One integral theme emerged from the Democratic response to President Bush’s State of the Union address: the party’s underestimation of the American people to solve their own problems and to see through liberal rhetoric.
Let’s just look at what they were really saying on the various issues once you strip away the generalities and euphemisms.
Religion and Values: We know that voters, not just those wacko fundamentalist Christians, are increasingly concerned about our culture’s rejection of traditional values and they’re voting Republican. We can fool the people into believing we’re values-oriented too if we start invoking the term — even if we use it to describe things that have never been considered “values,” as such. We’re also religious, and the less we show it, the more you should believe it.
Social Security: We understand that during the ’90s we were describing Social Security as a crisis and ridiculed any Republican who would suggest otherwise. We never intended to tackle this problem, but it sure did get us some mileage in the presidential and congressional elections during the Clinton years. We are counting on the fact that people won’t remember, much less hold us accountable, for our 180 on this point today (anymore than they’ll remember we’ve advocated regime change in Iraq since the Clinton years), even if talk-radio ogres play clips from our own speeches during those days. All we have to do is divert attention from the urgency of the problem by demonizing the proposed Bush solution. How? That’s easy. Not only does he want to trample on FDR’s legacy; he wants to take your money — you poor, uneducated and easy to command types — and transfer it to Wall Street fat cats. What could be worse than taking from the poor and giving to the rich? What could be less Christian? Nothing, which is why we are going to get double-mileage out of the theme as we turn to the issue of . . .
Taxes: We recognize the deficits are primarily the result of too much spending, not too little taxes, but our ability to compete politically requires us to resist cuts in domestic spending and perpetuate the dependency class, as well as demagogue the tax issue. We know that across-the-board tax cuts don’t unfairly benefit the rich who pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes. But we have to mischaracterize the issue in order to fan the flames of class warfare, a tactic we have no choice but to employ.
National Security: We haven’t had a major terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11, but instead of giving credit to the Bush administration and our national security infrastructure for that, we must completely badmouth both and list all the things we’re not doing perfectly. We’d like to bring up the one area where President Bush is most vulnerable on this: lax immigration enforcement, but heaven knows we’re way worse than he could ever hope to be on this issue. And don’t ask how this makes any sense at all, but if we’d just gone into Iraq with a broader coalition, the terrorists wouldn’t be mad at us anymore anyway, and our national security problems from terrorists would be history.
Education: President Bush thought he’d stolen this issue from us, but he should know better than to trust us. No matter how much money he throws at this, we’ll always promise more and trash him for his inadequate commitment to the children. The commoners won’t ever figure out he’s spent more money on it than we did even under Clinton.
Health Care: Clinton got elected harping on the 40,000,000 uninsured and didn’t do anything about it for two full terms. We know President Bush is doing no worse than Clinton did, but saying otherwise is too great a temptation — and political opportunity — to pass up. And though reduced choices and market forces have contributed to the problem, we advocate, ultimately, universal health care with hardly any choices at all. Go figure.
Iraq: Boy, have we screwed up here, and the Iraqi elections proved it. Even our lies about Bush’s supposed WMD lies aren’t going to work anymore. So we’re going to change the subject. To prove how much we really support our troops, we’re going to start demanding specific withdrawal dates. We know there’s no way to square that demand with our insistence that we can’t “slip out the back door, falsely declaring victory but leaving chaos.” But we don’t have to be consistent; we’re not in power. Besides, the people aren’t swift enough to pick up on our incoherence. Nor are they sharp enough to catch that while we’ve been pooh-poohing Bush’s neoconservative fantasy that the spread of democracy can choke off terrorism at its roots, we are claiming that by intervening to “stop the genocide in Sudan,” we “will enhance our national security.”
Oh, and if none of these ideas sells, we’ll just continue to accuse Republicans of partisanship and extremism.