The Democrats: Passion without a plan

Posted: Sep 14, 2006 12:01 AM
The Democrats: Passion without a plan

I hate doing early-morning radio interviews. A phone ringing before daylight and jarring you out of sleep isn't the best way to sharpen your wits to go on the air minutes later.

Last week, an interview about the midterm congressional elections ended by asking me yes or no: "Will the Democrats take control of the House of Representatives in Washington this coming election?"

I said yes, but that was without having had my first cup of coffee. I later reconsidered my answer.

Conventional wisdom among pollsters and others is that the Democrats are heavily favored to take over the House. But why? They don't seem to be offering any policy solutions that excite anyone. They're what the Republicans were for decades before they retook the House in 1994 -- rock-throwers.

From the 1960s through the 1980s, the GOP offered no appealing alternative legislation or leadership to counter the Democrats'. Republican House members mostly were a scattered and disorganized group with no direction.

When they finally righted their ship, they sailed right over the Democrats and haven't looked back.

At least until recently. Now they're wavering. They failed miserably to reform the tax system and curb illegal immigration. The budget deficit is through the roof.

But are the Democrats qualified to lead? If they win, the new House speaker would be Nancy Pelosi of California. I once interviewed her for a book I was writing about women's rise to prominence -- "Powerchicks: How Women Will Dominate America." She was dynamic and personable, and remains so.

She seemed to know where she was headed. She told me that women in Congress had to be willing to slug it out in the political trenches in order to rise to prominence.

She was right and proved it herself, and that's great. The problem is that she represents a California congressional district that's as liberal as they come, including on issues of national and international scope.

So the Democrats have no workable policy message and a leader whose constituents chain her to positions on the left fringe of American politics. How is that an attractive alternative for the significant number of Americans who are disenchanted with President Bush, and who, for the most part, couldn't identify current House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois in a two-man police lineup?

Democrats and many others believe the issue is Iraq. But when surveys burrow past the fact that most Americans disapprove of the war, and ask how strongly the war really affects people and whether they believe we should leave Iraq, overall public sentiment is not so clear.

Further, domestic issues that seemed to be hurting the Republicans -- rising energy prices, general inflation and overall economic sluggishness -- are now beginning to disappear from the political radar screen.

When the Democrats' best pitch less than two months before the election is whether the president's 9/11 commemoration speech was "too political," it starts to dawn on you that the minority party has a goal, but no plan to attain it.

Have the Republicans blown it over the last few years? Absolutely. They passed a Medicare drug bill that is an absurd entitlement. They've lost the handle on immigration and taxes and federal spending. The list goes on.

But when the caffeine from that first cup of coffee finally hit me the morning of my recent radio interview, I realized that the salient question before the American people in November will or should be, "Do you want a Speaker Pelosi?"

That realization forced me to reconsider my blurry-eyed snap response to the interviewer's question.

Hopefully my listeners were drowsy enough themselves that they didn't catch my words!