Why the Democrats do nothing

Ronald Cass:

...

Democrats, after controlling Congress almost continuously from 1933 to 1995, were the minority party in the House of Representatives for a dozen years and for 10 of 12 years were the minority in the Senate, too. So, perhaps, it's not surprising that they've gotten very good at complaining about how the nation is governed and not so good at actually doing it.

But few people have connected that to the performance of the 110th Congress. With Congress out for its Memorial Day break, commentators across the nation are taking stock of its first quarter performance and concluding that the Democrats have come up dramatically short. From left and right alike, observers are drawing the same picture of a Do-Nothing Congress. And, happy or sad, most are proclaiming surprise.

After all, things looked very different last fall, when Nancy Pelosi was promising a Democratic Congress that within its first 100 hours would pass laws that would raise the minimum wage, bring the troops home from Iraq, expand health benefits, reform immigration laws, make college affordable for all, secure energy independence, and address broad taxing and spending issues. She also promised to "drain the swamp" - changing a Congress that failed to address ethical problems of individual members and that used "earmark" provisions to give pork to constituents and favors to lobbyists. Harry Reid and colleagues on the Senate side had similar, though more muted, messages.

After 140 days, however, congressional Democrats left town with no significant accomplishments, one long-delayed bill finally enacted into law, and lots to make fun of. There was no increase in morality, no magically bipartisan era, no sweeping enactment of a coherent agenda for change, akin to what Republicans promised in their Contract With America in 1994. Instead, the 110th Congress has been a combination of "now I'll get mine" and "now you'll get yours!"

It hasn't been pretty. And it isn't likely to get better. Only those who were paying very careful attention last fall saw this coming.

The seeds were planted in the strategy for winning last fall. Democrats Chuck Schumer and Rahm Emanuel saw a road to getting back majorities in the Senate and House. Their strategy built on Republican negatives: public anger over scandals involving Mark Foley, Jack Abramoff, and Tom Delay, special interest earmarks, inflated spending, and a war that - judging from the daily drumbeat of bad news in mainstream media - was going badly without clear purpose or end-game.

Rather than push hard-core liberal themes that lost elections for a dozen years, Schumer and Emanuel followed a different path. Their plan was to find moderates or even conservatives to run as Democrats in potential swing districts, criticize the Bush Administration and Republicans, talk a lot about hope and civility and bipartisanship, and let the candidates say whatever their constituents wanted to hear. The strategy worked, giving Democrats majorities in both Houses of Congress.

...

Just after the elections last fall, Senator Schumer warned that the Democrats' victory was less a mandate than a protest. He cautioned that if Democrats were merely obstructionist, opposing the President without actually trying to enact a positive legislative agenda, they would lose power quickly - and deservedly so.

The Democrats' leadership should have listened....

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One of the problems the Democrats have is trying to turn the protest vote into a mandate. They have convinced themselves of big lie, that the vote was to cut and run from Iraq. They specifically denied this during the campaign and after the election they said the would not cut funds for the troops then proceeded to make that their core fight for the entire spring. They continue the big lie even after caving on the spending. Many of their backers are tooting for failure in Iraq so as to prevent the future use of force. They view this as more important than defeating an enemy and a strategy that we will inevitably face in the future if we do not defeat them now. Their failure of vision when it comes to victory will present us with future conflicts because they refuse to see the consequences of defeat.

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