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Monday, April 18, 2005

This Is A Very Simple Game. You Throw The Ball, You Catch The Ball, You Hit The Ball. Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Lose, Sometimes It Rains

Josh Micah Marshall has some words of wisdom:

For years I've argued that the Democrats' problem on national security issues is not so much that they aren't 'tough enough' or that they lack new ideas. The problem is a now-deeply-ingrained habit of approaching national security issues not so much as policy questions to be wrestled with but as a political problem to be dealt with and moved on from.

That has a host of damaging consequences, the most serious of which is that if you chart your policy course so as to avoid political damage, always casting about for the sweet spot of political safety, you tend to lack any greater programmatic consistency. And that tells voters (as it probably should) that you’re inconstant and unserious. It also muddles effective communication by confusing the communicators themselves about just what it is they are trying to say or accomplish.

What the last year has taught me -- both in good ways and bad -- is that this malady isn't limited to the national security domain but applies to Democrats pretty much across the board.

We hear a lot today about framing or being tougher or being united or dumping the failed consultants. But while each of these prescriptions has some element of merit, each also recapitulates the existing problem -- only dressing it up in clothes -- because each mistakes the disease for the cure.

When it comes to strategy and tactics, the current Democratic party is like a drunk in the early stages of recovery or a man or woman who keeps ending up in the same bad relationship again and again with different people. For folks like that, strong medicine is required. Indeed, they usually require steps, correctives, lists of dos-and-don'ts more drastic than anybody would ever need who didn't have a problem.

Today we hear Democrats asking whether they should take a hard line on Social Security or a soft line, stand in opposition or come up with a contending plan. Here's what I propose whenever Democrats have a question about just what stance to take on the Social Security debate.

One question ...

What is the actual policy outcome that would be most preferable on Social Security (to protect, preserve or augment it -- whatever) and how important is it that it take place in this Congress?

That's the first, second and third question.

That answer should drive everything else.

If add-on accounts are important to preserve Social Security or expand opportunities for middle class families to save for retirement, and if it’s important enough on the merits to make it a priority in this Congress, then let’s do it. Otherwise, I’d say forget it. Stick with opposing phase-out and take it to the voters. End of story.

If the demon rum of optics or tactical too-clever-by-halfism tries to slither its way back even into second or third, slap your wrist and get back with the program.

I'm not saying that the Democrats need to get in touch with their political or ideological roots or hold to orthodoxies. Nor is this a argument for political purism. My point is entirely agnostic on what the policy should be -- only that it should drive the politics.

I think he's got it almost exactly right, but there's an even larger point I think he's missing or at least not saying, the one that in many ways is the entire purpose and focus of this blog.

Government of the people, by the people, for the people.

So very much done by our elected officials -- on every level, local, state, federal -- has nothing to do with making the city, the county, the state, the country, the world better. It doesn't even have to do with taking care of immediate problems, except for the ones that have become so egregious that they can't be ignored any longer.

I don't know about you, but I sure as hell would like clean air, clean water, a stable economy, health care I can afford, a chance to get a decent job with a decent wage, our soldiers not in an unnecessary war, and the sense that our country isn't looked upon as a crazy dropout drunk with a loaded gun. I would like not to have God thrown in my face all the time. I would like to be proud of my country again.

Instead, I feel as if our elected officials, our representatives, believe they are playing a big ol' game. The Republicans are winning right now; the Democrats hope to get back in the game next year. Each side attacks the other constantly; every once in a while, the turn of a card or the roll of a die throws a random event into the mix, like the Schiavo circus, or Eric Rudolph, or something. New strategies are tried all the time -- Social Security, same-sex marriage, inflationary fears, the War on Terror, the bankruptcy bill.

Listen up, asses. Your "playing pieces" are our lives.

Most people would like to be frickin' left alone, and not have The Culture War shoved down all of our throats. They'd like to know there's help out there when they need it, but they'd like more not to feel like they need it. They want to feel safe without feeling smothered. And, although it's not necessarily something they think about a lot, I bet most of them want those things without screwing up someone else's life in trade.

Instead, politically, economically, and culturally, we are more divided than we have been at any time since the Civil War. And literally every day it gets worse.

Bob Herbert today reminds us of the long-term plans of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I'd update it to include more specifics about protecting the environment, but there's really not much to argue with -- nothing I think anyone could really say they're against, many things people are actively in favor of.

None of which are being pursued by our "government".

At core, it's a very simple theme. Government is supposed to do the things individual people can't do for themselves. As Brendan Behan put it: "I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer."

If our elected representatives can't get back to that... then We The People ought to start asking ourselves the really hard questions of Why? and What to do about it?

And I don't think our elected representatives will like our answers.

Comments:
What if you're trying not to hit the ball?
 
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