Corruption is Cowardice

Corruption is cowardice. The NYT reports national Democrats are fretting about message. Corruption is cowardice. That should be the Democratic message. On national security. On the DeLay and Abramoff scandals. On the abandonment of our responsibilities to one another, to the weak, to the poor.

Corruption is cowardice. Only cowards skulk about spying on their neighbors. Only cowards lie to get what they want, whether it's a war for the profiteers or school vouchers for the elect. Only cowards whine when confronted with the truth. Only cowards fail to see that the best weapons against terror are the U.S. Constitution and the people of the United States. Cowards are afraid of both.

Only cowards send others to fight while they stay at home. Only cowards turn their backs on the ill and infirm, denying health care to millions. Only cowards put their profits ahead of security, refusing to arm and to protect our courageous military men and women. Only cowards rig elections, violate election laws, suppress the votes of those they fear oppose them. Corruption is cowardice.

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My Plea To Dems: Stop The Navel-Gazing

Okay. Once more for the cheap seats. When Republicans criticize us, it's not enough to say, "yes, that is their criticism and we will prove it wrong." That doesn't get you anywhere. First, reject the premise of the criticism. Next, show why the criticism is invalid. Even if you want to skip that first step because you think the criticism has some validity, skip to step two. Just answer the damn criticism.

Case in point, Evan Bayh. In a speech yesterday, Bayh acknowledged that Karl Rove, in accusing Democrats of having "a pre-9/11 worldview," had, in the words of MSNBC's Tom Curry"thrown down the gauntlet" on foreign policy and national security matters. That's certainly fair to say. But I strongly object to how Bayh chose to handle the matter from that point on.

"Some in my party are afraid of this fight," Bayh noted in a foreign policy address Thursday. But he said the voters would never trust Democrats to take care of education and other issues "if they don't first trust us with their lives. Who can best protect America in these perilous times is of paramount importance."...

Rove, he said, had thrown down the gauntlet. "We intend to pick it up.... I welcome this debate because it is one that we can win."

He explained that Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman had strong records in defending America. "It has only been since the Vietnam War that Democrats have been viewed by the American people as congenitally weak, too soft to be entrusted with our national security," he said. "But that can change, and if we aspire to national leadership, it must."

I know I'm going to get bombarded for going after another DLC Democrat. Here's the thing... I don't care where Evan Bayh lands on the political spectrum. I would be saying this same exact thing if it was Rush Holt making this type of statement. Moderation and centrism are fine with me. My problem is representation of the Democratic brand as broken and weak. That's a self-fulfilling prophecy. If even Democratic lawmakers are telling the media that Democrats don't appear strong, they're helping to perpetuate that narrative. In other words, my frustration is not with the ideology -- it's with the stupid marketing.

Representatives from Procter & Gamble don't go on CNBC and talk about the fact that the perception exists that Tide could do a better job of removing stains. They just show evidence to the contrary. This kind of message craft, starting from a negative assumption, is unheard of in the corporate world. It's a lesson Democrats need to learn if they're serious about winning the hearts and minds here at home.

Rather than declaring that the Democratic Party intends to pick up the gauntlet, why not just pick the damn thing up right then and there? To his credit, Bayh actually went on to do just that. He criticized the Bush administration, saying that they have "undermined our nation's security and bungled the war on terror." On Iraq, he advocated "benchmarks for success, a timeline for progress, accountability for results, and candor about how we are doing." And he criticized the "caricature of our situation as a choice between spineless 'cut and run' and mindless 'staying the course.' " That last part is especially important, coming from someone who's considered a hawk.

Still, the media focus was all on the fact that Bayh began by accepting Rove's premise. It doesn't matter how great the substance of Bayh's speech may have been if it follows a convenient and juicy soundbite of him attacking his own party. Debates and discussion about how to overcome obstacles is great. But it doesn't need to take place in a public speech. The only thing a politician has to gain from that is showing that they're different, smarter, and strong than the rest of their fellow Democrats. And I understand that Bayh wants to make his case that he's the party's best hope in 2008. But it's just as easy to do that without prefacing it with all the public navel-gazing.

Vilsack: Policy Before Politics

In the past, I've been known to beat up a bit on Tom Vilsack. But his latest post at TPMCafe is definitely praiseworthy. In it, he discusses the need for Democrats to champion smart infrastructure improvement proposals as well as the ideological bankruptcy of the Republican Party.

Infrastructure improvement is something I don't hear Democrats talking about enough. It's completely vital to our economy, yet so much of it is derided as little more than pork. But certainly something like funding of levee improvements in flood zones is entirely warranted. Many progressives have been griping lately about the transportation bill and its attached rotten pork, such as Don Young's Bridge to Nowhere.

But at the core of SAFETEA-LU are important transportation infrastructure improvements. Think of the bill as a piece of bread with way too much butter. The bread was necessary. A little bit of butter was justified. But using the whole stick was ridiculous. I just hope in the current fervor for fiscal responsibility, Democrats continue to recognize the difference between being reasonable and being miserly.

In his TPM post, Vilsack discusses an Iowa infrastructure improvement program of community challenge grants that got the ball rolling on new projects all over the state.

In Iowa, we used $300 million over a five-year period and challenged communities to rebuild cultural and recreational attractions. By leveraging other resources, this state investment led to over $2 billion in new construction and renovation. The program, called Vision Iowa, helped to breathe new life into both cities and small rural communities. The program was administered by a public/private board.

This is infrastructure improvement as smart governing policy. Too often, especially with the Bush administration and the GOP-controlled Congress, what we see is money for infrastructure being doled out as reward for party line loyalty. In pitching a reform agenda, Democrats should vow to do away with political pork prizes in favor of responsible and justified policies in all areas, not just public infrastructure. Vilsack also makes this point.

The news about Republican Majority Leader Tom Delay's criminal indictment underscores a problem: we have a Republican leadership is clearly not focused on an agenda to help the American people. America deserves better. They deserve a government that can innovates policy at least as much as it innovates politics, and a government committed to bringing the best out of our communities.

We can show America that we have better solutions, and better ideas about how to govern.

For years, Democratic candidates have run away from Republican attacks that they're too stiff, nerdy, and wonky. A large part of the GOP agenda has been to replace liberal intellectualism with unfettered fratboy capitalism as a moral virtue. But the American voting public has seen where that gets you and they don't like it.

Obviously, retail image politics are not going away. But at the same time, we need to hammer home the message that only Democrats are going to further the smart public policies that can make America a better place.

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