The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

Lisa Frankenstein was released to theaters Feb. 9th and was released to digital platforms Feb. 27.
"Lisa Frankenstein" Review
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The program for SMU Lyric Theatres performance of Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi, Dallas Texas, Sunday February 18, 2024
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Democrats in disarray

Don’t Tread on Me
 Democrats in disarray
Democrats in disarray

Democrats in disarray

Less than a week after the unprecedented Republican midterm sweep, the 2004 race for Congressional control has already begun. In the face of the GOP’s landslide win in the House, chastened Democrats are positioning themselves for their first foray into true opposition politics since 1954.

That positioning begins today, as the incoming Democratic House delegation gathers in D.C. to elect their new leader – most likely Nancy Pelosi, a “pragmatic” liberal who will be the first woman to lead a party delegation in either house of Congress.

And she could also be the leader to take the Democrats back into the majority, if her team learns well the lesson of Dick Gephardt’s failed decade-long quest to undo the Republican “revolution” of 1994: a campaign waged to take Congress is different than one designed to hold it, or one designed to win the presidency.

Forty years in the majority can be as deadly to the party in power as it is to the opposition. As badly as the Republicans handled their newfound authority in 1994 – going overboard in a series of escapades of political presumption that crested with the impeachment of President Bill Clinton – the Democrats tackled the task of taking back the throne even more poorly. Too many years in the majority had dulled their sense of the political efficacy of different strategies, leading them to wage four campaigns in a row that were exactly the kind that do not win Congressional control.

What the Democrats failed to realize time and again was that the trick used so successfully by Clinton and George W. Bush to win the presidency, “me too” politics – a tactic that also served the Democrats well as a Congressional majority – is precisely the wrong strategy to use when waging a war to take the House.

“Me too” politics is the game of taking your opponent’s popular positions, fiddling with them a bit so they are more palatable to your base, and presenting yourself as a “moderate” on those issues as opposed to the “extremism” of the other side.

Clinton took the Republican issues of deficit reduction and welfare reform, gave them a spin and turned his candidacy into “GOP Lite” – bringing in a boatload of moderates at the expense of stepping on some toes to his Left. But since the Left had no one else to vote for, he won. Bush did the same thing in 2000, flummoxing the Right with his positions on issues like education in order to grab the all-important middle.

“Me too” politics works in presidential campaigns, where candidates are after votes in Kansas and New York. But when running to take control of Congress, “me too” campaigns are death. Why vote for a “me too” pseudo-Republican Democrat, when you can vote for an actual Republican who is already in Congress, and thus has greater seniority, which means more money for your district? “Me too” campaigns increase the power of incumbency, which today means they help Republicans. Bad move, Gephardt.

To win Congress, the challenging party has to do the opposite of “me too” politics – they have to attack their opponent’s positions by presenting their own agenda. Instead of rushing to the middle, they have to pull to the wings. Instead of highlighting similarities, they must create stark contrasts. Newt Gingrich understood this dynamic, and exploited it to great effect – and victory – in 1994.

A more powerful, more presumptuous, and – dare I say – more liberal leadership for the Democrats this year might have had the courage to take on the GOP directly, to offer up a Democratic “Contract With America,” to create unmistakable differences – and may well have done better than Gephardt’s failed “me too” campaign. It would have been hard to do worse.

The vaunted conventional wisdom now says that the Democrats lost because America has become “more conservative,” and thus, the theory goes, the Democrats should try to act even more like Republicans. But such thinking doesn’t explain why the most liberal Democrats did fine this year, while the moderates like Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia were the ones who went down in flames.

Americans haven’t rejected liberalism – they simply decided that, given the choice between the GOP and GOP Lite, they’d prefer the real deal.

Perhaps if the Democrats had had the gumption to actually run as Democrats this year, they wouldn’t now be licking quite so many wounds. So maybe a forthright, left-leaning leader like Pelosi is exactly what’s needed to reinvigorate the Democratic dreams of Congressional dominance.

But Pelosi won’t be able to revive the Democratic party alone. Just like it took Bush to complete the journey begun by Gingrich, it will take a vibrant presidential candidate to give the Democrats a fighting chance in 2004.

By picking the right nominee to compliment a feisty new leadership in the House, the Democrats could once again be a party of principled progressivism, not just a watered down version of the GOP with more minority and female members. Pelosi is a good first step in this direction, but closing the deal will require a strong presidential nominee. Preferably one not named Al Gore.

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