Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Only the Beginning

Posted by JJ in Vague Check, The Elephant (Thursday November 9, 2006 at 10:43 pm)

Once the euphoria dies down, American Democrats will have some serious thinking to do. Joe Lieberman isn’t why, but his story does hint at it.

The Connecticut Senator lost a bitter primary election against Ned Lamont, who entered the race in anger over Lieberman’s support for the Iraq War. Denied the party standard, Lieberman ran his own campaign. The Democrats weren’t pleased by the prospect:

At this point Lieberman cannot expect to just keep his seniority,” said [an] aide. “He can’t run against a Democrat and expect to waltz back to the caucus with the same seniority as before. It would give the view that the Senate is a country club rather than representative of a political party and political movement.

Well, ahoy-hoy, gentlemen — the corker’s still here!

The victory comes from a combination of name recognition, filched Republican support, and some Democratic hangers-on. But, most importantly, it demonstrates that the anti-war coalition isn’t enough to put things over the top by itself. Support for the war, it seems, isn’t an insurmountable obstacle.

Consider further: four of the Democrats’ new seats came with narrow margins, two with extremely narrow margins. That even with a series of unaccountable scandals and gaffes. Thirteen of the twenty-eight new Representatives won by fewer than ten thousand votes.

When the Republicans took over Congress in 1994, they did so with a concise description of their objectives, an approach neatly lifted for the Canadian Conservatives’ 2006 election run. That victory provided them with a considerable run of the place.

The Democrats agenda is unfocused by contrast, particularly because it identifies issues without specifying any particulars apart, possibly, from removing bars to stem cell research. That might be a critical issue for Michael J. Fox, but it’s not for voters, who placed the Iraq conflict, terrorism, and ethics at the top of the list.

No one has a monopoly on scandal. Given time, the cleanest closets offer skeletons. The real problem is that little of their agenda offers anything of substance on the top issues. In that respect, the election, as characterised, stands largely as a referendum on the Iraqi conflict.

But if voters weren’t responding to the content of the Democrats’ position, it’s hard to see how they’ll keep their gains without making them respond. That demands a serious effort to grasp public attention with responses to the issues; and, just as crucially, a solid plan to both pace their responses and deny the President any bragging rights.

Seeing how they do that will be far more interesting than anything this election had to offer. That’s why it’s not a time to expel sighs of relief. It’s a moment to bate breath in anticipation.

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