Democrats to Push Forward Their Agenda for America!

But only, apparently, if the Republican leadership in the Senate insists on pushing ahead with the so-called “nuclear option.” In a press release guffaw, Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid is quoted as saying,

If Republicans proceed to pull the trigger on the nuclear option, Democrats will respond by employing existing Senate rules to push forward our agenda for America.

“That’s right Republicans! If you dare push your right wing judges on us we will be forced to respond with…a Democratic Agenda!” And we thought this whole time that Democrats were already fighting for that. Am I the only one that finds this amusing? (more in expanded post)

Apparently, Reid is referring to relatively obscure Senate rules that allows him to place bills on the Senate calendar; he points specifically to “Rule XIV” in his press release. Of course, such a rule allows little more than a moral victory since Democratic sponsored bills probably won’t even come up for a vote.

Joking aside though, Reid does attempt to articulate an agenda in his press release. While the agenda isn’t exactly new, the funny quote brings up an interesting question. When will the Democrats begin to wage a fight against the Republicans based on something other than responding to Republican initiatives? I don’t mean this in a condescending sense – of course Democrats have core principles that they always do fight to uphold – but at what point will they coalesce around a clearly articulated vision and present it to the American people?

It doesn’t necessarily need to take the form of the Republicans’ 1994 Contract with America, which Reid’s agenda resembles in style, but I think that it will need to occur at some point in order to show Americans, especially those in “purple” states that are trending Republican, that there is more to being a Democrat than opposing Republicans. When Howard Dean says that he wants his country back, he needs to be able to point to clear policy proposals that would not only return it where he would like to see it, but that would move beyond that point – a real Democratic Agenda.

I don’t know what the agenda should consist of in order to be effective, I’d love to hear your thoughts, but I do know that it shouldn’t take Republican actions to force the Democrats to provide a unified vision. One would hope that the political necessity of the moment, being the minority party, would be a compelling enough reason.


11 responses to “Democrats to Push Forward Their Agenda for America!

  1. Jamal —

    I couldn’t disagree with you more on this. It’s the job of the minority party to be the opposition, i.e., to oppose. It’s absurd to expect the Democrats to set forward an agenda when they haven’t got the votes to proclaim National FDR Appreciation Day if they wanted to. The Republicans are drowning under the weight of Bush’s pet projects; so the job of the Democrats is only to throw them an anchor.

    And the quote isn’t funny, it’s just smart. Yes, Reid is saying, we’re going to gum up the works — but in doing so we’re going to show the country what OUR priorities and values are.

    Anyway, I think this line of argument is just a Republican talking point about ‘obstructionism’ dressed up in affirmative/progressive clothes.


  2. Jamal Sprucewood


    Thanks for the response. Actually, I didn’t post this as some sort of talking point about obstructionism. Since you brought it up though, I’ll just toss out there that I think that even the appearance of “gumming up the works” will backfire for the Democrats. The Republican Congress in the 1990’s tried to do the same thing and then lay the blame on Clinton – didn’t happen because people could see who the true “gummers” were.

    As to your point that it’s the job of the Democrats to oppose and not necessarily put forward an agenda, I actually couldn’t disagree more with you. The Republicans rode to Congressional majorities in 1994 precisely because, as the opposition party, they effectively packaged and sold their “Contract with America.” It’s absurd to think that the Dems couldn’t run screen, below the radar, obstructing Republican projects in Congress while projecting a public face of forward “progressive” policy proposals in an articulated agenda. Why must it be one or the other? It is truly a sad day for the Democratic Party if it can’t do both.

    Instead, as your comment can only lead me to believe, you would rather the Dems make obstruction the public face of the Democratic agenda. This is a poor policy – you’re only going to show the American people, especially in red states where Dems need to be making inroads and in the rustbelt Mid-West states where the Dems are holding on to a precarious balance of power, that you value opposing the Republican agenda. The American people tend to reject values that appear negative, especially when they’re not even smoke-screened with something positive to offer in return.

    I think that the American people want more than this and would respond positively to a clearly articulated vision of Democratic priorities and values. There’s nothing wrong with being the opposition party, but there should be more to being the opposition party than opposing. And don’t delude yourself that in opposing Bush’s “pet projects” that the Dems are somehow bringing about the Republicans’ Congressional demise. The reports of late on the internal Republican fractures are greatly exaggerated. The bottom line is this: what do Republicans, and any other political party in the majority, care about more than anything else? Staying in power. Why? Because that’s what political parties care about – No power, no way to get things done. And unless you want the party to seem like it wants power only for its own sake, then you better have some policies that people know will be pushed when you get in power.

    That these fractures are appearing at all is more indicative of Bush’s success in fulfilling the domestic agenda of his first campaign. There are few policies left to push for that the Republicans don’t have some difference of opinion on. And as good political parties are apt to do, if it appears that these internal policy disagreements threaten to fracture the party or erode its power, you can be rest assured that they will change course and find some salve for their self-inflicted wounds. If opposing the Republicans is all you’re prepared to do, you’re not tossing them an anchor – you’re just dunking their heads underwater. And when someone is dunking you in the local pool, you find a way to escape. The Democratic Party needs an agenda – something that the Republicans can’t ignore or evade and that simultaneously doesn’t make it look like the neighborhood bully or the class whiner – if they truly want to toss the Republicans an anchor.

    Now you can take the high road here and say that the Dems shouldn’t care so much about returning to power. I would respond that fighting to return to power, opposing Republican policies, and a positive, forward-looking, articulated Democratic agenda are not mutually exclusive things – they can all be done at the same time and with the appearance, and actual substance, of being done in a principled, public-minded manner.

    Gumming up the works may fire up San Francisco or Cambridge, but the Dems aren’t losing there. In a lot places across America they’re losing in areas where a small shift in perception could be the difference between in retaining/getting power. A projection of a positive agenda can only help bring about this shift. Projecting something so easily construed as being negative, i.e. “obstructionism” if you want to use that term, isn’t going to help you in these “purple” areas. And when the difference between gaining or losing power is so narrow, and the solution so relatively painless, I don’t think an agenda is too much to ask for.

  3. Voters do indeed value opposing the Republican agenda when that agenda is so grotesquely counter to the things they appreciate: viz., government out of family business (Schiavo); Social Security; and civility bordering on multilateralism (Bolton).

    The vagueness and sweepingness of your claim that “Americans prefer things that aren’t negative” makes me think that your pseudonym is meant to mask a pro-administration identity. Why not come out and say it? You want the Dems to take the initiative so that Republicans can return to the sniping and ad hominem attacks they do best. The judges aren’t a plausible or demonizable straw-man for demagoguing against.

    I trust Harry Reid. He writes good prose.

    Unless you agree with that last bit you and I will have to agree to disagree on everything w/r/t tactics.


  4. Moreover, I’d be interested to hear what you’d call the domestic agenda of Bush’s first campaign. What did he accomplish in his first term? Did it correspond to what he said he would do?

    And did he do anything to PAY FOR the two things he arguably did accomplish? — NCLB and the prescription drugs?


  5. Gary Hammontree

    You are an IDIOT. You don’t even know your history. Of course that might have interrupted your viewing of “Saved by the Bell”. The Democratic party has been responsible for most of the positive social change in this country for the last 100 years. The Republicans? The Gold scandal of 1873, the Tea Pot Dome scandal, Watergate, Iran Gate, the collapse of more banks in the 1980’s than the Great Depression and a Vietnam in the Desert.

  6. Most of Bush’s problems, apart from the judges, like getting Bolton confirmed and Social Security through are stemming from opposition within the Republican party, not from what the Dems can do in a Senate and Congress both dominated by the Republicans. Even the threat of doing away with filibuster is weakened because of Republicans like John McCain who are against it. While I’d like to see some genuine Democrat policies come out to engage the populus, I think that Bush sorts the Republicans out, its going to be tough for the Dems to get anywhere till ’08. Of course things like oil prices and that fact that terrorism has tripled in the past few years is helping lower Bush’s popularity with the general populace, but I think that the Dems are in the doghouse and not coming out for sometime yet.

  7. Jamal Sprucewood

    I’ll respond to these in turn:

    Dear Jim:
    First, if you look at the polling data these things are not “grotesquely” out of line with what people want. I think it’s 45% support for his social security plan (, and while I think that the Schiavo decision was a mistake, there seems to be controversy regarding what Americans supported there. Google “schiavo poll” and you’ll see that there seems to be some argument over whether the ABC News (showed Americans supported decision to remove tube) or Zogby (showed they opposed removing the tube) poll should be trusted. In terms of Bolton, 44% of Americans distrust the United Nations compared to only 30% who trust it ( Let’s keep perspective here – grotesquely out of line would mean that it’s very clear that Americans in aggregate don’t want something. With at least the three issues you pointed out, it’s not clear that there is a consensus.

    Secondly, I base my “vague” and “sweeping” statement on Americans not liking negativity on consistent poll results which show that Americans are among the most optimistic people in the world in terms of happiness with their life, future outlook, etc. All I essentially said was that Americans like things that are positive over things that are negative. I think that this statement, while sweeping, isn’t vague at all. I also don’t see how you can really disagree with it. Tom Delay, for example, exudes negativity. He doesn’t seem like a nice guy. Probably half the country seriously distrusts him. Barack Obama, on the other hand, you just can’t help liking him – he exudes a positive attitude. This is what I was talking about, but at a party level. I prefer “abstract” thinking to “vague.”

    Finally, why is my assertion – “Americans prefer things that aren’t negative” – a sign of a pro-administration identity? (why don’t you say lackey or shill so we can be clear, but thanks for the brush-up; see even you don’t like negative language…jk) I want the Dems to “take the initiative” in order to provide moderates like myself a compelling reason to back them (and to know what we’re backing when we do it other than my grandfather’s blind faith that Democrats are always the good guys). Who cares about Republicans “sniping?” That’s what political parties do. Are you essentially saying that you’d like the Dems to be excused from coming up with an agenda because the Republicans might disagree with it and attack it? I really hope not. And I agree that the judges aren’t a good starting point, but my post was about an agenda, not about judges or blocking them. Oh, and Harry Reid…look I pointed out that he was coming out with some kind of agenda. He’s moving in the right direction.

    Dear…whoa it’s Jim again:

    Jim, I’ll have to take a rain-check here. One of my numerous term papers is calling my name and I’ve still got to reply to Mr. Hammontree. Let’s just say that I don’t fall into the “Nothing Accomplished” camp. Don’t worry, I’ll get back to you.

    Dear Mr. Hammontree:

    I’m not sure what I’ve done to earn such a response and at first I was hesitant to respond to your ad hominem attack. Reading your blog though, it seems like you tend to think most Americans are stupid so I won’t take it personally. Let us set the record straight.

    Sir, while I quite liked “Saved by the Bell,” it did not in fact interrupt my elementary school social studies homework. Were you closer to my age, I’d congratulate you on knowledge of such history trivia that would likely have earned you a 5 on the AP US History test. The Gold scandal of 1873!? Now there’s some minutae. You should be flattered to have such knowledge at the top of your head. Or, maybe you just had a copy of The American Pageant: Seventh Edition.

    Whatever the case, I find it hard to believe that someone of your acumen truly believes that the Democratic Party has not had similar experiences. To throw a few out – opposing the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution; implementing Jim Crow in the South; Woodrow Wilson segregating the civil service and cracking down on dissent during World War I; the internment of Japanese Americans on the West Coast during World War II; tolerating Southern Democratic opposition to civil rights; and so on.

    I point these out not to engage you in a battle of who better knows their US History, but to show that it is pointless to argue that either party has a monopoly on righteousness. Both are made up of humans who are not made perfect simply by subscribing to a party ideology; in turn, neither party can claim to be the primary vehicle for social change.

    Sir, if you disagree with the history of my comments, which I believe to be correct, please respond and set the record straight with some semblance of argumentation. As it stands, you’re dodging the question by talking about things that are not germane to the discussion – not to mention calling me an idiot. Now that’s just not nice.

  8. Jamal,

    For now I’ll stand by my claims that Americans like dignity for old people, privacy in family decisions, and civility better than their opposites. I’ll concede, however, that they like being happy better than being grumpy.

    I’ll also stand by my ‘Nothing accomplished’ lemma. But we’ll see how you do with that one.

    I think you missed my point about Republican ‘sniping’: it’s not that I disapprove of sniping but that I recommend against enabling it. In this media culture, sniping is much more effective than leading. So it would only play into administration hands to make a pitch for a Democratic agenda at this point. This is a hitter’s ballpark and the strike zone is as small as it could be without true media corruption. So, um, punt and play a field position game. Or something.

    The jury is out on whether you’re a partisan shill or not, but let’s just say they’re not making hotel reservations. To say that “moderates” lack reasons to vote Democratic in recent federal elections seems simply crazy to me, since this administration hasn’t done anything to promulgate moderation since Vice President Cheney declined his second ladleful of custom butterscotch in the Michelin-four-star Undisclosed Location Canteen, 5 November 2001.

    Blocking the agenda, especially insofar as it’s promoted dishonestly, is a positive value for anyone to the left of a demented love-child of Ayn Rand and General Westmoreland. I recommend Eric Alterman’s book about presidential dishonesty (FDR, JFK, LBJ, and Reagan — 3 D’s and an R) to understand why dishonesty in a democracy is in itself a negative thing — and YES, when the President says there’ll be ‘nothing there’ in Social Security in 2041, and approvingly references citizens who believe SS won’t exist in the future due to insolvency, that’s dishonest.

    Don’t even get me started on the aluminum tubes. I’d vote for Justine Bateman before I’d vote for someone who leads so dishonestly.


  9. Jamal Sprucewood


    I’ve got a spare minute or two (or twenty actually) between classes, so you’ll just get a partial response.

    First, I’d rather the judge call a mistrial and send the jury home, but we can’t have everything we want. Oh, and I’ve never read Ayn Rand, but from what I’ve gathered I’m a long way from being her love child.

    Second, “dignity for old people, privacy in family decisions, and civility better than their opposites,”…how can I disagree with any of those? You’ve framed a mini-agenda that I have a hard time turning down. I just want the Dems to do this at a larger level and stick to it. Oh, and I may have been unclear when I talked about the “Schiavo decision” last time. I didn’t support the Republican attempt to intervene. In my opinion, the judicial system worked as it was supposed to and Ms. Schiavo’s family was turned down repeatedly by the Florida court system. There was no need for federal intervention. Even the federal courts agreed, which is why no federal court would hear the case. I believe the entire event was a tragedy and would have much preferred “privacy” not only for the Schiavo family, but Ms. Schiavo herself, who was regrettably seized upon as an icon for different ideologies in her final days by people who I believe often forgot that there was a person behind the issue.

    Sorry about missing your point. I still disagree with your restatement though. I think the Democrats can’t simply play defense – they’re far enough behind in the game don’t you think? Play field position when you’ve got the lead or it’s close. It’s time to throw a deep pass. It worked for the Republicans in 1994 and your objections would have been just as valid then in making a case that the Contract with America should have backfired.

    Finally, again, I’m not saying that blocking the agenda is a negative value. I’m saying that it would be perceived as a negative value should it continue to appear to be the only things Dems have to offer. Offer an agenda and obstruct in the background. To go back to a football analogy – if you’re an offensive lineman down in the trenches, you’re going to hold your opponent pretty frequently. Only thing is, you rarely get caught because it’s down in the trenches, there are ways to mask it, and the audience is focused on watching that flashy big-time receiver making a spectacular catch 40 yeards downfield. The blocking is essential to making the play be successful and sometimes that blocking entails holding, but if every play you were caught blatantly holding it would look bad after a while – not to mention that any successful play would be called back. I think that worked, but if it didn’t let me be clear – feel free to block the agenda; it’s the Dems job. But put some velvet on that iron fist or “walk softly can carry a big stick, you will go far.”

    I’m not even going to attempt a comeback at the Cheney barb – I can only aspire to write like that. Excellent job. I’m serious!

    And with that, I have to run. Jim, you can either have my rebuttal to the aluminum tubes or the Bush agenda…not both. With my work schedule it’s a bit of a large load to tackle. And don’t respond with “the Bush agenda because it’s the shorter of the two”…lol.

  10. Jamal Sprucewood

    PS – Jim:

    I didn’t mean to imply that Dems could offer something to moderates by “promulgating moderation,” to use your term, but in simply offering moderates something concrete to consider. The Dems were indeed criticized in the last election for not having a coherent agenda other than they were against Bush. As Sam Teller said in another post, he still doesn’t know what the Democratic position is on Iraq. I don’t know what the Democratic position is on education, other than NCLB, testing, and vouchers are bad. I don’t know what the Dems have to offer to counter Bush’s Social Security plan other than saying that the program is a bedrock government program and that tampering with it would result in unmitigated disaster to the fabric of America. Oh, and they say that things aren’t as bad as the Republicans are making out (they’re correct in this, but I don’t think that anyone really denies that something must eventually be done or there will be trouble in the future).

    I don’t care if it’s moderate or not – just give moderates something to chew over. Like an agenda.

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