Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Democrats Have Nobody to Blame But Themselves for Low Approval Rating

You are what your record says you are.
- An oft-quoted rule of football coach Bill Parcells

I guess the old saw about old dogs and new tricks is correct, at least when talking about the Democratic party. Today's Los Angeles Times reported that in a poll the paper conducted with Bloomberg, 27 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, a rating lower than that of the unpopular, lame duck President.

I can't pity the Democrats, since they have brought this on themselves with their gutless approach to "leading" in Congress. In fact, after Congressional Democrats caved and passed a war funding bill without a troop withdrawal provision, I wrote an article in this blog (on May 22) predicting that the fallout for the party would be catastrophic.

The Democrats are repeatedly portrayed by the Republicans as being weak. I wish I could argue that the charges are part of the Republican propaganda machine, but as much as it hurts to admit it, they're right. It's a really messed up, circular dynamic. The Democrats, beaten up for years for being weak, are terrified of ever appearing weak. So, in an effort to avoid looking weak, they play into the Republicans' hands on issues and abandon their positions, thus looking (and being) weak. It's like the Democrats need to attend some kind of political version of Al-Anon.

The Democrats' dismal approval ratings can be traced back to the decision to lie down on the Iraq funding bill. According to the Los Angeles Times article, 63 percent of the respondents said that the Democrats are running Congress in a "business as usual" manner, not making the changes that they promised on their way into office. And nowhere is that lack of change felt more than on the issue of the Iraq war.

When the Democratic Congress asserted itself and passed war funding legislation with limits and troop withdrawal dates, it was following its marching orders. The Democrats were sent to Washington in November 2006 almost entirely on the Iraq war issue. Americans were tired of the war and wanted someone to stop Bush.

The Bush administration, as it always does, moved to divert the issue, accusing the Democrats of being weak and not supporting the troops. Faced with a difficult fight (with only a one-vote advantage in the Senate), the Democrats had two choices: Cave in to avoid being painted as troop haters or keep on fighting, even if it meant keeping any war funding legislation from being passed.

Here is where the messed up dynamic kicked in. If you were in the Democrats' shoes, simple logic would tell you to fight on. The American people told you to fight to end the war. And, the people calling you troop haters were the very people who dropped the troops into the middle of a five-year civil war with insufficient planning, insufficient troop levels, and insufficient supplies; instituted a back-door draft, calling National Guard and Reserve units back time and time again for extended tours; and welcomed home the troops to shoddy medical treatment facilities and insufficient benefits.

But, suffering from some odd political version of post-traumatic stress disorder, the Democrats, terrified of being painted as weak, stopped the fight and passed war funding legislation, making sure nobody could say they weren't supporting the troops. Well, they got what they wanted, as nobody is talking about the Democrats failing to support the troops. Of course, the price they paid is that the party is being painted as being weak for not continuing the fight for their proposed policies, and, even worse, doing a bad job in running Congress.

The Congressional Democrats were given one job by the American people: Stop Bush on Iraq. But, they decided not to follow through on it, and they are paying the price. You can't blame the electorate for being pissed off. After all, if you hired an employee for your business and gave him one job to do, and he didn't do it, how would you feel? You would fire that employee faster than Bush hands out no-bid contracts to Haliburton.

And that is how and why the Democrats find themselves with a 27 percent approval rating. Worse, they have made it hard for themselves to retain Congress in 2008, and handed an additional set of barriers to Democrats seeking the White House in that election. What makes the situation so outrageous is that, by all rights, the Democrats should be romping to victory in 2008. The war and other issues have left this Republican administration in ruins, and it would have taken the most basic effort of not shooting themselves in the foot for the Democrats to step in and take the reins. Unfortunately, that blast you heard was the Democrats wounding themselves by playing into Republican hands and failing to keep up the fight on Iraq. This is being called a "change" election, but there will be no change if the Democrats make the American people want to change them even more than the Republicans.

My fears expressed in my May 22 blog article are coming true before my eyes. I'm not sure if it's too late for the Democrats to salvage things, but they better get going and show some backbone if they want to try and get back in the game. To use a sports expression, they have to stop "playing scared." They have to remember their marching orders and move forward, confident in the fact that if they stick to the policies they were elected to fight for, no amount of rhetoric from the Republicans can stop them.

I am not optimistic. Bill Parcells's quote is very apt. Bush has been allowed to continue pouring money and American lives into the war, so the Democrats have failed. There are no acceptable excuses. The Democrats are who they are. At least, that is, until they're not. They can still fight back, and they can do what they were elected to do. Let's hope they get the message and become who they need to be. If they don't, it's the American people who will pay the price.