Friday, December 31, 2004

Opportunity Knocks; Anyone Home?
Is the Democratic Party just taking the week off, or does their silence in the face of this week's repeated opportunities to make political hay a depressing harbinger of rollovers to come in the new year?

Consider three items from this week's headlines: the proposed rules changes in the House seemingly designed just to protect Tom DeLay and other apostles of corruption, the Bush administration's almost transparent indifference to the horrible suffering in Asia as a result of the tsunami, and the proposed "fuck the blue states" change to the tax code that would cut or eliminate taxpayers' ability to deduct state and local taxes from their federal payments.

All three of these stories could easily be woven into a compelling narrative about Republican governance: protecting the crooks and facilitating special interest governance, neglecting those in need despite pious rhetoric about "compassion," and using the power of government to settle political scores rather than enact policies of real utilitarian value. Instead, we have good government advocates speaking out against the proposed rules changes, and the New York Times making the case about Bush administration parsimony in disaster relief. Only on the third issue, the tax change, are Democrats prominent in the pushback effort, and even there it seems to be more of a regional thing than a partisan-based response. Never mind the principle under attack here, which theoretically should appeal to Republicans: that local and state priorities are as more important than that of Washington, DC. As a New Yorker, I'd much rather pay for fire services, sanitation, or need-based college aid for my neighbors than for missile defense, corporate welfare, or "faith-based" social services that don't work.

These issues--plus the proposed "deform" of Social Security, the likely great fight of 2005--all offer Democrats fertile terrain to start making a positive case to the country about how they would lead. There's a need for both good communications practices--coordinated messaging--and a unifying theme to weave these items into a larger vision. Let's hope that the party will become a true opposition in 2005; with Republican arrogance and avarice firmly ensconced, I suspect these opportunities will keep arising, but unless the Democrats start to seize them, this won't be much consolation in the face of the damage that will be done.

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