September 24, 2006

Why The Democrats Will Lose Seats In This November's Elections.*

(* And If They Don't, Why They Deserve To.)

Dear Democratic Party,

We (the country) recently had an interesting debate about torture. It was called something besides torture (stress positions, "cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment", whatever the hell the latest buzzwords are), but that's what it is. I'm against it, though that isn't relevant to this post.

On one side of this debate was the President. His position has been manifestly clear for several years now: in order to win this war, he have to have as much discretion as he needs to do whatever is necessary to defeat the evildoers (note: this position is applicable not only to torture, or the War On Terror directly, but also, it seems, to all foreign and domestic policy; that, too, is a debate for another day). Thus, the President wanted Congress to pass legislation that would allow him greater latitude to do what he considers necessary (i.e., torture) and those that he ordered to do this would be legally absolved of their acts. As it stands, the US is a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, and that international treaty (which, once we signed it, has the force of law for us) forbids treatment that is torture, and like torture. The President, seeing that the US Supreme Court was disagreeing with him on a few terrorism related issues, wanted to be safely within the law. Thus, he requested that Congress pass a bill legalizing all the things he wanted to do; torture, military tribunals, etc.

The House was fine with this. The House has been useless for a few years now (arguably, 1994; but I digress), so this wasn't a surprise. The Senate, however, showed signs of life. A few Senators querulously put their hands up and asked if granting more-or-less unlimited power to the executive might not be bad for the Constitution (not to mention the poor bastards we hold as "enemy combatants"). Thus, they asked, might it be possible for the President to, oh, actually not torture people (as the rest of the civilized world does - and, yes, I know that's a loaded term), and, maybe, when trying the enemy combatants, could they at least hear the evidence against them, as opposed to being told "You're guilty, but we can't tell you why." (It should be noted that both side agreed that no actual judge should have any say what so ever in this legal proceding, and the resulting law codifies that position.) Bush and the Senate did a few rounds, and the resulting "compromise" at least allows the accused to know what evidence is being used against them (though, for reasons of national security, they can't know precisely who has given evidence against them, which tends to cut down on rebuttal witnesses and cross-examination). The compromise, however, does nothing to prevent torture. The President agreed that the US wouldn't actually reject the Geneva Conventions, while the Senate agreed that the President alone gets to define the words in the treaty any way he wants, and no other branch of government can review the President's interpretation. And everyone goes home happy. (The compromise is horrible; that too, isn't the point.)

Notice that in this whole recitation I never used the word "Democrat." Not once. NOT ONCE. What the flying fuck is up with the party that represents (last time we polled) about 49.7% of the electorate? You might think you folks would have a position on TORTURE. You might think that six weeks before a national election, when the President and (only) Republican Senators are busy scribbling over Rousseau and Locke with crayons, that the party that took us through World War I (Wilson), the Great Depression (Roosevelt), World War II (Roosevelt), the important part of Korea (Truman), and Vietnam (Kennedy/Johnson) might fucking have something to say about a bill to allow the US to torture people. Oh, yeah, and the party of the fucking Civil Rights Movement. The party used to have standards and ideals. Hell, a few weeks ago I even figured you would at least want to get back in power (at least, Dean, Reid and Pelosi keep claiming that). Now, eh, not so much.

Look, you cocksucking fucking assholes: have a god damned position on torture (I suggest: against). Just get a fucking position. I suspect that, whatever position you take, it will be better than the Presidents (reminder: pro-torture). Hell, if you make the position public, then maybe the KlownKlub wing of the Republican Senate might actually come and talk to you (we know Bush won't). Hell, even if they ignore you, the fucking media will likely cover it, which is FREE ADVERTISING SIX WEEKS BEFORE AN ELECTION. It never hurts to remind the voters that you are there, and they do have the choice to vote for you. As it stands now:

President's Position: Torture.

"Maverick" Senate Republican Position: Oh, OK, still torture.

Democratic Position: (sound of a dead fish).

Is this starting to get through to you? You are a national party. You are running to take back one or both houses of Congress. Assuming you do, you'll be expected to have positions on issues ('cause, you remember, that's what the majority does. Go dredge up Tip O'Neils animated corpse and ask him for a refresher). You could start practicing, oh, say, NOW. That way, you'll actually have something to say if you are in charge in January (fat chance).

I realize, Democrats, that you are nervous about having a position on anything. If you have a position, you think to yourself (you can't say anything outloud, 'cause then it might be construed as an actual position, so you talk to yourself in your head often), "If we have a position, then the Republicans can criticize it." This is, unfortunately, true. However, THEY WILL CRITICIZE YOU ANYWAY. THAT'S WHAT THEY DO. IF YOU DON'T TAKE A POSITION, THEY WILL ASSIGN YOU ONE, AND, HEY, GUESS WHAT, IT WILL BE A LOUSY ONE. Like, "Democrats are pro-terrorism." That's a lousy position. You don't want to be associated with that one. Or, "Democrats are weak on national security." That's a really fucking lousy one. You don't want that either. Or, hey, maybe the Republicans will assign both of them to you. See, if you don't have your own position, then they get to give you one. Thus, a position is a good thing. It at least cuts down the odds that whatever position you defend, it won't be a for-sure loser ("Democrats support cutting and running from Iraq," - another loser position, for example).

The really great thing, is that it actually doesn't really matter what position you take. Bush has this strange power, that whatever position he takes, it sucks. No matter what. Name one thing he's done that's gone right (there might be something back in 2000, but that's far enough back that no one can remember). You can't. So no matter what your position it, it will be better than his.

I really thought you had a chance here on the torture thing. I mean, come on, who is in favor of torture? Sure, sure, we get bent out of shape over 9/11, but it's been five years. Go pay Maher Arar a bunch of money, stick him in front of a camera, and let him explain what the Syrians did to him for a year. Then do a voice over, explaining that he is innocent, and that the idiot Republicans turned him over to the Syrians (the same Syrians who are busy shoveling money, guns and explosives over the border into Iraq, which are used to blow up American soldiers). You could conclude the ad by wondering out loud why the Republicans are Pro-Syria (hey, that way YOU could assign THEM a lousy position). Or maybe you could pay Mr. Khan to explain what he went through at Guantanamo Bay for the last three years. He looks like an Islamic Santa Claus, for Christ's sake (a fucking crippled Islamic Santa Claus, to boot). We held him for three and a half years, then released him with no warning (what, he just suddenly stopped being dangerous one day?). HE FUCKING HAD A STROKE FIFTEEN YEARS AGO. Stick him in front of a camera. Explain that not once in the three plus years that he was held did he get a chance to sit in anything resembling a courtroom and try to explain to an impartial judge that he wasn't guilty. He never got to explain his side because the US never presented their side, because there isn't any courtroom. This is justice?, the voice-over can say.

(I realize we're treading dangerously close to an actual Position here, but you could advocate that if you are ever put back in power that you will immediately send legislation to the President calling for a complete review of every case in Guantanamo: if they are guilty, you want them tried immediately and the maximum penalty for their crimes sought. If they are innocent, then they should be immediately freed. As part of the legislation, you could argue that by the time three and half years had gone by in World War II (under a Democrat, by the way - you could work that in), we had utterly defeated both Germany and Japan. Five years into the War On Terror, we haven't even tried the people we pretty much know are guilty. How hard can it be to run a couple of trials, if we were able to beat the snot out of two major powers? See, you would have a position (pro-justice for bad guys), and make the Republicans look bad.)

Now, I'll grant you the Iraq thing is complicated. If we stay, we lose more soldiers (but the country avoids completely falling apart); if we withdraw, we don't lose soldiers (but Al Qaeda claims a victory, Iraq collapses into a civil war, Iran extends their influence, and Saudi Arabia edges towards being destabilized). It's tricky. There are no easy answers here (there were easier answers a few years ago, but you idiots fucked up those elections, so here we are). However, once again, you need some sort of position. Once again, though, whatever position you pick (leave soon versus pour more resources in) is guaranteed to be better than Bush's position (don't change anything). We know that isn't working. Remember: if you avoid taking a position, you will be assigned one by Karl Rove, and you won't like it.

I'm about done. I don't think you have enough time before the elections to salvage this, but, hey, that's just my opinion. I think you've managed to come across as useless assholes. In a comparison between useless assholes and a retarded kid with a god-complex, you'll lose. If you win, it will only be by the grace of God and some fairly stiff hatred of Republicans by most of the country. The polls look good for you on that. However, how the fuck are you going to govern, after winning on a "we're not them" platform? Moreover, if you DO win something, you do realize that Rove/Bush are going to immediately blame you for everything. At that point, you will actually have some power, and the Republicans are going to line up around the block at Fox news to point out that everything that goes wrong is your fault for not fixing it first. Again, if you fail to have a position, they will assign you one.

One last thing: if you do take the House or the Senate, whomever is running for Prez in '08 as a Democrat is going to be defending your record (Rove will ensure that). Thus, the more you fuck around, the harder it's going to be for you in '08. And if you fuck up '08, we've probably got another 8 years of Republicans setting everything they touch on fire. In short: stop fucking around.

However, based on this latest farce, I don't think you have too much to worry about. I think the Republicans won't lose too many seats, if any. I think you've fucked yourself enough times over the past six years that one more will just seem natural. Moreover, it's easier to be an out-of-power opposition party. No worries, no responsibilities. Just show up at the networks, get your makeup done, bitch about the (actually) awful things the Republicans are doing, then go home and relax. You've got no authority, no power, and no worries.

Keep thinking that, sport; it'll make the next two years pass much easier.



Posted by baltar at September 24, 2006 12:11 AM | TrackBack | Posted to International Affairs | Iraq | Petty Rants | Politics


wow. awesome, baltar, and thanks for puting to words what i've been thinking. this simply reinforces my feeling that the article in this month's atlantic observing that whoever loses in '06 will prevail by a landslide in '08. better to pick up a few seats now and run the table two year hence, especially if the dems are going to govern cluelessly should they win this time around.

i know the system is stacked more than ever against it, but how long till a significant third party emerges from the shit we have to choose from right now? if neither party is willing to be moderate (GOP) or relevant (Dems), it seems like it should only be a matter of time.

Posted by: moon at September 24, 2006 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

Moon - A 3rd party is only possible if Bloomberg (and presumably some friends of his) fund it. Otherwise current electorals laws, to say nothing of Duverger's Law make it impossible - which I think is entirely appropriate at the national level, presuming we keep the structure of government we have. [The only way to get a third party is to develop a parliamentary system which will never happen, you'd think, since it would put the two current parties at risk.]

Posted by: Armand at September 24, 2006 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

Baltar - I think this comes close to blaming the victim. The Republicans, seemingly all of them, support this nonsense. The Democrats are divided on this. Some support it. Some don't. We don't have the kind of political system that enables the out of power party to fairly easily unite on controversial, deep issues that are suddenly thrown before the electorate. We don't even have annual party conferences like the British do. Given that, I don't think it's too surprising that the Democrats (happily not being the party of 1 Falwell-approved voice - and you better not deviate from that one voice or else) don't have a single position on this. And even if they did - who the fuck would care. As you note, they have no power or authority in DC. Therefore even when they do manage to unite their much more ideologically diverse group, no one in the media gives a damn or covers the Democratic position. Take Levin-Reed - a united Democratic position on the most pressing national security issue of the day ... and it's virtually never mentioned in the press. NEVER.

All in all I think the voters are smart enough to know that the Democrats aren't the pro-torture party, whether or not they are issuing policy papers to that effect, and even though they can't ever get any air time. And I think it's silly to think you'd see more of the same on this if the Democrats were in charge next year - hence the fact that the Republicans are trying to get this passed before the recess.

And of course I couldn't disagree more with your headline.

Posted by: Armand at September 24, 2006 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

As I learned from Bill Keefe many years ago, never underestimate the stupidity of the electorate.

Posted by: binky at September 24, 2006 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

Armand, I completely understand why the Democrats don't have a united position: they are out of power (and thus, don't need one), and they've never been very good at united positions anyway.

It doesn't matter. As I noted in the post, if they fail to have a position, one will be assigned to them. So, it comes down to a simple question: do you want the Republicans to pick your position (which they will then run against), or do you want to choose one yourselves (which you might have a vague chance of defending). It's your choice.

And with six weeks before election day, their best shot of winning is running against Bush: and that requires actual party positions. They don't even have to actually believe in them (do you really think all the Republicans walk in lockstep to Bush?); they just have to have united ones for the next six weeks. It doesn't even matter what they are (as noted, they are bound to better than Bush's positions), so long as you get a bunch of bright policy wonks in a room to dream up decent sounding defenses for them. It's called election tactics. The Republicans have beaten you like baby seals with this same strategy for at least two cycles in a row; you'd think you would wise up sometime soon.

And the Democrats do have some power: they can tie the Senate up, and prevent legislation from moving. It doesn't even have to be about torture; it could be about Iraq, Katrina, lack of equipment for soldiers, lack of funding for veteran's hospitals, whatever the fuck. Just find a cause, stand on the Senate floor and bitch about it. Offer actual policies to fix it. Show Bush and the Republican Congress to be useless idiots.

Short version: go hammer Rove with a few of his fuckups, rather than wait for him to hammer you.

If you can't maintain enough party discipline to talk about the long, long list of failures of this administration, how can you possibly think of governing?

Posted by: baltar at September 24, 2006 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Binky, I'm not underestimating the stupidity of the electorate, I'm trying to convince the Democrats to channel that stupidity into votes for them. The Republicans have the tough job: convincing stupid people that things are good (when they really aren't). The Democrats have the easy job: convincing stupid people that things are bad (when they really are). Yet rather than actually doing this, the Democrats seem to be standing in a corner waiting for Rove to shoot them and put them out of their misery.

Posted by: baltar at September 24, 2006 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

That was directed to Armand, who said that most voters are smart enought to assume that the democrats are the anti-torture party.

Posted by: binky at September 24, 2006 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

Well presumably there is going to be a Senate vote and at that time I think you are going to see a lot of Democratic voices raised against this.

But in terms of the election I think this is the wrong fight to have, for the basic reason that Binky raises - it's too complicated. There's all sorts of legal stuff at issue. There's lots of different categories of people involved. Lots of different rights ... basically I think it's a loser as something to tie up the Senate over.

Now something on Iraq (continually attach an impeach Rumsfeld provision and/or a body armor provision to everything conceivable that's raised in the Senate) or Katrina sure - those are already salient issues in the public mind and can cut in the Democrats favor. I don't see this as moving nearly as many votes.

Posted by: Armand at September 24, 2006 01:12 PM | PERMALINK

I don't disagree on avoiding the fight over torture (though, as I note, I find the present "compromise" an abomination; that's not relevant to electoral issues). I still maintain that the Democrats need to have a position on it, or Rove will assign them one. The longer the silence lasts on this, the easier time Rove will have.

I honestly don't understand this comment: "I don't see this as moving nearly as many votes."

Do you mean that you don't see Iraq or Katrina moving votes (even though you just said those are salient issues), or do you mean that torture won't move votes?

Your pronoun ("this") was unclear.

Posted by: baltar at September 24, 2006 01:32 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with a big anti-torture campaign may be that large swaths of Americans LIKE the idea of abusing the fucking ragheads until they cough up Osama/renounce Al Qaeda/convert to Christianity/whatever, and an anti-torture blitz might smack of just more [insert unflattering Rovian Dem-party stereotype: smug moralizing, pandering to the enemy, hating America, etc.] in those quarters. In other words, an anti-torture campaign might end up moving votes the wrong way.

I haven't polled it, but I bet the Dems have.

Posted by: jacflash at September 24, 2006 01:53 PM | PERMALINK

Fine, I don't disagree with that on a tactical basis. I still maintain that the more offense the Democrats do, the less time Rove will have to paint them as traitors (or whatever). The issue is almost irrelevant: pick one and start hammering away. The longer the Democrats wait, the less time for a campaign, and the greater the chance that the Republicans will define them, instead.

Independently, I still think the Democrats could make some hay out of the torture issue. The average American may not get worked up over torturing some faceless Islamic terrorist, but that might change if the Democrats start showing actually innocent people who have been tortured. Those aren't pretty pictures.

Posted by: baltar at September 24, 2006 02:09 PM | PERMALINK

Can they? Sure. But I'm not sure if a big offensive with Nancy Pelosi leading the charge to the battlements on this issue is the best way for the Democrats to go, tactically. They're already trying to run against her - and being anti-torture could easily fit into the Democrats are just San Franciscans who want to protect the country by sticking daisies into rifles. Since the only people who would seem to have any position whereby they'd be treated as the one Democratic voice are her, Senators Kerry and Clinton, Harry Reid and Howard Dean - the kind of thing you are suggesting could make Rove's job all the easier.

And what I meant was that according to all the polling I've seen the Democrats are likely to have better winning issues out of Iraq and Katrina. If they want to win in '06 gumming up the Senate over Iraq seems the better path to take than blocking this (speaking in purely political terms).

Posted by: Armand at September 24, 2006 02:41 PM | PERMALINK

Armand, I agree with you. However, I don't see signs of the Democrats actually either A)gumming up the Senate with pictures of Katrina and/or Iraq to showcase Republican incompetance, or B)running a national campaign (a la "Contract with America") based on any of these themes.

The Democrats seem to be playing this on a state-by-state/race-by-race basis, and hoping that the national anti-Bush feelings will filter down. I don't think that strategy works. The more of a national referendum you can make this, the better off the Democrats are.

As it stands now, they aren't playing that way. Thus, as I wrote on the initial post, they will lose.

Posted by: baltar at September 24, 2006 02:50 PM | PERMALINK

Well, that depends - state-by-state works in places where the GOP is massively unpopular right now (Ohio being the prime example). As to why they aren't nationalizing the campaign around Iraq though, that strikes me as really weird - unless they've done the polling which suggests that's a problem in the places that a majority well depend on (and I imagine they have done that polling). Still, at the very least, if I was Reid and Pelosi I'd let few if any days go by when I didn't have some anti-Rumsfeld manuever presented on the floor of Congress.

But, again, even if they did - would anyone know? A big part of the problem here is that the Democrats get virtually no coverage for anything they do or propose. Again, to me Levin-Reed is the prime example. That came together ages ago (well, okay, this summer, but it's been awhile) and still the supposed "experts" (i.e. the idiot talking heads who comment on the news) continually say the Democrats don't have a policy on Iraq. Actually they do - but the idiot talking heads haven't bothered to read it (hey people, it's short!) or give it any attention. I think the structural problems in our governmental system and the way the minority isn't covered in the press is at least as big a problem as divisions among the Democrats.

Posted by: Armand at September 24, 2006 07:19 PM | PERMALINK

Somewhat related topic: what do y'all give for odds on a big strike on Iran before the elections?

Posted by: jacflash at September 24, 2006 07:43 PM | PERMALINK

i should clarify -- i don't anticipate a sustainable three-party system, but i do fear obsolescence for the dems, and duverger notwithstanding, parties have been radically reformed by the tension exerted by emergent factions in the past.

funny you should mention bloomberg -- after i posted my original comment, i found myself wondering who could make it happen, and i thought about perot (cringe), and i realized: there are a handful of people rich enough to pull it off. bloomberger certainly is one, and certainly is rich enough, and moreover is the only one i can think of with the resources and the major governmental experience.

fact remains, baltar's plaint is legitimate -- the dems are foundering when they ought to be triumphant.

Posted by: moon at September 24, 2006 09:08 PM | PERMALINK

Pretty big risk - it's the only thing I can think of that could actually lead to impeachments if the US House goes Democratic in 6 weeks. And I'd imagine that it would be enough to bring out a whole new set of mutinous (from Bush's perspective) charges from the likes of Powell, Scowcroft and assorted retired generals and admirals. Plus it could rile up some otherwise placid folks in the media to make a host of Iraq comaprisons the president might not want on TV just before an election.

That said, is he reckless enough to do it? No question (sadly). But I'm going to hope that he's unwilling to take a risk of that scale before elections that might still provide him with a GOP majority in Congress. To begin to consider the aftermath of an attack on Iran ... well that's something I really don't want to think about.

Posted by: Armand at September 24, 2006 09:10 PM | PERMALINK

There is no way any sane President would attack Iran. The plain facts are that other than airpower, we have no assets available to prosecute a war. None.

For all of Bush's failings (and they are legion), he isn't crazy enough to bomb Iran.

Posted by: baltar at September 24, 2006 10:37 PM | PERMALINK

you know, it strikes me that bill clinton's surely calculated little display over the weekend might be tantamount to a hockey coach sending out a thug early in the third period, down by one goal, to pick a fight and get the team fired up. sometimes, it's a notably effective tactic.

Posted by: moon at September 27, 2006 10:31 AM | PERMALINK
Post a comment

Remember personal info?