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Kick the Dog

July 27, 2006 By:
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The fate of the Democratic Party in this mid-term election year, to say nothing of what awaits down the road in 2008, is a topic that keeps popping up in some of the best media outlets throughout the country (much like another popular topic: the fate of books under the assault of technology). Most political magazines and lots of opinion pages have been filled with prescriptions of various sorts, but one of the best takes on the issue came in the May 29 issue of The New Yorker. There, inveterate reporter Jeffrey Goldberg, who began his career at The Jerusalem Post and the English-language Forward, weighed in with a piece of expert journalism that was not without its sly political commentary.

Goldberg began by talking to certain Democrats in the running who are trying to stake out a middle ground for themselves before voters head to the polls. He assesses what may have backfired with John Kerry's run for the White House, and how other Democrats might want to position themselves. Then he moves on to talk to Howard Dean, chair of the Democratic Party, about what must be done to win this year and in 2008, and Dean, as he often does, comes off sounding gonzo.

Just at about the midpoint of the piece, Goldberg appears to come to a conclusion that many other writers on the topic have reached as well -- that the Democrats have lots of policy prescriptions they're hoping to enact, such as increasing the minimum wage, changing much of the prescription-drug law and reinstating budget deficit controls.

But there's no consensus among them -- not even on the minimum wage -- and they're more ragged than they realize.

"Rahm Emanuel, who worked in the Clinton White House, says that the collapse of Bush's support -- recent polls put his approval rating in the high 20s -- is not enough to propel the Democrats back to power. 'We still have to pick the lock here,' he said, referring to the difficulty of unseating incumbents, especially in congressional districts that, over the years, have been gerrymandered into single-party redoubts. Some of his colleagues, however, do little to restrain their optimism. 'I'll tell you this: if the election were held today, we would win,' Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader ... , told me earlier this month. Pelosi appeared excited by the prospect of one specific consequence of a Democratic victory: 'We win in '06, we get subpoena power.' Pelosi has said that the Democrats would reserve the right to investigate every aspect of the Bush Administration, including the rationale for the Iraq war.

"Pelosi's vision of a subpoena-filled 2007 appeals to her party's most liberal supporters," continues Goldberg. "But there is a worry that such a tack might alienate moderates, and that it would motivate otherwise dispirited Republicans to go to the polls. 'You know, if you spend your whole day trying to catch the dog that bit you because all you want to do is kick him, you're not going to win many friends,' Brian Schweitzer, the Democratic governor of Montana, told me." 

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