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Dems need to go on offense against GOP and its ideas

Howard Fineman writes in Newsweek that the White House strategy for the November elections is to "blame the GOP" for the mess the nation has been struggling with for the last two years. Doug Schoen says today in a piece for The Daily Beast that Democrats should run away from the White House and tack hard to the right. And Paul Begala says the Democrats and the White House need to take Republican ideas seriously and then force GOP candidates to defend them. All three approaches are good, but guess which porridge I think is just right?

Schoen says that Democrats should ride the wave of voter discontent with Washington by "distancing themselves totally and irrevocably from the big government agenda of President Obama and the congressional Democrats." Makes sense. That's how Mark Critz handily won against his Republican challenger in Pennsylvania's 12th congressional district. While that strategy might help Democrats keep their losses low in 2010, it could serve to aggravate the tenuous connection between Obama and the white, blue-collar voters he's going to need to stay in the White House in 2012.

Previewing the November attack line against the Republicans, President Obama said at a New York fundraiser earlier this month, "After they drove the car into the ditch, made it as difficult as possible for us to pull it back, now they want the keys back," he said to laughter. This gave way to applause when he declared, "No! You can't drive. We don't want to have to go back into the ditch. We just got the car out." Great red meat for the base. And it works because it allows the president and his party's candidates to remind the electorate of some good things they've accomplished since he came to office. Once the final financial regulations package hits Obama's desk and he signs it into law, it will join health-care reform as a signature accomplishment that will benefit the American people. But as polls have shown, folks just aren't seeing it that way yet.

Which brings me to Begala. The CNN political analyst and Democratic strategist is in line with the White House's "You can't drive" slam of the GOP. For Begala, the return of Republican rule is "like the captain of the Titanic calling for more icebergs." But he has a worthwhile addition to the strategy that I think would be an even more powerful hammer against the GOP. Begala says he wants his party "to contrast more, and to stop this 'Party of No' nonsense." He first made this comment during a panel he and I were on at the Center for American Progress yesterday morning.

"I have been urging anyone who will listen -- in the House, the Senate, the White House, and now you and the folks at CAP -- to pay the GOP the compliment of taking their ideas seriously," Begala wrote me in an email. "That means putting the Ryan Republican Budget in the spotlight, that means putting Rand Paul's, umm, eccentric ideas in the spotlight. That also means taking the spotlight off some of the Dem accomplishments -- or, rather, making the GOP's pledge to repeal them the issue, instead of telling people how wonderful the Dems' programs are."

Given that, I wasn't surprised by Begala's response to Schoen's advice: "Dems do not need to shift from left to right, they need to shift from defense to offense." Forcing Republican candidates to say where they stand on some of the tough medicine in Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan's "Road Map for America's Future," especially since the Republican leadership won't go anywhere near it and there are no other Republican ideas out there -- yet -- is politically smart. That's why I think Begala's porridge is just right.

By Jonathan Capehart  | May 21, 2010; 9:45 AM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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It's about time somebody starts writing about this. The Dems have spent 16 months with their tails between their legs. They have lost control of the dialog. The tea baggers have taken over the headlines. IT"S TIME TO FIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: cavys | May 21, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

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