A Dirty Fight.

May 18, 2008

A Dirty Fight.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Every Sunday CUIP’s president Jacqueline Salit and strategist and philosopher Fred Newman watch the political talk shows and discuss them. Here are excerpts from their dialogue on Sunday, May 18, 2008 after watching “The Chris Matthews Show,” “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” and “The McLaughlin Group.”

Salit: Let’s start with the Peggy Noonan view on the Republicans which she discussed on Stephanopoulos today. She wrote a column in the Wall Street Journal with a Bob Dylan metaphor at the top of the piece. Describing the Democratic Party coming to the end of its nominating process she says Obama will be the nominee, the Democrats will come together and go forward, and the Democratic Party is being born. What’s the Republican Party doing? Well, it’s busy dying. She comments on various memoranda that are being circulated by top Republican leaders about how to salvage the November election but the bottom line of her argument is this: the Republican Party and Republican members of Congress missed their opportunity to distance themselves from Bush and the Bush White House. If they had struck out on this course two years ago, it would have been a principled critique, an opportunity to separate themselves from failed policies and to put themselves in a stronger position politically. And they would have had a shot at selling that to the American people. But they didn’t. And now it’s too late. It’s too late for the Republican Congress and it’s also too late for John McCain. Does she have it right on the Republican Party?

Newman: No. She’s wrong. Because to have accomplished that, the Republicans would have had to side with the Democrats on the war, including setting a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. They can’t do one without the other, meaning they can’t separate from Bush without, in effect, joining with the Democrats. If they had set a timetable, that comes complete with a recognition that everything that’s been going on for the past five years is totally wrong. They can’t do that. If you’re a Republican, you can’t abandon a sitting president in the middle of his second term. That would be a bigger disaster than the one they currently have. They had no choice but to go along with this. And now they’re going to have to deal with the consequences of it. What are the consequences going to be? In my opinion, it’s very likely they’re going to get creamed in the November election.

Salit: Yes.

Newman: That’s just what it is. Bad president, bad politics, unwanted war, American’s don’t like it, Katrina, scandals, the economy’s badly fractured. What more do you need for a total political discrediting? In a sense, the Republicans are the victims of history which they played the key role in determining. What happens when that happens? It’s a landslide against you, you get thrown out. What do you do then? Well, you start to rebuild. And they will.

Salit: Many people are saying that where we’ve come to in the presidential election, with Obama about to be the Democratic nominee and McCain the Republican nominee, is you have a fairly clear cut choice between two distinctive directions in American foreign policy. The Republican view is based on America continuing as the world’s sole superpower, with other rising economies and political alliances, but nonetheless with the U.S. as the hegemonic force in the world. In McCain’s Republican view our foreign policy flows from that. The Obama view is different – America is a very powerful country, a world leader, but the international situation is changing and America has to redefine its role internationally. It’s not a unipolar world. It’s a more complicated multilateral world and our foreign policy has to flow from that. In broad strokes, these are the options that are coming before the American people.

Newman: Yes, but I don’t think the American people are mainly considering foreign policy. Foreign policy is a big issue, but I think Obama is correct in saying that the big issue is how the American governmental system is working. And it’s working badly. It’s very smart of Obama to put the focus there rather than exclusively on foreign policy.

Salit: Yes, or on any particular policy. He’s struck a deep chord by focusing on the political paralysis, on the decisions that haven’t been taken.

Newman: After a while, with one elected official after another who says we haven’t developed an energy policy for 25 years, you have to say, “Well, how come?”

Salit: Exactly. And people are asking what’s been going on in Washington that that hasn’t happened. There was talk today about Obama’s vulnerabilities. What are the steps that Obama has to take, do you think, to address them and what does he have to project to bring the country together and to pursue the goals of his candidacy?

Newman: He’s already doing that, don’t you think? He has to simply continue the campaign that he’s set in motion. What he’s going to do, obviously – and he’s done this already – is to say that McCain is simply a third term of Bush and the last thing in the world the American people want is a third term of Bush. It turns out, in retrospect, that they didn’t even want a second term of Bush.

Salit: Good point.

Newman: That’s what he’ll do. And he continues with his work “across the aisle.” ‘Trust me,’ he says, ‘I will lead that coming together.’ And I think the American people might well come to trust him when we get to the general election. Democratic voters – and independent voters – have come to trust him to some degree. And, moreover, he might even accomplish that coming together once in office. I think the key for him is managing to keep this huge base, this new coalition of forces, this new generation of voters, active and involved. If he can nurture that, and the new coalition can work together, I think he’s in a good position to force some issues like a new energy policy, like health care reform, like education reform, to be dealt with in ways that they’ve not been dealt with before.

Salit: Are we talking here about creating new kinds of base organizations outside of the Democratic Party but connected to the Democratic network?

Newman: Or supporting existing issue organizations, giving them places and positions that are more central and exposed to public view. That’s how you do things like that. But the tactical question, in my opinion, is going to revolve around a fight for the independent movement and, in particular, for the soul of the independent movement. The Obama presidency will include, as we just said, getting some new consensus on these key issues that haven’t been touched like foreign policy, health care, energy, housing, and the economy. Obviously he’s going to try to deal with those. But, tactically, I think the Democrats will make a bigger play than ever for the independent vote. We’ll see what independents do with that. And we’ll see what we do with that.

Salit: I talked recently to a top political consultant who works mainly with Democrats. He told me that he’s been saying to the Democratic Party for 20 years: ‘You’ve got to relate to independent voters and the independent movement.’ And that he hit a brick wall every time he tried to raise it. He actually had better luck selling that idea to Republicans, in some cases, than he had selling it to Democrats. And, he seemed to think that one feature of the post-November situation, if Obama wins and if he wins with big support from independents, would be that it might be the thing that finally gets the Democratic Party to pivot on this and to say Yes, we’ve got to go after that movement. We’ve got to go after those voters. Or put another way, We’ve got to reframe our thinking about how we Democrats can own that constituency.

Newman: I don’t exactly agree with your friend. I think the key Democratic thinkers are way ahead on this matter. They’ve been thinking about and working on this all along. The issue was that the Obama campaign went out and did something with that voter bloc and now the Democrats have to attend to it. For the moment, the majority of independents just voted Democratic. They’re supporting Obama and he’s going to win. So, we’ll see where things go from there. If Obama clinches the nomination and wins the presidency, I think there will be a very complex tactical move on their part.

Salit: On the part of the Democratic Party?

Newman: Yes. Put in the most stark terms, it’s basically going to be Capture as many independents as you can into the Democratic Party and then destroy the rest.

Salit: Destroy anybody who won’t come along.

Newman: That’s going to be the Democrats’ play. And that might be a substantial mass.

Salit: That won’t come along.

Newman: So, it’s not going to be all fuzzy and warm.

Salit: No “Kumbaya Moment” between the Democrats and the independents.

Newman: No. It’s going to be a dirty fight.

Salit: Thanks, Fred.