Dems, It's Now or Never

Yes, I know, it's all getting very entertaining. These days I feel like a dog that finally caught the neighbor's elusive tomcat.

I want this moment to last forever. It took so long, he outwitted pursuit so many times, mocked my every attempt to corner him. Suddenly here he is, lame and vulnerable. I could spend the next three years just swatting the little bastard around.

But I (and you) must resist that temptation. As much as Bush deserves three years of swatting around, we have more important things to do. If we play our cards right, twelve months from now we will be able to trade our swatters in for baseball bats.

I am speaking of 2006's mid-term elections next November. If Democrats can gain a majority in either the House or the Senate, the two years that follow will be something to behold. As Democrats are elevated to chair key committees, long-overdue and long-suppressed oversight hearings and investigations will begin. Subpoenas will fly. And investigations may at last reveal:

  • Precisely who met with and advised VP Dick Cheney's Energy Task Force back in 2001?

  • Who knew what when about Iraq's WMD -- and who lied about it?

  • Who really cooked up and coordinated the CIA/Plame-leak?

  • Just how many unethical/criminal activities were Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff involved in?

  • Just what did Sen. Bill Frist know and when did he know it before he dumped his HCA stock -- and before that, when he voted on heath care bills that benefited HCA?

  • Drag Ahmed Chalabi, this serial liar, under oath and grill him on his pre-war relationship with this administration

  • Drag those energy company CEOs back before the Senate Energy committee -- and this time, put them under oath and ask them the same questions again.

The list of deeds begging for Congressional investigations goes on and on. Inquiring minds want to know, and we've waited too long already for answers. Informed voters are the key ingredient of a true democracy. Misled voters and citizens purposely kept in the dark are the key ingredient of non-democracies.

Do Republicans deserve to retain power in '08? Only full and open House and/or Senate investigations now can answer that question. And such investigations will only happen if Democrats win control in '06.

So let's not become overly mesmerized watching the slow-motion train wreck of Bush Express. Because, unless we seize the moment and regain control of the House or Senate, we will deserve two more years of Republican control, ensuring that the Bush administration gets to leave town in 2008 with its misdeeds largely unexposed.

Here's the 2006 Mid-term Math:

Current US Senate Lineup:
  • 55 Republicans

  • 44 Democrats

  • 1 Independent

If the Dems have 44 Senate seats and hold them all, they need to pick up 7 repub seats to attain a 51-49 majority.

On a straight party line vote, that would give them a majority (important in the Senate because the VP can break ties in his capacity as President of the Senate).

Seven seats may not seem like a lot, but remember, not all 100 Senators are not up for re-election. Only 33 Senators are up in 2006. Of those seats, 17 are already held by Democrats and 15 by Republicans.

Republican targets in '06  include Florida, Minnesota, and Nebraska; Democrats are focusing their attention on Missouri, Pennsylvania and Virginia. 

So Republicans will be defending 15 Senate seats, 14 with incumbents; Democrats will be defending 18 seats, including four open seats.

If you go simply by the math, the GOP seems to hold an overwhelming advantage. Dems not only must retain their 17 incumbent seats, but knock off 11 of the Republican incumbents as well. In normal times such a feat would be considered next to impossible. But then, these are not normal times. More on that later.

Current House Lineup:
  • 232 Republicans

  • 202 Democrats

  • 1 Independent

Similarly, with a 232/202/1 split in the House, the Dems need to hold their seats and pick up 15 or 16 repub seats to attain a majority.

The whole House is up for reelection, like a deck of cards about to be shuffled. And not since 1994 have Democrats been in such a strong position to upset the balance of power in Congress.

And it's not just Democrats who think so, either. The GOP is having trouble finding strong candidates willing to run in '06. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven both opted out of races to challenge incumbent Democratic senators in '06. GOP up-and-comers smell trouble, and don't want to end their political careers running for Congress in a year that will surely be defined by an anti-corruption, anti-war backlash against Republicans.

Every poll taken over the last month points to an upset in the making in '06. If the 2006 Congressional election were held today, 53 percent of Americans say they would vote for the Democratic candidate, and only 36 percent would vote Republican. (Newsweek/Princeton Survey Research Associates poll.) (See all recent polls here.)

Democrats are right where minority Republicans were back in 1994 when, just weeks before the November vote, they unveiled their so-called "Contract With America." That year Republicans saw a net gain of 52 seats in the House, and gained control. So it can be done. It has been done.

The only question is: will it be done? Will Democrats snatch victory from the jaws of defeat? Or, as they have done so many times before, snatch defeat from the jaws of pending victory? 

We'll see. To find out, we will have to wait to see how the internal battle within the Democrat party comes out. There are two schools of thought within the Party now battling it out over which strategy is best:

The Do Nothing Strategy
This is what the Hillary wing of the party is counseling. Their theory is that things are going their way without them having to do a thing. They believe the best strategy for Democrats is to just sit tight and let the Republicans self-destruct. Besides, putting forth specific proposals on hot-button issues only gives Republicans something to attack. Taking positions can both gain and lose votes. So why lose any votes when Democrats are getting them by default, just sitting on their hands?

Also, Hillary wants to be President in '08. That means crafting obscure, inoffensive positions that won't piss off moderate Republican voters. And the last thing Hillary wants is reporters asking her whether she supports or opposes the activist positions of her party's progressives.

The Do Something Strategy
This is the Feingold Wing strategy. (It used to be the Dean Wing's strategy before he had to dumb down his positions to become DNC Chairman.) This progressive wing of the party believes, as Republicans did back in 1994, that Americans are hungry for change -- but defined change.

Working Americans -- particularly those in Red States -- were misled, lied to, snookered, suckered and robbed by Bush supply-side neocons. Their sons and daughters are dying in a nation-building exercise Bush promised he'd never try.

And while corporate America has thrived, working Americans have seen their middle class dreams wither. They were lied to. We were all lied to. So in '06 and '08, voters will be in no mood to buy another pig in a poke. (Or as voters down in Louisiana like to say, "turn the fat hogs out and let the lean hogs in.")

Voters want answers and they want solutions; they want realistic proposals set forth. They want to know, if they put Democrats back in power, precisely how they plan to:

    1. End the war in Iraq

    2. Fix the mess created by free-for-all trade policies

    3. Stem the outsourcing of high paying jobs

    4. Enact real pension reforms

    5. Fix America's broken health care systems

    6. Provide genuine homeland security

    7. Secure our borders

    8. Balance the budget

    9. Deal with climate change

    10. Fix America's failing schools

    11. Revitalize America's crumbling infrastructure

    12. Make sure corporations and wealthy individuals pay their fair share of taxes.

So if Democrats are smart they will come up with their own Contract With America -- only this time let's call it a "Contract For America," instead.

While Democrats debate whether to do something or do nothing, we need to be talking to them. We need to tell Democrats that if they tackle the hard issues, we'll stick with them. We won't leave them out there swinging in the wind when the GOP turns the dogs (and Swift boaters) loose on them.

We need to assure them that not everything that needs doing is going to be easy or popular. Taxes will have to be raised. However we leave Iraq, we will not leave as victors. Pro-immigrant groups that support an open border with Mexico will oppose any kind of meaningful immigration enforcement. Teachers' unions will oppose merit pay and any attempts to measure their effectiveness. Corporations will threaten to leave the U.S. if one more cent is added to their tax burden.

That's why we need to engage with Democrats now -- to let them know that if they lack the backbone, they can lean on ours. Begin by asking your Democrat representative or candidates to tell the Hillary Wing to either get with the program, or get lost. Voters send representatives to Washington to do things, not just to sit there hoping the other team forfeits the game. We want to know precisely why we should return them to power.

And this time we want it in writing.

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