The Party that Never Stops Sleeping

Stentor links to an old post on saying that the Democratic Party does have ideas, only the Republicans shoot them down.

And, with just weeks to go before the August 7 summer adjournment, an analysis of the 203 roll call votes taken in the Senate through July 13, reveals a Republican-dominated body that, far from practicing what they preach and extending a hand of cooperation, went out of their way to scuttle almost every amendment and bill sponsored by Democratic senators.


Well, of course, there was S.Amdt. 4322, Ted Kennedy’s (D-MA) umpteenth attempt at raising the minimum wage, that went down to defeat once again, along with the Massachusetts Senator’s S.Amdt. 3028 to restore Bush-administration cuts for vocational education and increase the maximum Pell Grant.

Hillary Clinton (D-NY) had two major pieces of legislation related to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) scuttled. S.Amdt. 4563 would have established FEMA as an independent agency and eliminated the bonehead move by Team Bush in which they made it subordinate to the Department of Homeland Security. Clinton’s S.Amdt. 2716 pushed for a Congressional commission to scrutinize the federal screw-up in Hurricane Katrina response — and every single Republican on the floor voted against it.

The only thing I’ll say about the first two bills mentioned is that if the Democrats can’t get a minimum wage increase that 83% of Americans support and 68% say should be a top priority, they have the political competence of an amoeba; and that in a country where making public colleges free would cost $20-30 billion per year, Pell grants are the worst kind of middle of the road solution.

Instead, I’d like to focus on the next two bills, both of which are managerial in character. They go well with the Democrats’ latest billing of themselves as the competent party, compared with the incompetent Republicans who screwed up Iraq and Katrina. The Republicans’ failures are a good way of getting people disillusioned with the Republicans, but a horrible way of getting people behind the Democratic Party.

For a start, “We’ll make the trains run on time” is a really bad election strategy. Nobody supports people who merely make the trains run on time, without a more basal reason. The Nazis and the Italian fascists gave people jobs and promised national glory, so the people were amenable to say things like “he made the trains run on time” and “we no longer have the freedom to starve.”

In fact Mussolini didn’t make the trains run on time, and on the eve of World War Two Germany still had a lower quality of life than the US and Britain even though Germany was alone among the three in being out of the Depression. This alone is enough to imply that perceptions of managerial competence follow the people’s established biases rather than shape them. In an American context, Katrina provided a Kuhnian surprise, which shifted many Americans from a pro-Bush to an anti-Bush bias.

But people who already consider you more competent won’t decide to vote against you simply because you emphasize real issues. The Democratic Party is to the right of the majority of American voters on so many issues – prescription drugs, single-payer health care, Iraq, and gay rights to name four – that creating a positive campaign around them should be both easy and popular.

Even if the Democrats do win based on managerial competence, they’ll have a weak mandate at best. They’ll probably be able to increase the minimum wage, but that’s it; on other issues, the resistance from conservative Democrats will be too stiff. And thanks to the technocracy-based campaign, they won’t be able to say, “53% of the people voted for us because of single-payer health care, immigration, and civil unions.”

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