a party fundraiser and then delaying telling the press: Regrettable.
down the career of one of your party's rising stars: Really stupid.
Vice President Cheney's
hunting accident last weekend struck a nerve not just because
of the inherent sensationalism of a second-in-command this side
of Aaron Burr firing a gun at someone, but because for critics
it served as a microcosm of the administration - insularity and
incompetence resulting in people getting hurt.
But when Democratic
Senatorial Campaign Committee leaders Charles Schumer and Harry
Reid decided to pull the plug on the U.S. Senate campaign of Iraqi
War veteran Paul Hackett, they unwittingly encapsulated the reasons
why Democrats have been unable to capitalize on a hailstorm of
Republican mistakes over the past year.
Democrats don't seem
to understand that politics is perception and that campaigns need
to become crusades in order to succeed.
in Ohio directly addressed the Democratic Party's deepest weaknesses
- military credibility and red state resonance.
In an era of a war
on terror, the perception of Democrats being naively weak on defense
is a tipping point liability that can outweigh all other considerations
come Election Day. It has been a long-standing problem - Democrats
have never recovered lost public support as a result of their
perceived excesses in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the
anti-war movement became seen as anti-American.
But with ten Iraqi
war veterans running for Congress as Democrats this year - led
in publicity by Mr. Hackett - the Democrats finally seemed to
understand the need for a clear theme. Embodying the idea of 9/11
Democrats, returning veterans could be anti-war without being
This formula had already
been tested, with some success, in Hackett's 2005 special-election
race for a vacated congressional seat outside Cincinnati. While
he lost, his 48% of the vote was the highest in the conservative
district in more than 30 years. It is a decidedly red corner of
the swing state that decided the 2004 presidential race. President
Bush had carried the district by 64% and a neighboring district
claims incoming Republican majority leader John Boehner as its
and outspoken, Mr. Hackett quickly became a dream candidate for
desperate Democrats. He was lionized in liberal partisan blogs
for his unapologetic and immoderate rhetoric, charging for example
that "the Republican Party has been hijacked by religious
fanatics who are out of touch with mainstream America." For
better or worse, he was Howard Dean with a Marine pedigree.
Schumer and Reid encouraged Mr. Hackett to make the race, after
12-term Congressman Sherrod Brown declined. But when Mr. Brown
reconsidered this past December, the senators apparently did as
well. Perhaps they felt that the man behind the resume would implode
in his race against Ohio's Senator DeWine, a centrist Republican
who was a one of the bi-partisan "Gang of 14" who forged
a compromise on judicial nominations.
But now the Democrats
find themselves on the receiving end of Mr. Hackett's fire. He
accused party leaders of "behind the scenes machinations
that were intended to hurt my campaign." This apparently
included calls to Democratic Party fundraisers, who were encouraged
to steer clear of Mr. Hackett's campaign. Mr. Hackett announced
that he was withdrawing from Democratic party politics permanently,
feeling that his treatment amounted to "a second betrayal...First,
my government misused and mismanaged the military in Iraq, and
now my own party is afraid to support candidates like me."
The reaction in the
Democratic blogosphere was immediate. MSNBC quoted one "fightingLadyinblue"
on the mydd.com site as writing "Hackett, the 1st Iraq vet
to run as a Democrat, in a time when we as a political party are
trying hard to deflect attacks by the GOP right wing machine on
our commitment to national security & terrorism. And to do
this in such a crucial Red State like Ohio. Unbelievable!"
The fact that the party seemed to line up behind an established
insider as opposed to a populist insurgent candidate further highlighted
how out of touch the Democrats can be.
It is a problem reflected
directly in the Democratic Party's congressional leadership. Liberal
analysts look hopefully to polling data which show public disapproval
of Congress at levels unseen since before the Republican Revolution
of 1994. They point to the fact that President Clinton's approval
rating at the time was above 50%, while President Bush has been
stuck in the 40s as of late.
But Republicans at
the time famously presented a clear plan of reform to make the
case for their election - the Contract with America. Current elected
Democrats offer only vague promises of "a better way."
of 1994 offered a coherent vision of alternative leadership that
was effective in winning over and re-aligning swing districts.
The current Democratic Party leadership offers the alternative
of uncharismatic Harry Reid and San Francisco Democrat Nancy Pelosi,
backed by the polarizing visages of Howard Dean and Hillary Clinton.
If you were designing a dream team guaranteed to limit the decisive
cross-over swing voter appeal, this would be it.
would be better served if they put their more than half-dozen
Red State governors front and center. But the current party leadership
seems determined to favor liberal insiders over populist candidates
with cross-over appeal. As a result of this strategic mis-fire,
even those voters frustrated with the current Republican-led Congress
are more likely to de-align rather than re-align in the coming
Avlon is a columnist for the New
York Sun and the author