Tuesday, November 14, 2006

what now?


Now that the bubbles in the champagne have all popped, it is time for some sober reflection on how best to use the opportunity given to the Democrats in last week's election to change the course of the ship of state. Some may be already looking for an excuse to dismiss the Democrats with a 'pox on both their houses' dismissal of the entire political process or just some good old-fashioned librul demonization. Of course, the 110th Congress is bound to be not radical enough for some and not conservative enough for others, but that begs the question of what is the right balance to strike. The right plan would weigh a variety of concerns, such as getting legislation which is popular enough to get past the veto pen, reducing intra-party squabbles between the progressive and 'centrist' caucuses, and setting the stage for a retaking of the Executive Branch.

There are, in fact, plenty of plans more extensive than the 100 hours wishlist, but the biggest factor is time: not everything can be done simultaneously. Some of the more massive initiatives, like universal health care, will have to wait. The majority is more ideologically spread, being in what other multiparty governments known as a center-left coalition, encompassing everything from socialists to well, Joe Lieberman and his party of one. The more tightly conservative Republicans will be looking to keep legislation under the veto-proof threshold by remaining intractable or peeling off Democrats. Already bush is talking big about working together while pushing through John Bolton as UN ambassador and immunizing himself aginst all that eavesdropping he's been up to. Thus strategy would require a number of highly popular measures which the GOP can't afford to oppose. That said, here is a multi-stage annotated plan:

1) Ethics reform is the most important thing to begin with since judging by the exit polls, it has the broadest base of popular appeal. Not only that, it is bound to hurt the other party structurally more than it hurts the majority and it will preempt any poisonous 'same old tax-and-spend' critiques that have already been taken out of many a pundit's rhetorical fridge to defrost. Right now we are witnessing a number of ethical complaints from spurious to credible about the incoming party leadership, especially vis-a-vis the race between Steny Hoyer and John Murtha for Majority Leader, which is starting to distract from the unified message which brought the current electoral success. Hoyer is likely to resist this key step and establish a power center away from Speaker Pelosi (a reason why she is backing Murtha). Thus, to change the subject back and maximize political capital, the Democrats must quickly pass a reform of political lobbying, earmark distribution (including that of the new popular perk, homeland security funds) and that of Congressional ethics. Oh and throw in some sort of electoral reform, like requiring a paper trail for every vote. Increase penalties for elction fraud, including deceptive robocalls. Try to avoid giving ethically-challenged members like Alcee Hastings and Allan Mollohan, major committee chairmanships. There won't be another chance to do any of these things. With the slate wiped clean by the aforementioned, investigation will have a more justified power to it.

2) Ramp up the investigation slowly, as C-SPAN can only cover so many hearings in a day. I joke, but a bit of research and legwork will be needed to circumvent the more slippery members of the Administration in their chicanery, for even if they actually convinced themselves they would have a permanent majority, I'm sure the paper shredders are at full speed now. Investigations need to be serious, with no Joe Biden mugging for the camera or wild accusations, but yet through and relentless. Clearly, there are no shortage of oversight to be done, particularly in regards to Iraq, but there should be a schedule. Someone suggested a 'bombshell a month' which sounds about right in regularity.

3) The next legislative actions should be undoing the horrible legislation of this decade. Begin with the most unpopular: the inability of the government to negotiate drug prices due to Medicare Part D. Next, raise the minimum wage (with COLA!) triumphantly. If they are truly daring, they could attempt reform of immigration with severe employment sanctions as a funding source for better border enforcement...oh and no physical fence. Find some time to revisit...oh say, the torture bill and the whole issue of wiretapping without a warrant.

4) With the easy stuff out of the way, Bush can be isolated by investigations and nullified with a one-two combination of 'bipartisan' measures which will separate him from his party and other 'bipartisan' measures which can separate his party from him. This rather cynically plays into the press desire to approve of 'reasonable and bipartisan' action. But really give Bush plenty to veto as well, since you'll be accused to extremism no matter what you do. Bush's likely reaction will either to act as-if and continue to push his agenda or to take a page out of Clinton's playbook and try to put the GOP brand on a progressive initiative like alternative fuels. In particular, Democrats should be very wary of any and all attempts to reform Social Security...more of a job for some blue-ribbon commission to make recommendations on, then some divisive and unnecessary battle. Also any and all judicial nominees need a more through vetting. Repeal the archaic DADT policy for the armed forces.

5) Which leads us to Iraq, a mess which needs cleaning up but not the responsibility (hence the importance of those investigations being in progress). Already the GOP is planning to blame the Democrats for what everyone knows is their failed war. That's how they got their 'edge' in national security issues, by blaming the other side for Vietnam. If they get away with this bait-and-switch, we will see more Americans die in yet another forsaken war in a decade. Don’t expect the Baker commission to solve our Iraq problem. They won’t, they can’t. Oh and yes, we are all friends with Israel, but can we stop supplying them with anti-personnel weapons like cluster bombs? Not making a bad situation worse is a good guiding principle in all these things.

6) Having shown an ability to work and get things done, whoever the Democratic candidate in 2008 will be, she (or he) will have a well-researched proposal to get health care for all Americans. Since Bush will veto anything serious, it is necessary to build this into a solid plank. Even if something did pass, Bush would append one of his odious signing statements to it and then proceed to botch it royally. The same lesson applies to climate change. But both must be done, and done by the Democrats.

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