy is being worked on -- what proactive steps are being taken to do better? Nope.

Whether that is a failure on the part of Democrats who were interviewed or on the reporters writing the piece, I have no idea. But the bottom line is, this article is so off message that I don't even know where to start.

I'm not asking that Democrats become robots who mouth the same damn talking points ad naseum like winger-bots, whether or not they are true or even on point to the discussion at hand. But my God, is there any way that being this off message says anything except "what the hell?"

I'm going to do some work on some on message points from the Alito hearings and from political strategy for the 2006 elections because we need to proactively move forward from this. But first, I have to calm down and stop wanting to swear every three seconds. In the meantime, start by reading my previous starter "A Question of Doing What's Right." It comes from a much less pissed off place.

(Image via Penndit, from Joel Pett in USAToday. Good one. I don't use cartoons very often, but this one was too perfect for the article today, and I hope Joel Pett will not mind the indulgence this once. Some days, you have to find your laugh somewhere -- this one was mine this morning.)