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Michael Winship - Campaign 2010: Déjà Vu All Over Again

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Below is an article by JOURNAL senior writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

"Campaign 2010: Déjà Vu All Over Again"
By Michael Winship

Comparisons are odious, the old saying goes, and certainly Democrats are dealing with some smelly, stinky realities as they stare down the next eight months until Election Day 2010 and pundits galore compare the party's prospects to debacles of the past.

For a long time parallels were being made with 1994 and the midterm elections during Bill Clinton's first term. Those gave us a Republican House and Senate, the glory that was Newt Gingrich and a Contract with America that after a dozen years turned out to have a hell of a balloon payment attached.

But this week, the mainstream media meme has shifted, advancing to the elections of 2006, when Democrats took back control of Congress, campaigning against a GOP "culture of corruption." Now the village drums are signaling that it's the Democrats who have been poisoned by too much power and made vulnerable. Exhibit A is Charlie Rangel, dean of the New York congressional delegation, forced to step down this week as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.

As Reid Wilson wrote Wednesday on the NATIONAL JOURNAL's Hotline on Call blog, "Dems have seen this movie before - only last time, it happened to the other guys. Now, a beleaguered Dem majority has to hope their party can withstand a building wave that favors the GOP, and that effort isn't made any easier by countless, and mounting, self-inflicted errors.

"Four years ago, it was GOPers who found themselves on the receiving end of jolt after jolt of bad news. This time around, Dem strategists are beginning to accept the inevitability of big losses, and a sort of morbid gallows humor has settled over Congressional and political aides."

Jeff Zeleny echoed that theme in Friday's NEW YORK TIMES: "The troubles of Gov. David A. Paterson of New York, followed by those of two of the state's congressmen, Charles B. Rangel and Eric J. Massa, have added to the ranks of episodes involving prominent Democrats like Eliot Spitzer, Rod R. Blagojevich and John Edwards. Taken together, the cases have opened the party to the same lines of criticism that Democrats... used effectively against Republicans in winning control of the House and Senate four years ago.

"The mix of power and the temptations of corruption can be a compelling political narrative at any time. But with voters appearing to be in an angry mood and many already inclined to view all things Washington with mistrust, the risks for Democrats could be that much greater this year."

Wilson and Zeleny make a compelling case for a 2006 remake with a role reversal. But in the end, I fear that another important - and sadly, fitting - comparison may be the 2002 midterms, the first big elections after 9/11.

I use the word "fear" deliberately, for 2002 was the election year the Republicans first used the public's fear of terrorism and attendant homeland insecurities as a campaign issue. It was on August 26, 2002, that Vice President Dick Cheney announced, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction," and during the weeks leading up to the elections that President Bush insisted on the congressional vote authorizing the use of force against Iraq. You'll remember, too, that Condoleezza Rice stirred fantasies of smoking guns turning into mushroom clouds.

It was also the year Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss upended Democratic Senator Max Cleland's bid for re-election, impugning his patriotism and running a television ad with pictures of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein that mischaracterized Cleland's votes against amendments to the bill creating the Department of Homeland Security.

This year, Democrats may have been sufficiently snakebitten on the economy and health care - and now, corruption - without conservatives having to do much of anything else. But fear is their ace in the hole and they already are playing it with gusto.

As in 2002, the current election cycle has featured a steady stream of attack and insinuation from Republicans that Democrats in Congress and this time, the Obama administration, have been soft on terrorism, despite a pretty solid record so far snagging terrorist suspects both here and abroad. Dick Cheney was on the offensive during a February 14 interview on ABC's This Week and the following day his daughter Liz told Fox News, "There's simply no way that you can say that the president is using every tool at his disposal to fight and win this war."

Liz Cheney is one of the founders of Keep America Safe, a right-wing group whose other board members are The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol and Debra Burlingame, sister of the pilot whose plane struck the Pentagon on 9/11. Its stated purpose is "to provide information for concerned Americans about critical national security issues."

This week, the organization put out a television spot demanding that the Justice Department reveal the names of "The Al Qaeda Seven," attorneys working for the Justice Department who previously, as the ad states, "represented or advocated for terrorist detainees." Ominously, it asks, "Whose values do they share?"

Well, mine for one, and those of a lot of other academics, legal scholars and judges whose opinions I respect. In the words of former Bush Solicitor General Ted Olson, from an article he co-wrote in 2007, "The ethos of the bar is built on the idea that lawyers will represent both the popular and the unpopular, so that everyone has access to justice. Despite the horrible September 11, 2001, attacks, this is proudly held as a basic tenet of our profession." Olson's wife perished in the Pentagon crash.

Of the slurs against the Justice Department by Keep America Safe and others, Ken Gude, a human rights expert with the liberal Center for American Progress told THE AMERICAN PROSPECT magazine, "This is exactly what Joe McCarthy did. Not kind of like McCarthyism; this is exactly McCarthyism."

Fear also is a strategy outlined in a confidential Republican National Committee document, inadvertently left behind at a Florida resort and leaked by a Democrat to The motivations of small donors to the party are listed as "fear," "Extreme negative feelings toward existing Administration," and "Reactionary."

The PowerPoint presentation asks, "What can you sell when you do not have the White House, the House or the Senate...?" and replies, "Save the country from trending toward Socialism!"

As the GOP trends further and further right, they can and will attack on any and all fronts, but in the end, it may be that the only thing they have is fear.

Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Michael Winship are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.


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I think that we should pull back are troops from the war in Afganistan.

Everybody ignores the real basic and fundamental problem in American politics
1)Limit the campaign period to 3 months, and 1 month prior to that for primary campaigns, in state elections for national office.
2) Is the huge cost to get elected to the House or Senate. Get that under control and the advertising (should be "time limited" to each and all candidates the same and paid for by DNC or RNC.
2) The DNC or RNC or any other party National organisation may run ads to support a candidate and his policies, again time limited, both sides same amount.
3) Unless State registered no lobby organisation, corporation, or special interest group, may advertise (time limited) or fund a candidate, and the funding is limited to one only contribution of say X$ for House election per district, or X++$ for Senate as its state wide.
They must have approval to donate from the State attorney general and the current state senate majority and minority leader.
4) The amount of campaign funds is based on a per capita amount of the voter register in house districts for representatives or states as a whole for senators and is fixed at state legislative level as $ amount per voter given to each candidate.
5) Special interest groups and corporates, they should be limited to supporting a party organisation in Financial terms ( with a cap) and may not donate "monetary value" to a specific candidate directly or indirectly, without the above 4 approvals.
It is more complicated on the national level, but similar principles can be developed for Presidential primaries and and elections.
In which to me Corporations and special interest groups have already played thier part at the local level.
However, they may fund other ads and ideas based on the special interest groups articles of incporporation and specific objectives which must have a 2/3rd majority vote to be used and applied of members or shareholders as appropriate.
There needs to be a separate control of spending by corporates and special interest groups to oppose The House and Senate Legislative rights/process.
To either oppose or support specific legislation,House or Senate, No money may be spent or ads launched for or against until it has been voted upon and passed.
An independent agency must approve such ads content as Legal, honest decent and truthful, and avoid the horrible untruths like death panels, and fear mongering. E.G. Having 15% maximum of the insurance market provided by government Is not either a government takeover or Socialism, when the stated objective is if you're happy with your own insurance status quo (over 80%) keep it.
I also am against both pro life and pro choice organisations being able to advertise politically in campaigns or legislative ideas as for me it breaches the constitutional separation of powers that religion has no place in politics/law. Minorities of all kinds need protection, and when its close like on pro life pro choice and other matters of religion, I expect the law to protect my minority right, and for both sides to respect thier religious belief and if you feel abortion/ gay marriage is wrong do not have one or have a same sex marriage!!

1\100th Ooooops! Harry Reid determines how the Senate functions! How is that democracy?

Deja vu is all there will be until the SENIORITY SYSTEM of Congress is fixed! The party matters not.

This Financial Crisis threatens the wealth of the people more than Watergate! Where is Deep Throat when you need him--oh, yeh, in Congress & they are masters at Cover up...unlike tricky Dick!

Trust the site had too much success on the subject of Health Care...well, if Mainstreet finds out what Congress has failed too do leading to the financial boondogle, you better double your servers!

Health Care before Economy is the cart before the horse! FIX FINANCIAL issues FIRST!

Billy Bob Florida

1\50th of the Senate determines how the Senate functions.
1\435th of the House determines how the House functions.

The SENIORITY System allows a few control of OUR legislature! Fix the SENIORITY System now or it won't matter if Dem., Rep., or Indep. are elected, total power will corrupt.

Many good people have been sent to Washington not to be heard from until they are beaten into Washington form & get some SENIORITY!

Deja Vu all over again!

It is the un-Constitutional SENIORITY System that is destroying our Legislative Branch!

Billy Bob Florida

1\50th of the senate determines how the Senate functions!
1\435th of the House determines how the House functions!

Total power totally corrupts!

Dem., Rep. or Indep. will give us the same 'bang for our buck'...Corrupt Congress!

The SENIORITY System corrupts the Constitution and until it is fixed there will be 'same-ole-same-ole'!

Congress has the ultimate RESPONSIBILITY for this Financial Crisis, but all Congress does is fuss, fuss, fuss & no discuss the underling fix to Health Care, & Jobs!

Those appointees in charge while our financial issues evolved were steered by "wrong models" and are advising Pres. Obama!!!

Get rid of these 'smart' people or our economy will stay in the dumps & Obama will have his presidency dumped!

Fix the SENIORITY System NOW!

Bily Bob Florida

1\50th of the Senate determines how the Senate functions;
1\435th of the House determines how the House functions;
WHAT do you expect?

Total power totally corrupts--Dem. or Rep. or Independant.

The SENIORITY System will continue corruption no matter who is in power with too few exceptions)!

Congress was ultimatly RESPONSIBLE for this Financial Crisis!

Elizabeth Warren, Joseph Stiglitz, and Dick Armey are now being heard about the FAILURE of Congress & appointees, who are NOW advising Pres. Obama!!!

Congress FAILED in overseeing the Financial Industry!!

Vote OUT incumbents (except Rep. Connie Mack, Fla.)

Billy Bob Florida

Everyone covered by medicare and let the so-called insurers figure out a niche for themselves in a market that includes the animality of human economics rather than the insanity of "Free Markets" and rational economics.

These insurers are not subject to restraint even by the courts or those they claim to cover. They have been given carte blanche insofar as liability goes and if they do not pay for coverage you are entitled to, they need only cover you when you've sued them.

Health insurance has become one of the mainstays of the stock market precisely because it's income is dependable and it's outgo is almost non-existent.

Let also make sure that there is an efficient, simple, and well appointed, ombudsman office working within the Medicare we provide for ourselves.

We had an auto accident in 2007 April - my wife was severely injured and was awarded a large settlement that Medicare put a lien against. In 2010 we are still waiting for the "private billing company" to decide to look at the possibility of releasing the funds or taking them to pay for her expenses.

We'd be poor as church mice without the coverage - but the emotional strain of filing and refiling pleas and statements of need is eroding our will to continue. So we do have some misgivings re: the way bureaucracies can fail.

Still, compared to the $5000 deductible $400/month individual coverage I had in 2004 I'm very pleased with medicare.

No, the President's Health Bill Proposal is counterproductive to our well being. We will get sick from the stress in trying to pay for it.

We need a medicare option for all.

It is absurd to watch the political games being played and as an Independent who voted for Obama, I am disappointed to see how Obama is conceeding. He looks weak as do the Democrats or, are the political contributions from the insurance company actually paying off for them.

A public options is needed. Let's not call it health care. Let's call it a sickeness care program.

Finally, we need to stop subsidizing the growers of foods - corn and soy - that make our population fat! Look at the food stamp program as well - sugar products and cheap fatty desserts should not be allowed in a gfood stamp program.

Let us look at all the factors instead of simply "insuring" people to get treatment for self induced illnesses.

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