Tuesday, February 22, 2005

A recent political cartoon shows the face of a manic looking Dean on an alarm clock. The bells on top clang out the message, "WAKE UP!! WAKE UP!! YOU SLEEPY HEADS!! GET UP! GET UP! GET OUTA BED!" A donkey is grumbling under the blanket.
I don't know how much Dean, as DNC chair, can influence congressional Democrats, but much of the base of our party is ready to see some scorched earth tactics in Congress. In the House, especially, Democrats should be more aggressive because, unlike their Senate counterparts, they don't have the tool of the filibuster. What's more, they're up against Tom DeLay and the nastiest tactics in the history of the House. Although the Republicans hold only a 53% majority in the House, they treat Democrats like the invisible man. Huge bills are written behind doors closed to the donkeys, then rammed through as soon as they come back from the printer.
I agree with a January 24 New Republic article that advises House members to take a cue from Newt Gingrich's playbook. Michael Crowley and Ryan Lizza maintain that minority parties can only exert pressure by drastic measures. In the eighties and early nineties, Gingrich waged a take-no-prisoners assault on Democrats that resulted in a GOP House majority in 1994. He fought a long-term, ungentlemanly guerilla campaign, starting with accusations that Speaker Jim Wright was unethical. Years of pounding that message in eventually paid off. Wright was forced to resign over a relatively minor ethical lapse. But Gingrich went after more than individuals; he went after the entire institution. He created confrontation--often out of nothing--because the media loves drama. By constantly playing to the media, he convinced the public that Congress was a toilet that needed to be flushed. With theatrical flair, he emoted about Congressmen who routinely overdrew their accounts at the House-managed bank. Some of those congressmen were Republicans, including even Gingrich himself, but he considered embarrassing his own side worth it if he could thoroughly humiliate Dems. By 1994, the public was so disillusioned about House ethics that they were ready to throw the bums out. Enough incumbents lost to give the GOP a majority.
Today, many of the older House Democrats refuse to lower themselves to Gingrich's crass level. They respect and honor the institution where they serve and wince at boorish behavior. Okay, but they wouldn't have to be as loutish as Newt. They just need to be a little less well-bred and stoke up the fire in their bellies. Think you could help them with that, Howard?
More tomorrow on aggressive resistance.

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