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To Biscuit or Not to Biscuit?


It’s a tale of two pundits this morning that has caught my eye, and I feel as though I have stepped through the looking glass reading these columns. 

Generally, Margaret Carlson’s faux even-handedness peppered with back-handed swipes at hapless Democrats is grating — but this morning, she has a column out that anyone in the progressive or moderate blogosphere could have written, complete with straight-forward, call it like it is language.  And I found it on Bloomberg.

The second is a Peggy Noonan extravaganza in the WSJ’s Opinion Journal — wherein the former Reagan speechwriter takes the Bush Administration and GOP Congress to task for their loss of base support, and somehow manages to blame some of it on Democrats as well.  But again, there are parts of this that echo things we’ve been saying all around the progressive blogosphere for months, and I think it is worth a read.

Why do I point out both columns from women I don’t generally mention in polite company for fear I’ll start speaking in swear?  Because their arguments resonate beyond their usual conservative to moderate audience — and, if Democrats are smart, they’ll begin using some of this language as they gear up for elections this Fall.  Let me show you what I mean.

From Carlson:

When the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee immediately objected to the prospect of Air Force General Michael Hayden heading the Central Intelligence Agency, I knew the president would appoint him. Nothing stiffens The Decider’s spine like someone presuming to contradict him.

In some ways Hayden, former head of the National Security Agency, is actually a high-water mark in Bush headhunting. Hayden’s resume, unlike those of Harriet Miers, Michael Brown and Michael Chertoff, is at least thematically related to the core requirements of the job….

Hayden’s nomination is one more chapter in the Bush administration’s campaign to simultaneously punish the CIA for not completely rolling over in the run-up to the war and blame it for suckering the Congress and public into the worst foreign policy disaster in a generation. It’s quite a card trick for the president and vice president to slice and dice the info to their needs, add homegrown material from Rumsfeld’s shop as needed, and then claim we were all fooled by the same faulty data.

Since then, George W. Bush’s plan on intelligence is the opposite of the old saw that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. His is “if it ain’t broke, break it.” Then put the fix in.

Bush started by appointing former low-level CIA case worker and Florida Representative Porter Goss to replace George “Slam Dunk” Tenet. And what a heckuva job Goss did until he was shown the door last Friday….

Goss brought in a raft of political operatives from Capitol Hill who knew nothing about intelligence and everything about insulting the Langley veterans who helped end the Cold War. His strange choice as executive director was Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, who resigned Monday amid reports in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere that he took part in poker games at the Watergate Hotel arranged by Brent Wilkes, a contractor and longtime friend of Foggo’s.

Thank goodness for what bloggers are calling Watergategate. Mere rank incompetence isn’t usually enough to move Bush to get rid of an appointee….

There is a lot more. And beyond the point that we’re really calling it "Hookergate" or "Forni-gate," which I suppose may have been too colorful for Bloomberg readers or something, the level of snark directed at the Administration is quite well done. And well earned by the hapless bunch of boobs working at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The fact that this sentiment has made it to the pen of Margaret Carlson — well, that begins to say something, doesn’t it?

But there is also some similar, if not more distributed between both parties, disgust and snark from Peggy Noonan — a woman whose writing I often find well crafted, although I rarely agree with her reasoning and conclusions.  But today, she hits a few notes that I think are worth a read and some serious thought.  (And a few low notes which are simply GOP CYA, but you can’t expect the woman to go cold turkey on the Scooby Snacks, now can you?)

From Noonan:

When you’ve been in Congress for a while, or the White House for a while, you both forget too many things and learn too many things.

You forget why they sent you. You forget it’s not that you’re charming and wonderful. You forget it’s not you. You become immersed in a Washington conversation, a political conversation, that is, by definition, unlike the normal human conversation back home. To survive and thrive, national politicians have to speak two languages, Here and Home. Actually it’s more than two languages, it’s two cultures. It’s hard to straddle cultures.

But even as you forget a lot, you learn a lot. You get crammed into your head the political realities on the ground around you–how big the minority Democratic bloc in the House really is, how many votes the other team has in what committee, where to go for legal money, how the press will react to any given decision or statement….

The Republicans talk about cutting spending, but they increase it–a lot. They stand for making government smaller, but they keep making it bigger. They say they’re concerned about our borders, but they’re not securing them. And they seem to think we’re slobs for worrying. Republicans used to be sober and tough about foreign policy, but now they’re sort of romantic and full of emotionalism. They talk about cutting taxes, and they have, but the cuts are provisional, temporary. Beyond that, there’s something creepy about increasing spending so much and not paying the price right away but instead rolling it over and on to our kids, and their kids….

A reporter told me a story a few weeks ago. He was at a meeting with an important Republican congressman. Talk turned to the upcoming 2006 elections. The congressman argued it will be better for the Republicans than people think; they’ll hold the House. He said they are better at getting the vote out. He made the case for this based on turnout figures in 2002 and 2004. They have more money. He made the case for this assertion too. And they have a message. The reporter who was there said later he noticed the oddest thing. Under "message" his notes were blank. He couldn’t really remember what the congressman said.

No wonder. How could they have a message if they’ve lost their meaning?

The oddest thing about Republicans and Democrats in power is that they always know the technical facts, always know about fund raising, always know what the national committee is saying about getting turnout. But so often they don’t know the message or even have a message. Which is funny, because they’re in the message business. They’re like shoemakers who make pretty shoeboxes but forget to make the shoes….

One gets the impression party leaders, deep in their hearts, believe the base is . . . base. Unsophisticated. Primitive. Obsessed with its little issues. They’re trying to educate the base. But if history is a guide, the base is about to teach them a lesson instead.

I have to say, it’s not often that I read the concluding paragraph in anything that Peggy Noonan has written and think "amen," but that last paragraph is something that I have been thinking for quite a while.

We went out to dinner with friends yesterday evening.  We’ve just had primary elections here in WV, and at the restaurant we ran into another acquaintence who had just lost a primary by a small margin — but who was very stoic and realistic about the loss.  The topic of conversation turned to politics (in that environment, how could it not?), and we were all talking about how everyone has a "throw the bums out" sort of attitude this year — but somehow, in this particular local primary, it ended up being a "vote the same people back in again, even though we’re pissed at how things are going" election.

And that’s something that I do not understand.  Turn out was very low.  Noonan talks about that in her op-ed, and I worry about that particular issue for the upcoming Fall elections. 

Voters need something to vote for — not just someone to vote against — or they won’t get up off their butts, turn off Wheel of Fortune and head to the polls.  And if the vast majority of the disaffected stay home, is there any mandate for change, or do we end up with the same old, same old?

Reader Evil Parallel Universe made a good case for what is going on with the Republican party poll numbers and the public perceptions of them as corrupt, inept, and unreliable:

At the end of the day, each and every “bad” issue for the repugs reinforces every other. So, in that sense, they are all important, and it doesn’t matter what distance you view them from. What particular issue initially captures a voter’s imagination isn’t really important, it is just important that it does – whether it be corruption, health care, Katrina, etc. And once it does, any and all other “bad” information will reinforce that original perception. It is a “game” that the Repug’s can’t win, for the simple fact that they have nothing to combat any bad perceptions with at the moment – if the Repugs are inept (e.g. Katrina), then it suports that they are corrupt (e.g. Abramoff/Delay/Cunningham/Goss-Foggo; or are in bed with the oil companies), and if they are corrupt, then it supports that they lie (i.e. the Iraq War, the outing of Plame), and if they lie, then it makes sense that they are inept; and on and on, pick your issues.

The German’s have better word than what we would call perception,(as is often foreigner’s have a better word)which word is zeitgeist. And the present zeitgeist (in its English usage) is a nightmare for the repugs that is not going to change, and which exists whether from a micro or macroscopic view.

We (i.e the FDL community or the whole left blogosphere) may pay attention to (if not harp on) certain issues like corruption, but as Cujo notes, some issues don’t need any media (i.e. personal well being (whether economic, health care, etc.). But at the end of the day, corruption and any other “minutiae” help reinforce the perception/zeitgeist.

At various times the concept of the “tipping point” has been broached. Well, I don’t know when it was reached, but I know it has been reached. Chimpco is a “loser,” and repugs in general are seen as not caring about the lives/concerns of ordinary people. That perception is what will allow Dem’s to win more than any “single” issue or even standing for something (other than “we” are not “them’).

From a marketing perspective, there is nothing left to market for the repugs. It is one thing to be Karl Rove and try to sell lies when perception is good (thanks to Clinton, ironically enough), it is another to try and sell lies when perception is against you. Sadly, it is not the lies themselves, but the actual (and perceived) failures)….

On a prior thread there was a discusion about the fall in ratings for Faux News, and the point I didn’t have time to make is that it has nothing to do with the truthiness of Faux, but the failures of the admin. It is not the lies, you can sell and promote lies so long as you are successful – like in a Ponzi scheme, it is the failures that would make people not watch Faux.

The disgust with what the Bush Administration and the Rubber Stamp Republican Congress have done to this country over the last five years is palpable — even among all the folks that I know who are life-long Republicans, you get a sense that they just want to yell at someone. And sure, that might suppress turnout among some of the less-kool-aidy, but you still have to get Democrats to the polls to vote in greater numbers than the remaining GOP stalwarts. (Which, admittedly, is a shrinking number these days.)

EPU is correct in saying that the feeling that Republicans don’t care about the lives of ordinary people is a huge blow to them in terms of voting.  But Democrats need to step up to the plate and show how much they DO care about those issues — and I know they do, because I’m on the phone or exchanging e-mails with staffers and friends in the know and elected officials themselves about the initiatives they are trying to push forward.  But the message gets lost, somehow, and we have to find a way to be more effective at getting it out of the blogosphere and into the rest of the country.

How do we do this?  Well, that’s why I’m posting on this today — I’d like us to start thinking about that, about the reach of some of our work on things like the Roots Project here — all the letters to the editor and phone calls to radios shows that we could all be doing between now and November.  And the need to do the tough work of stuffing envelopes, and making phone calls, and all those other things that push local campaigns forward. 

The Republican ground machine kicked our asses in the last Presidential election — because they were more motivated to vote for their candidate than we were motivated to vote against him.  I still maintain that Shrum’s enormous error in the Kerry campaign was to hold back in a "Well, at least he’s not George Bush." posture instead of going on offense in the last few months of the campaign.

The American public hungers for a change for the better.  But it isn’t enough that they are disgusted with Republicans and their rubber stamping culture of corruption and lies.  The Democrats must find a way to get the message across that they care about the needs of ordinary people — high energy costs, increased grocery bills as a result, the rising interest rates on all those mortgages obtained during the inflated housing bubble that are about to come crashing in on a whole lot of people…the things that John Edwards brought to life so well in his two Americas theme in talking about his conversations with his parents over the kitchen table.

I went back and re-read a post of mine from January earlier in the week — the one that just flowed out after the mining disaster here in WV — and I’ve tried to figure out how to move the things I said in that post forward.  But I have been stuck, not coming up with any real answers on how to move that sort of agenda into Democratic party discussion, given the issues they have with lack of media coverage, problems with messaging from their own leadership, the issues we’ve discussed about DCCC and DSCC hunkering down instead of fighting, and everything else we talk about here regularly.

So I wanted to go to the FDL braintrust — all of our amazing readers and commenters — and see what everyone else thinks.  How do we move our agenda forward?  What are the best issues for this push?  How do we craft a better message?  Who do we have who is a better messenger?  I put up a picture of Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith goes to Washington the other day and I still think that the nation hungers for that sort of messenger — someone who cares more about the well-being of the rest of the country than they do about keeping their job — but the question is, who fits that description?

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com