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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

DCCC Incumbent Protection Message on Iraq

Posted by Bob Brigham

Two months ago today, David Sirota rightly blasted the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for a disconnect on Iraq:

On the issue of the Iraq War, the disconnect between the Washington, D.C. Democratic Party establishment and political reality in America is growing by the day. Case in point is the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's attitude towards the tremendous special election run by Paul Hackett in the staunchly Republican Cincinnati suburbs.

Hackett, an Iraq War veteran, made headlines in the campaign for taking a strong position against the original decision to go to war in Iraq, even calling the President of the United States an SOB. And while it's true, Hackett didn't support full withdrawal from Iraq, few would deny that his position opposing the war was a key part of his campaign.

Ultimately, the anti-war position defined his candidacy, and was the clear reason he was able to do so well in such a Republican district. That should be no surprise: polls have been telling us for months that America agrees with Hackett in believing going to war in Iraq was a mistake. Meanwhile, Americans' view of President Bush's handling of Iraq is at its lowest level ever.

Incredibly, however, in a memo sent to all Democratic House Members about what Democrats should learn from the Hackett race, the DCCC makes not one mention of the Iraq War and its effect on the election. Not one. It is as if the party is going out of its way to deny the importance of Democrats taking a strong position against the war, or making the war a serious issue in their campaigns.

In the two months since the infamous DCCC Chair Rahm Emanuel sent this memo, more than 150 US troops have made the ultimate sacrifice and public opinion polls have moved another 5-10 points against Emanuel and Bush.

Any Democrat serious about challenging an incumbent Republican member of Congress is wise to make Iraq a defining issue in the race. Yet the DCCC has remained silent on Iraq because the message is quite different for incumbent Democrats who -- like Congressman Rahm Emanuel -- are on the wrong side of the issue. As long as the DCCC remains silent, it is clear that their message and priority is incumbent protection -- trying to minimize losses instead of winning seats.

Yesterday, Chris Bowers noted that Congressman Rahm Emanuel never mentioned "Iraq" when talking about the difference between Democrats and Republicans on Meet the Press:

This is despite the fact that recent polling has repeatedly shown that the number one difference between rank and file Democrats and rank and file Republicans is, in general, differing views on national security policy and the use of military force and, in particular, the decision to go to war in Iraq. This is despite the fact that back in May, during the first vote on withdrawal in the House, Republicans voted 98% against and over 60% of Democrats voted in favor. And that was in May.

So, it would appear that the DCCC wants to sweep the number one issue that separates Democrats from Republicans under the rug. This issue also happens to be the number one issue in the country. And oh yeah--it is an issue on which the majority Democratic position has overwhelming national support, including a near majority among Republicans.


But hey, let's not run on said issue. In fact, let's not even mention it. Let's take it off the table, because that worked really well in 2002. Let's brag, like Schumer did in 2002, that Bush was winking at us during his speech when he was stating his case for war--a war which DSCC head Schumer voted for--rather than arguing that said speech and said war was based upon lies. Let's not talk about Iraq, because we are Democrats, and we don't want to win, and we don't want to address the important issues of the day, and we don't have the guts to stand up and support what the vast majority of our caucus, our rank-and-file, and our entire nation supports.

If Iraq isn't on the Democratic agenda in 2006, we will lose. A party will never sweep to power if it holds the same minority position on the most important issue of the day as the current governing party. I am starting to wonder if Democrats in D.C. have the ability to grasp this, or if they even care.

That last line brings up an important question and the answer is the difference between Rahm Emanuel's DCCC being incompetent or just lacking an interest in anything other than protecting incumbent Democrats. Because I would hate to think it is the former, I'm going to assume it is the latter. Regardless, I think it is clear that the DCCC is not focused on winning additional seats in 2006.

A few hours later, Bower's post was linked on the most popular Democratic blog where Kos said:

The DCCC's top dog, Rep. Rahm Emmanuel, is putting together a pretty solid foundation for a "Democratic agenda". Yet he continues to avoid Iraq like the plague, ignoring the most pressing and important issue of the day.

A reminder to those blinder-wearing DC Dems -- support for the Iraq War is crashing.

Two months ago, Sirota smacked Emanuel upside the head and it played out in the papers:

"This sentiment gives Democrats an opening," he said recently. "We can now make the case that an exit strategy from Iraq will actually strengthen our national security. We have to stand up for our principles. There is strength in national-security prudence. There is weakness in national-security impulsiveness, as Bush has demonstrated. People will believe us. They have the evidence in front of their eyes every night on the evening news."

Unfortunately, he argued, the top Democrats are boxed by their own past complicity: "They were proponents of this war... . They can't speak out now with any moral authority."

Some net-roots liberals are even demanding that the pro-war Democrats show some contrition. Bob Brigham, who runs Swingstateproject.com, said: "We as a party can't run from this issue any longer. Some people need to admit being wrong about the war. And we all need to show some political courage. That's what voters respect. If you have core convictions, and aggressively demonstrate that, voters will respect you, regardless of whether they agree with you on individual issues."

Brigham and Sirota, among others, cite the results of an Ohio congressional race on Aug. 2. In a die-hard Republican district where Democrats routinely lose by 40 points, Democrat Paul Hackett, an Iraq veteran who contended that Bush has been "incredibly stupid" on the war, lost by only two. Yet the Washington Democrats seemed not to notice; when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee analyzed Hackett's strong showing in a memo, it never cited the war as a factor.

Congressman Emanuel needs to make a major adjustment in strategy. As long as the DCCC ignores Iraq, it is not an organization worth supporting unless your goal is to waste money on incompetence or fund an effort focused on Democrats minimizing losses.

Bloggers are calling bullshit on this strategy and something tells me we are close to another round of this playing out in the press. While I'm pulling together some choice quotes for reporters, I hope Congressman Emanuel begins dealing with a subject he has avoided for far too long.

The 2006 midterm elections could be tidal for Democrats, but we need some leadership on the most important issue of the day to pull it off. The current leadership vacuum will be filled, if not by the DCCC then from the ground up with a message they can't control.

While I would love to see 2006 be a Democratic year, the establishment Democrats lack of contrast with the Republicans means it could very well be a "throw the bums out" cycle. If Emanuel cares about keeping incumbent Democrats in congress, the quickest route is to join the American people on the most important issue and have some contrast with the GOP. This is also the quickest route to pick up seats, but I think we all realize that isn't the goal.

UPDATE: Sirota piles on.

UPDATE: Looking at the transcript, we see that Emanuel was asked about Iraq:

MR. RUSSERT: So, for example, should we withdraw troops from Iraq?

REP. EMANUEL: Well, I--let me--let's take what the general just said. Let's deal with that.

The correct answer is, "damn straight" but since Emanuel wants to sit on the fence and not offer a yes or no answer, he gets questioned again.

MR. RUSSERT: But what are the Democratic ideas?

REP. EMANUEL: I'm going to lay them out. I here to answer it. You know, what you guys have provided, Tom, is a set of old policies, even in this crisis we have with Katrina, that got us to this result, which is a failed set of policies, where, in fact, we've added up $3 trillion in the nation's debt, more people are losing health care, and poverty's going up. Democrats want to offer big ideas to change the direction of this country because we can do better.

On Iraq, we have a false choice between stay the course and get the same results and just pull up. I think Senator Levin laid out a very good agenda, which is we're going to have measurements. You can't say after two and a half years, like you asked the general before, two and a half years, nearly $400 billion, and we have one Iraqi battalion? We're going to set standards every way and measurements from the political process, economic process and also on the military and national security where Iraq has to stand up.

MR. RUSSERT: OK. So--so...

REP. EMANUEL: Let me go over--let's go...

MR. RUSSERT: No, no, wait. So if the Iraqis do not stand up, if there are not 10 battalions, 15 battalions in place, we withdraw?

REP. EMANUEL: See, Tim, that's the wrong question, in my view.

MR. RUSSERT: Well...

REP. EMANUEL: I'll tell you why, because when we...

MR. RUSSERT: But it's the question I asked.

REP. EMANUEL: But the Congress has an obligation to hold a standard. We have given the president a blank check. It's been a rubber-stamp Congress that sent troops in there without Kevlar vests, without Humvees. We have to have a standard in which Iraq and the administration measure up over the two years, and at that point we'll evaluate where we are.

There is an answer that fits nicely on a bumper sticker.

MR. RUSSERT: So was it a mistake for Democrats in the Senate and House to vote to authorize the war?

REP. EMANUEL: Given the information that we were given them, they made their decision. What has been a mistake is to let this type of administration basically run a policy of incompetence when it comes to Iraq.

The problem is that Bush is able to continue his "policy of incompetence" because of weak Democratic leaders who were on the wrong side of the vote, have been hiding from the issue, and won't give a simple answer that voters can digest.

Why Democrats don't have a message on Iraq as part of what is the difference between Democrats and Republicans is a major, major problem. Emanuel needs to get his act together.

Posted at 11:25 AM in 2006 Elections, 2006 Elections - House, Culture of Corruption, Democrats, International, Ohio, Polls, Scandals | Technorati

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» Letter to Beltway Dems from Kingmakers
Dear Beltway Democrats, Enclosed is a letter concerning taking back Congress in 2006. It is based upon the fact that the overwhelming majoirty of Americans believe the war is now a mistake and a withdrawl is prudent at this juncture. Here goes. ... [Read More]

Tracked on October 7, 2005 01:56 PM


DCCC policy-based strategy comes down from Pelosi's office. You can, of course, prevail upon Emanuel to prevail upon her on your behalf, but he doesn't set this.

You have the right man on race targeting, but not national political strategy.

Process always helps focus. And focus always helps win.

Posted by: Kagro X [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 5, 2005 12:32 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

Considering Pelosi voted the smart way on Iraq and Emanuel voted with Bush, I think it is clear where the pressure needs to be applied.

Emanuel is in charge of the races, and that requires a message on Iraq.

Posted by: Bob Brigham [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 5, 2005 02:45 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

Press away. If you'd rather be aggressive than progressive, that's cool by me.

Honest to God, Bob. Political policy comes from Pelosi. But she's responsible to a diverse Caucus, all of whom pay huge dues to the DCCC, and many of whom would protest if the official position on Iraq was contrary to their own.

It's clearly a strategy that everyone's free to disagree with, and it can't hurt to press Emanuel on it. The question is, can it help? Or, can it help as much as taking your grievances right to the source?

Is it really so difficult to believe, given what we know about the dynamics of herding the cats of the Caucus, that no unified Iraq message could shake out? And that therefore, the DCCC wouldn't produce one on its own?

There are real and understandable organizational dynamics at work here. Creating change doesn't require accepting their decisions, but it does require understanding how they're made. And how they're not.

Posted by: Kagro X [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 5, 2005 05:15 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

The main problem seems to be that no one seems to have the gravitas, or influence within the party, or whatever, to lay out something and say "this is the message." The party elite seems to be looking for the Kerry-esque position that will appeal to everyone, and that is not leadership.

I have no problem with a strategy of setting benchmarks to evaluate whether we are making progress in Iraq, but it needs to be presented more strongly than this. The obvious conclusion is, if it turns out we are not making progress, we should leave! No one in their right mind will talk about "finishing the job" if it is clear we are not getting any closer to the finish.

But if they keep treating the word "withdrawal" like electoral poison, well then, same old Dems...

Posted by: Steve M [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 5, 2005 06:02 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

I don't know if it's that no on has the gravitas, necessarily. I mean, no one does, that's true enough. But I think this is a question of having the right.

Whose job is it to stake this kind of position out? It's Pelosi's. How does she stake it out? Through the mechanism of the Democratic Caucus, by whom she is elected. Who are the voting Members of the Democratic Caucus? They include a number of Members who have a vested interest in not being painted into a corner or Iraq or any other issue.

The problem here is that they hold the power of the negative against a bold statement on Iraq. Or rather, that they hold the power of the negative against an elected leadership that would impose one.

The DCCC isn't the sort of organ that will set policy contrary to the carefully constructed and jealously guarded positions of a significant portion of its membership. That may be to the detriment of progressive Democrats, but they're free to stake out their own positions as it is. Those who prevent it from happening are clearly going to be those who believe it's not to their advantage, both from a policy standpoint and from a political standpoint.

It comes down to a question of whether or not a majority of the Caucus can be convinced that policy for Democratic House races needs to be nationalized, and be handed down from the top. Which, ironically, is everything the netroots are supposedly not about.

Posted by: Kagro X [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 5, 2005 07:19 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment