Stentor‘s reply to my post about Democrats’ and liberals’ obsession with Valerie Plame got me thinking about the danger in attacking Bush primarily on issues of managerial competence and personal behavior, such as Katrina, gas prices, and Valerie Plame. It’s true that the mishandling of Katrina was a key factor behind Bush’s crash in popularity in late 2005, but it’s a fairly unusual case. And even it runs the danger of Republicans convincing the people that Congressional Democrats can’t do any better.
If the goal is to shift the United States in a more liberal direction, then purely competence-based attacks will be ineffective, especially as the 2008 election draws nearer and Bush becomes an increasingly lame duck. The Lewinsky scandal didn’t hurt the Democrats in the long run, because they could easily distance themselves from Clinton, or counterattack with “Your party isn’t any better.”
Instead, the best lines of attack are ideological in some sense. On some hot-button issues, such as health care and immigration, Americans are more liberal than the political center; the Democrats can and should exploit that fact. On Iraq, Bush’s incompetence is a key factor, but since almost all Congressional Republicans voted for it, a liberal Democrat could easily turn the occupation’s failure into a weapon against not just Bush but also conservatism.
Attacking Republicans for being corrupt or incompetent won’t work. For a start, it’s a lot easier for a conservative to say, “I’m not part of these particular scandals, so I’m clean” when it’s not about ideology. In addition, attacks of that form, just like fear-based attacks (“Bush will overturn Roe”), make the voters more apathetic instead of more liberal.
What will work is presenting concrete alternatives: “We’re the party that will keep Social Security secure,” “We’re the party that will not randomly invade countries that don’t threaten us,” “We’re the party that will legalize the status of law-abiding immigrants,” etc.