Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Contract with catastrophe

The sharks are swimming on Capital Hill in the wake of the Katrina disaster:

Already energized by the president's declining poll numbers, House Democrats may have also sensed some ironic convergence in the events that brought former FEMA Director Michael Brown to Capitol Hill to testify about the federal response to Hurricane Katrina on the anniversary of the day in 1994 when House Republicans unveiled their Contract With America.

Tormented by GOP control for the past 11 years, Democrats have been looking for a way to void that contract for more than a decade, and now they think they have a chance.

"I can sense that the winds of change are about us," says Rep. Bob Menendez, chair of the House Democratic Caucus. Katrina has quickly become shorthand for government ineptitude, and Brown, the early fall guy, emerged as the poster boy for a government out of touch. The disastrous aftermath of Katrina cost Brown his job and is costing the president dearly in public opinion. And Hill Republicans are rightfully nervous. So Democrats wasted no time pouncing.

"Corruption, cronyism, and incompetence," was the assessment of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi about the Bush administration and its allies in Congress. "We need a change."

Not gonna happen, Nance.

It is bizarre that comparisons would be drawn between the Contract with America and the fallout from the Katrina disaster. The former was an innovative strategy to present voters with a positive vision for America's future accompanied by a plan to make it happen. The latter is a negative campaign of exploitation and finger-pointing accompanied by... absolutely nothing. No vision. No solid plan for "fixing" the bloated bureaucracy (which was there, by the way, well before Bush ever took office).

Winning for the Democrats is not going to be accomplished by taking certain Republicans that have had a slide in the polls and running them out of office. That is because ultimately Americans are smart enough not to associate a politician with an ideology.

What the Dems have to come to terms with is that it is conservatism the country has embraced -- and that is what they will need to address if they want to regain their power. If that means biting the bullet, admitting that they are liberals and then aggressively pushing their convictions then so be it. Howard Dean may not have many friends on the right but at least he has their respect because they know exactly where he stands. If the rest of his party would follow suit we might finally have a real fight.

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