Not Going for Broke?

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In the Boston Globe on Sunday, Joan Vennochi suggested, like many others have suggested, that Democrats refrained from embracing this weekend’s antiwar rallies because they’re “[f]earful of the peacenik label.” Is that true? Perhaps top Senate Democrats like Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton genuinely believe that pulling out of Iraq sooner rather than later, or setting timetables for withdrawal, amounts to bad strategy. But maybe not; maybe they really do agree with the antiwar protestors and want to get out of Iraq, by setting timetables and the lot. If that’s the case, fear of the “peacenik label” seems wholly misguided.

Right now, congressional Democrats are, in all likelihood, nowhere near regaining power—something that many people are still in denial about. Yes, the succession of GOP scandals, the Social Security victory, and Bush’s second-term malaise have apparently given them hope for a stunning upset come next midterms. On the other hand, looking at the actual lay of the land deflates this hope pretty quickly. The House will probably stay in Republican hands until at least the next census in 2010—that’s the power of gerrymandering for you—and, as Chuck Todd of the National Journal points out, the Senate landscape doesn’t look much better for the Democrats. Under the circumstances, then, things really can’t get that much worse for the minority party. They really do have nothing left to lose—so why aren’t they acting like it? One would assume that this is that long-awaited opportunity for the liberal party to go all out and take actual risks: seeing if they can’t rally the country around antiwar sentiment and finally exorcise the ghost of George McGovern; figuring out how to make the case that judges like John Roberts are unacceptable; figuring out how to convince the electorate of the necessity of raising taxes to pay for the big government it obviously wants. (A necessity admitted by responsible Republicans like Bruce Bartlett.) A time to experiment, not to act overly cautious.

Perhaps Democrats worry about losing even more seats if they overreach, at which point they couldn’t mount a filibuster against truly unacceptable legislation. But given the fact that the GOP has threatened on several occasions to abolish the filibuster anyway, this seems like a moot point. Democrats are still acting as if majority status is right around the corner. Given the fact that, nationwide, more people voted Democratic in Senate races than Republican over the past six years, that’s not a bad sentiment, but realistically, it’s a delusion.

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