Withering Dems

Martin Schram:


Washington's frustrated Democrats seem trapped in a political bad spell as they search for a way to regain control of their destiny and our government. They believe they are asking: Whither the Democrats? But their actions produce a different outcome: Wither the Democrats.
The Democrats seem to shrink before our eyes -- because they are shirking, not leading. Democrats seem reactive and negative, not active and positive, and content to respond to President Bush's ideas with political tactics and PR sound bites -- not problem-solving strategies and solutions.

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Fast-forward: In the House, we recently saw an example of how Democrats don't help themselves even when the facts and arguments are on their side. House Rules Committee ranking minority member Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, New York Democrat, issued a 147-page report listing and denouncing heavy-handed ways House Republicans stifled debate and rammed legislation into law. The report, titled "Broken Promises: the Death of Deliberative Democracy," correctly noted that was the opposite of what Republicans promised when they captured the House a decade ago. Even former Speaker Newt Gingrich -- who led the GOP out of its quicksand to capture the House -- has said House Republicans "should open up the rules more."
But the Democrats' document was like 147-pages of political whining about parliamentary rules and complexities. It failed to make itself meaningful to ordinary Americans because it didn't link the GOP rule-bending to government actions that hit regular people. The report has been given scant news coverage. And while journalists should dig deeper for context that tells readers and viewers why they should care, smart politicians know the only way to communicate a message is to spoon-feed it to news-hungry reporters who often seem as satisfied by fast-food as by filet mignon.

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Politically tone-deaf Democrats need to hear what voters want and need. Then Democrats need to unite and lead boldly by proposing constructive solutions so the real debates can begin -- and we can start to solve today's problems rather than pass the buck (and big deficits) to the next generation.
But the way things are going, even if the Democrats decide to change course and lead, they'll probably call their new initiative something uplifting like "Democrats Unite [for a] New Generation" -- to the glee of the GOP and Washington's acronym police.

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