It's not easy being a Democrat these days. The other party is firmly in the driver's seat of the White House and Congress, and moving toward a controlling stake in the Supreme Court. The Dems' have been functioning as a hapless and ineffective opposition for the past few years, lacking a popular leader who can speak authoritatively for his side. War in Iraq going badly? Gas prices soaring? Ballyhooed Social Security reform gone AWOL? No matter what, it hasn't seemed to make much of a difference to the political balance. People may not be comfortable with the performance of Bush & Co., but they certainly aren't turning to the Democrats for a solution.
Why not? Simply put, the Democrats aren't offering any real solutions. Still hung up on their defeat in 2004, or worse yet, back in 2000, the Democrats are not doing a good job of demonstrating leadership and offering a vision for the future. Currently, their entire agenda seems to consist of being "against the Republicans"--a very incomplete strategy. A healthy opposition should do more so than naysay out of habit. Right now, people see the Republicans as at least being the "party of ideas" (no matter how bad those ideas are). That's more than the Democrats can say as they've gone purple in the face trying to thwart a U.N. ambassadorship posting (John Bolton) and dug for dirt on an articulate, intelligent, but sinfully conservative Supreme Court nominee (John Roberts).
Democrats think they're losing the support of the nation because they are being outmaneuvered by the Republicans in "framing" the issues. While it's true that the latter seems to have perfected the art of "spin", I agree with the diagnosis of Jim Wallis, who recently wrote in the New York Times about the importance of "the message thing". He argues that the Democrats need to lead on issues like poverty, energy policy, and international leadership, while also attracting moral and family values voters.
How do the Democrats snap out of their funk? My solution may be anathema to die-hard liberals, but I believe it to be necessary: stop hating Bush. With the exception of a brief respite in the post 9/11-days, Democrats have been consumed with an irrational personal hatred of the current president that has hampered their ability to offer an authentic alternative leadership to this country. It's well past time to put aside those personal grudges and start offering ideas.
The current administration, thanks to its own missteps and those of its allies in Congress, faces a shrinking amount of credibility on a wide swath of issues. Now is the time for Democrats to rise to the occasion with a bold, positive new message as well as some bold, positive new leaders. Enough with being the party that "just says no"; let's hear more about principles.
Note: This post appears in the August 18 issue of the Maryland Diamondback under the title "Dems need more than negativity."