How Democrats Can Rebuke the Politics of Ugliness

Posted April 11, 2005 at 4:12pm

Listening to the Sunday talk shows this past weekend reminded me of that old Loretta Lynn song, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” [IMGCAP(1)]

Political parties can’t have it both ways either. If Democrats are to win again, they must seize the high ground and begin to offer compelling solutions for the kitchen table issues of the day. Going negative, while tempting, is not a recipe for success; it is the main ingredient for failure.

Republicans are finding this out the hard way. In the past several weeks, they have been wallowing in the valley of deceit, dishonesty and deception. In Maryland, for instance, we learned of a sustained and relentless smear campaign against Martin O’Malley, Baltimore’s Democratic mayor who is campaigning for the right to challenge Bob Ehrlich, Maryland’s first GOP governor since 1969.

Apparently, a senior member of the governor’s staff, described by some as Ehrlich’s hatchet man, was behind a persistent — and according to the mayor, false — rumor that O’Malley had cheated on his wife and fathered a child with a local reporter. Once this lie became public, this staffer was fired for his role in spreading the rumors, and his close, personal friendship to Ehrlich was revealed in news reports across the state.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.

On Capitol Hill last week, freshman Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) confessed that his legal counsel had penned an insensitive political memo to exploit the unfortunate situation of Terri Schiavo. The now-dismissed senior Senate staffer had described the controversy as a “great political issue” and specifically targeted fellow Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (D), who had offered his own sensible approach.

Later, Martinez said he didn’t know the memo was in his possession when he passed it on to Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin (Iowa) on the Senate floor. Come again? “How dumb is Mel Martinez?” asked an editor in one of his home state papers last Sunday.

And that brings us to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who has so many problems of his own making that it’s hard to pick where to begin. The self-styled “Hammer” now finds himself being browbeaten both at home and on Capitol Hill.

DeLay, as Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) pointed out on ABC’s “This Week,” needs to start answering some questions about his bad behavior. I would also recommend that DeLay stop pointing fingers and look deeply in the mirror.

Since taking control of the House, DeLay and his pals have run roughshod over the minority, and it’s clear they don’t care about due process or the institution. The GOP Congress refuses to investigate legitimate complaints of malfeasance, and it has gutted the ethics process just to protect a corrupt Majority Leader. It’s so bad that Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) is in the act of putting some distance between himself and his party’s leaders.

Republicans have indeed been up to some sneaky tactics in the past few months. They have used their monopoly on power to run up huge deficits for our kids while letting their industry contributors write their own legislation. They even want to undermine democracy at home by denying the minority in the Senate the right to filibuster. Some GOP operatives have recently alluded that the GOP majority is out of sync with voters. As I like to point out, the Republican Party is “no longer representing the people.” Come on, Democrats, our time has come.

Look: Voters, who are smarter than candidates and political strategists give them credit for being, will make corrections at the polls when they believe they have an alternative. Moderates, conservatives and liberals across this country are taking note that the party that once professed deep morality has become the party of mischief, mayhem and misbehavior. Now, Democrats must rally not only our partisans, but also others, to help move America forward. The battle for the heart and soul of America is on, and the Republican Party will not stop its abusive behavior without a fight.

One thing is for sure, the Republican majority is fierce and determined, and it doesn’t always play fair. It overreaches and miscalculates the amount of patience voters have for its “admit no mistakes” brand of politics. I don’t have to remind any Republican operative that voters want some checks and balances on their power. It’s precisely the scenario under which they took power in ’94 as the party of reform, sweeping aside a Democratic majority that was seen as unresponsive and, arguably, arrogant.

Democrats can now become the party of reform, government, health care, economics and ethics. That’s one path out of the wilderness. We can offer real solutions to the challenges our nation faces and remain unbowed when confronted with dishonest and dishonorable tactics from our opponents. Democrats cannot ever sink to the level of relentless partisanship that we have witnessed from the other side. We must become more optimistic about the future and lay out an alternative vision.

Voters in red states and blue states across this country are now open to Democrats providing real leadership and answers to the issues they discuss around their kitchen table. If Democrats are to win in ’06, ’08 and beyond, we must seize the high ground now. It’s time we refocus on being the champions of the ordinary people and the middle class.

Remember, God don’t like ugly, and neither do voters.

Donna L. Brazile, the campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000, runs her own grass-roots political consulting firm.