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Letter from Washington, November 2006

Letter from Washington, November 2006


*LETTER FROM WASHINGTON *

*To Democrats Abroad*

*November 18, 2006*

*Tom Fina, Executive Director Emeritus*

* *

*The seeds of the outcome in 2008 are being sown as I write. While
voters overwhelmingly (54% to 46%) fired the Republicans they did not
hire us Democrats. The task of the Democratic Party and the
congressional delegations is to convince voters to hire us to govern in
2008. *

*That will not be easy. Voter priorities vary widely by state and their
differences on Iraq, gun control,* *abortion, and trade are reflected in
the members whom they have sent to Washington. The most notable
characteristic of the new Democratic faces is their popularism. They
want a way out of Iraq, more health care, lower college tuition costs,
an increased minimum wage, better jobs, embryonic stem cell research,
and reduced prices for Medicare prescription drugs. These are positions
that fit well with the liberal wing of the party. On the other hand,
they are anti-abortion and anti-gun control and while nearly all
Democrats want a way out of Iraq how to achieve this is likely to be a
divisive issue as will matters of taxation and corruption/ethics. This
orientation on traditional liberal causes promises internal tension
within the Senate and House Democratic caucuses. A foretaste of that
tension could be in the failed effort of House Democratic leader Nancy
Pelosi to! have Jack Murtha as her number two in replacement of Steny
Hoyer. Pelosi's last minute decision to go to bat for conservative
Murtha, who has a very vulnerable ethics record, to replace the more
liberal Hoyer has mystified Washington afficionados and badly dented
Pelosi's very impressive reputation as a political whizz. The suggestion
of personal vendetta will be strengthened if she ousts Jane Harmon from
the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee. This does not bode
well for the new House majority. It remains to be seen whether Pelosi
will adopt the Hastert rule that the majority will support only actions
approved by a majority of the majority.*

*In the Senate, Reid will become Majority Leader and there have been no
open scrapes so far there although the role of Independent Democrat
Lieberman promises plenty of headaches.*

*Democrats are also at each other's throats about election tactics. The
Senate and House election leaders, joined by Clinton intimates James
Carville and pollster Stan Greenberg, have attacked DNC chair Howard
Dean for his 50 state strategy of pouring money into building state
parties. They want his removal. But the state party organizations, which
have benefitted from his support, back him to the hilt. This conflict
between members of the congress and the national party organization is
an old one but seems more public than in the past. In fact, both the DNC
effort and the congressional campaigns were critical to the Democratic
success.*

*In any event, the November election, as the Democrats intended, was
more of a referendum on the two parties than on individual candidates.
This is an unplanned continuation of a trend making the party
organizations more powerful than in the past and tending to make our
elections more like parliamentary elections*

*Meanwhile, Democrats are split over measures to combat congressional
corruption with many unwilling to close the door to the kinds of money
that the Republicans have been raking in because of their majority. If
Democrats fail to act convincingly and promptly on corruption, their
credibility with voters who threw the Republicans out will be vaporized.*

*Republicans have rejected conservative hard liners for their leaders in
both houses in favor of proven tacticians who will have the best chance
to frustrate the Democratic majority and prepare voters for a Republican
return in 2008.*

*These elections have produced a mountain of fascinating statistics
about which politicos of both parties will be debating for some years.
But a few are important to note here. Democrats had a majority among
both men and women, 52% and 56% respectively. They also carried three of
the four regions leaving the Republicans as a majority only in the
south. (The conversion of Southern Democrats into Southern Republicans
seems almost complete.) Voters remained loyal to their own parties - 93%
for Democrats and 91% for Republicans. The decisive shift was among
Independents who voted 57% for Democrats (compared to 49% in 2004). The
Latino vote swung heavily Democratic from 56% in 2004 to 69% in 2006.
The women's vote won the Senate for the Democrats in VA, MO and MT.
Finally, Republicans won the Protestant vote but Democrats got the
non-Protestant vote, including a majority of Catholics (56%). Democratic
candidates who went after the religious vote (Strickland for governor in
Ohio a! nd Casey for senator in Pennsylvania ) broke the Republican grip
on it.*

*Voters also said in exit polls that the most important issues for them
were the economy (82%),*

*corruption/ethics (74%), terrorism (72%) and Iraq 68%). These were all
issues where voters believed that Democrats had better answers.*

*The results were hardly in when all concerned joined a chorus of
commitment to bipartisanship, cooperation and civility. The new members
assured that their constituents wanted an end to party conflict,
concrete progress on issues that concerned them and greater civility.
Old members intoned that the big questions could only be resolved with
bipartisan cooperation which they pledged. The President said the
campaign was over and that he knew it was time to govern. New members on
talk shows pledged flexibility, civility and a readiness to compromise
to achieve the changes that their voters had sent them to Washington to
bring about.*

*Only the incorrigible cynic could doubt that Washington is about to
enter a new age of bipartisanship.*

*Nevertheless, only a few hours had passed before this vision of a
gentle, civil, bipartisan era had begun to evaporate. The new members,
like those just re-elected, had come from bitterly fought elections
filled not only with sharp differences on policy but the usual emotional
character assassination that has been a part of our democratic process
since Washington. To imagine that their opponents were about to roll
over on substantive issue like stem cell research, immigration, Iraq,
health insurance or the minimum wage suggested that they were naive or
pandering to their electorate. Indeed, since the defeat of Republican
moderates, the Republican congressional delegation has become more
conservative than ever. And conservative Republican leaders are arguing
that the election was lost because their party was not conservative
enough. This does not augur well for cooperation with the new Democratic
majority.*

*It did not take long for the President to define his version of
bipartisanship. In response the Democratic call for legislation to
permit the Federal government to negotiate Medicare drug prices, the
White House responded that the Administration would vigorously oppose
that authority. A few days later, it announced that the President would
resubmit six Federal judge nominees to the lame duck Senate which had
already failed to act on them and whom Democrats had made clear they
would never approve. And while the President claimed to be open to new
ideas on Iraq, he also made the point that the Democrats now shared
responsibility for"victory". Most recently, he appointed a new chief of
family planning who opposes contraception to supervise an annual budget
of some $283 million. Some bipartisanship!*

*The reality is that voters would like the Federal government to provide
health care, cut taxes, research stem cells, provide better paying jobs,
bring the troops home from a peaceful and prosperous Iraq and stop
illegal immigration while assuring an abundant supply of manual labor
and to do so without partisan conflict. *

*Only those used to inhaling the political air common to Washington,
Moscow, Paris and other capitals, would think this unlikely.*

*The Republic's longest presidential campaign is already in course and
will dominate political action for the next two years. While there is a
platoon of candidates, either declared or about to declare, there have
been some significant erasures from the earlier list. On the Republican
side, Bill Frist, outgoing Senate Majority Leader seems a dead duck
after the defeat of the Republicans in November for which he is seen in
Republican circles as partly responsible. Another casualty was social
conservative VA senator George Allen defeated by newly minted populist
Democrat James Webb. The Democratic roster was reduced by the
announcements of former VA governor Mark Warner and WI senator Russ
Feingold that they would not run.*

*As of this moment, the front runners, declared or not, appear to be
Republicans John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Democrats
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. In view of Senator Clinton's 67% win
in NY, her prospects seem to be improving. A survey of attitudes toward
women in politics in early 2005 seems relevant. In that Siena/Hearst
Newspapers poll, 62% of all voters said that the US is ready for a woman
president, 81% said they would vote for a woman and 60% said that the
Democrats will nominate a woman in 2008. *

*If Democrats can avoid the self-destruction that brought down the
Republicans, we can hope the voters will hire us in 2008. But, we're off
to a rocky start. 30*

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