Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Learning to Oppose.

Let's face facts: the Democratic Party is the minority in both the House and the Senate. Anything the Republicans want to do, they will be able to do. Short of perpetual filibuster, a gift to further define Democrats negatively the GOP would gladly campaign on in 2006, there is realistically next to nothing we can do about it. So what do we do? Do we run to the middle and compromise everything we stand for in hopes of avoiding the GOP painting us as obstructionists? Do we stand up and vote as a block against GOP in a fight to the end that is certain to lose anyway? I'd bet the compromise option will be the one most chosen as the chance of getting the Democrats all on the same page with the likes of the Joe Libermans among us are pretty slim. But by rolling over and compromising the Democrats once again will miss out on the opportunity presented by being the opposing minority party.

Yes, even in the minority role, opportunity presents herself to us. If we compromise and support in various fashion the GOP's agenda, the Party will miss out on the opportunity to define exactly who Democrats are and what Democrats stand for. Even more importantly, through continual compromise the Democratic leadership will miss the opportunity to highlight the differences between us and the Republicans. And in missing this valuable opportunity to differentiate ourselves from the Republicans, we will once again allow the GOP to dominate the 2008 election cycle.

From Kevin Brennan at BOP:
What does being an opposition party mean? An opposition's job is not to stop the government from doing things. An opposition has only one job--to sell a set of alternative policies to the voters. Why? Because your goal is to win the next election. And the only way to win the next election is to learn how to lose battles.

In a parliamentary democracy, like Canada, the role of the Opposition (Official and otherwise, and yes, we do have an "Official Opposition") is very well defined. Opposition parties know, most of the time, that the government doesn't need them in order to get its policy through. The government will do whatever the hell it damn well pleases.

Accepting this gives you an odd kind of freedom. If you know that you're going to lose no matter what, then you can concentrate on the real question--how you want to lose.
This excellent article points out that controlling how one loses can actually be advantageous in allowing one to define one's opponent. Rather than scratching to form coalitions, easily used to the other side's advantage (can you say "Rose Garden" Mr. Gephardt?) and just as likely to lose anyway, defining why you lost the inevitable on your own terms pays future dividends:
You need to think both tactically and strategically about how you're going to lose each fight. Always think about the message you want to convey about the government's shortcomings. Forget scorched earth, forget the idea that you'll make them fight for each inch of political territory--instead select two or three messages that you want to hammer into the news cycle. The Alberto Gonzales nomination is a perfect example. He gives Democrats a perfect chance to talk about Abu Ghraib, the torture memos, and criminal investigations of the Bush White House. They don't need to be the same messages each time, but they should reinforce your overall themes.
Themes? Also known as strategy. Also known as talking points. The GOP is masterful at this. They speak with one voice on every issue, even the ones they win. We on the other side speak as individuals. And as such are easily picked off as individuals by the Right's noise machine. Lieberman goes on Fox to undercut Dean. Gephardt poses with Bush in the Rose Garden. Edwards helps pass the Patriot Act and NCLB. Kerry votes for the authorization to use force. And just like that, all our leading candidate have lost their credibility and have to play defense for most of their election campaigns.

The Democratic party has to define who it is, and more importantly, how it is different from the GOP. Failure to do this will leave us in the same position in 2008 that we saw in this election. We need to learn to oppose, giving the administration full credit for all the failures and scandals it will undoubtedly achieve while putting our candidates in a position to say "I told you so."