Monday, October 23, 2006

"The Plan" - Same old rhetoric, same old Rahm

With the 2006 midterm campaign in it’s final stretch, much of the news and commentary is focusing – to an even greater extent than before – almost exclusively on the horse race. I thought I’d try and buck the trend, so on a recent business trip I decided to read The Plan, Rahm Emanuel and Bruce Reed’s new book that aims to be a sort of Democratic answer to the Contract with America and Winning the Future, by Newt Gingrich.

I actually found some of the ideas and proposals interesting and worth exploring further. I will be posting rebuttals to their agenda on my own site throughout the course of the next few weeks, in an attempt to give people a people a place to debate policy as we head towards November 7th. Here, I will simply share with you here my critique of the political credibility of their argument, which goes beyond just the predictable spin (i.e., talking about how Republicans “cynically exploited the post-9/11 concern about security,” while Democrats “responded to legitimate fears” about the economy). Unlike Gingrich in Winning the Future, Emanuel and Reed promote their proposals with uncompromisingly partisan rhetoric that reduces the book’s appeal among voters not already pre-disposed to accept their party’s major talking points.

Emanuel and Reed are both loyal Democrats, and I certainly didn’t expect them to hide that fact or attempt anything resembling absolute objectivity. I don’t decry partisanship – unless it is being practiced by those who do. And so while Emanuel and Reed bemoan the preeminence of “hack” government in Republican controlled Washington – where winning political points is more important than finding real solutions – I find it hypocritical of them to practice it so much themselves. In the course of a 185 page book, they criticize President Bush by name more than 95 times. In contrast, prospective House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – who would theoretically play a critical role in helping turn “The Plan” into a actionable legislative agenda – is mentioned only once, and not even in reference to her Leadership duties. And without irony, they assert that “the rules of the road weren’t designed to withstand one-party rule” while giving no indication of which branch or chamber they would voluntarily cede to the Republicans were Democrats ever to be as electorally successful as the GOP in recent years.

An example of their disingenuous commitment to placing policy over politics can be found in the chapter on healthcare, in which they write about “reaching across the aisle” to find answers. But while they make sure to praise Rod Blagojevich for proposing AllKids in Illinois, they simply refer to “Massachusetts’s” innovative mandate on the purchase of healthcare coverage by those who can afford it, without bothering to mention that it was Governor (and potential Republican Presidential candidate) Mitt Romney who introduced it. And in regards to small business healthcare affordability, they write at length about the Durbin-Blanche proposal that was floated last May, but fail to even acknowledge that House Republicans passed, and the Senate Democrats blocked, (as they have almost every session this decade) a small business healthcare bill that was endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (over 95% of whose membership is small businesses) and almost every professional and business association that has a legislative advocacy program.

One of the most outrageous points in the book, however, comes in the chapter on security. Emanuel and Reed state that “the Administration jeopardized the success of our mission in Afghanistan by shifting troops to Iraq because it didn’t have enough to go all out in both places. Osama bin Laden got away at Tora Bora in part because we didn’t have the personnel to pursue him.” Now, the Tora Bora incident is one of the few criticisms leveled by John Kerry in the 2004 Presidential election with which I actually agreed. But to imply that it had anything to do with deployments to Iraq, which didn’t start until over a year later, is a shameful distortion of the truth.

Emanuel and Reed maintain that “most Americans apply the same yardstick: they vote for what works.” I was questioned whether or not they truly believe that, since right afterwards they say that “there aren’t enough hacks, even in Washington, to sell policies that don’t work – although that never stopped Bush from trying.” And, as it turns out, winning. But those two statements aren’t as contradictory as they might seem when you consider that Bush’s opponents, for the past 3 election cycles, haven’t been asking the American people to vote for what the believe will work, they’ve simply been asking them to vote against what supposedly doesn’t. To their credit, Emanuel and Reed tried to change that. But their unfortunate reliance on Bush-bashing, instead of presenting The Plan on its own merits, makes the whole effort seem small and insincere.


Bill Baar 4:50 PM  

Democrats aren't credible anymore as a left party. The Sep 21 Econmist layed out what they should be doing for American Workers. Forget the mumbo jumbo about min wage and Walmart and get serious (like McGovern did) about min income and today that means talking about the Earned Income Tax Credit.'s Democratic politicians care more about embracing empty symbolism than crafting effective policies. Not only do they fail to push ideas, such as EITC expansion, that are known to work; but they have also avoided intellectually tougher debates, such as how to revamp health-care or counter the rising elitism of the universities (see article). A few hardy souls in Washington think-tanks still dream up market-friendly centrist ideas—the latest a proposal to aim unemployment benefits at workers whose old jobs have gone for good and whose new jobs pay less, rather than those who are temporarily out of work (see article). But Democratic bigwigs are too busy sounding populist to notice.

Bush's financing wage earner purchasing of the economy with ownership accounts looks like something right up Big Bill Haywood's alley.

Strange how times change.

So-Called Austin Mayor 5:29 PM  

"Unlike Gingrich, Emanuel and Reed promote their proposals with uncompromisingly partisan rhetoric"

And I didn't think you had a sense of humor.

Bill Baar 6:08 PM  

SCM, Don't forget Gingrich and Clinton... that got along famously as two policy wonks. And you see it with Gingrich and Hillary. I doubt you'd see that between Pelosi and Bush.

Lovie's Leather 7:25 PM  

Gingrich was so partisan and comfrontational! How can you say anything else. I am not saying it is bad particularly... but that is what it is. In 1994, the GOP was partisan and that is how they got elected. They presented an alternative plan to America that seemed very attractive. That is what the dems need to do. But don't expect any sort of multifaceted, comprehensive plan from Pelosi. That is why it won't be huge losses for the GOP. They might lose one or both houses, but the numbers will be so close that a majority isn't neccesarily as powerful as it should be.

grand old partisan 8:04 PM  

SCAM - I was referring to Winning the Future (I have edited the post accordingly), which has hardly any references to "Democrats" or any specific Democratic politician or candidate (past, present, or future). Indeed, Gingrich has remarkably done what Emanuel and Reed claim they set out to do: provide a truly forward thinking agenda that ignores the petty blame games and partisan rhetoric.

I highly recommend you read it sometime.

Bill Baar 8:10 PM  

Gingrich was tough and partisan but he and Clinton had genenuine liking for each other. They shared some of the same flaws too... I remember the criticism of Gingrich for being a push over for Clinton... they're both policy wonks. There were some committed Clinton haters but Gingrich isn't one of them.

Sage Observer,  8:32 PM  

The difference between The Plan and "The Contract with America" is that The Plan is really aimed at Democrats, despite most protestations to the contrary. And Gingrich's latest is designed to win people back to something resembling a conservative agenda, since the Hastert/Frist/Rove team has squandered any mandate for ideas by being wasteful, corrupt, and incompetent at governing, from FEMA to foreign policy. Bill Baar fails to note that Bruce Reed is the President of one of the think tanks praised by The Economist, and that his organization is regularly eviscerated by some of the more liberal Democratic activists. Using Mitt Romney by name would be a sure loser at persuading Democrats that their plan makes sense.

I could go on, but reread it with that objective in mind.

grand old partisan 9:54 PM  

Sage - I actually did start reading The Plan with an open mind. But after 25 specific references to "Bush" in the first 3 chapters, I realized that this book wasn't what I was hoping it would be. It wasn't an attempt to unite the country behind a forward looking platform - it was just another book full of partisan blamesmanship and Bush-bashing.

Which is unfortunate, not to mention stupid on the part of the authors. Democrats can't become a majority party again simply by preaching to the choir. The Contract with America was aimed at frustrated independants, and even disenchanted Democrats, more than it was partisan conservatives.

Bill Baar's Physician,  10:02 PM  

Grand Old Partisan,

No one cares what you think, so quit wasting our time here at Illinoize and head back over to Illinois Leader where they tolerate and even welcome your arrogance.

Yellow Dog Democrat 1:21 AM  

um, Bill, Democrats did expand the earned income tax credit -- and make it permanent -- in Illinois.

It was sponsored by Barack Obama and signed into law by Rod Blagojevich.

And GOP, I'm sorry you didn't find what you were looking for in The Plan, although you must've worn out the pages counting references to Bush.

My advice: if you want to read something that references Nancy Pelosi, read some of the crap advertising the Republican National Campaign Committee is putting out attacking Melissa Bean.

If you want to read a plan for uniting America, read anything by any book by any Democrat with presidential aspirations. It not Congress's job to unite the country -- their job is to represent local interests.


P.S. Gingrich was a policy wonk. He was also a divisive SOB. The guy shut down the country in an effort to cut funding for school lunches, and used the National Endowment for the Arts as his boogeyman to launch the Culture Wars.

One of the problems with Conservatives -- and there are many -- is they confuse nostalgia for hindsight.

grand old partisan 9:44 AM  

YDD – I’m not trying to be a martyr here, but give me some credit. I did far more than count Bush references. Feel free to stop by my blog anytime and comment on my rebuttals to their policy positions.

There are ranting partisans on both sides of the aisle who don’t read anything beyond their own party’s talking points. I’ve made an effort to not be one of those. I started reading The Plan hoping that the policy critiques posted on my blog would be all the response necessary – that I wouldn’t have to question the author’s credibility the way I did in this post.

I simply wanted to read something that might give me an idea of what the prospective leaders of a new Democratic Congress might do with the power they are asking for. It’s well beyond time that Democrats stop campaigning against Republicans and start campaigning for themselves again. To their credit, Emanuel and Reed understand this. Unfortunately, it seems they determined that their base would only be receptive to their ideas if they were wrapped in partisanship and Bush-bashing. That conscious decision says a lot about both them and their base. Think about that next time someone says that it was George W. Bush who is solely responsible for today’s political divisiveness.

Sage Observer,  2:58 PM  

I didn't say read it with an open mind, I said read it as if it were a persuasive piece aimed at Democrats resisting a centrist message. In my view, the strategy is to convince Democrats that Bruce Reed and the DLC are not apostate Republicans in Democratic sheepskin, and to get them to consider their more centrist ideas.

NW burbs,  10:32 AM  

Let's hope it's not like the Contract on America -- the GOP broke every signle one of those promises within a decade.

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