Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Newt Gingrich, Democratic strategist

That venerable mid-'90s political superstar, Newt Gingrich, is on a relentless quest to keep himself in the news. He's auditioning for the role of GOP savior, just in case the Republicans get so panicked about their future prospects that they decide to pick up the phone and summon him back to the limelight.
He's been doing this for quite awhile - I interviewed him in Philadelphia over a year ago - and now, apparently, he is branching out, offering advice even to the other side. In a new chat with Time magazine, he catalogued what he sees as a succession of Republican screwups and warned his allies that if they can't get themselves straightened out, "the country will decide to take a flyer on the Democrats, because (voters) just get tired of it. That's how American politics work."
So what, sage Newt, should the Democrats do? Should they (as many observers insist) come up with a detailed platform for the 2006 congressional elections?
Newt says no. Instead Newt advises that "what they should do is say nothing, except 'Had Enough?'"
Had Enough?...Well, as slogans go, that's better than anything the Democrats seem to have come up with so far, such as "Together, We Can do Better" and "Together, American Can Do Better," and "American Can Do Better," without the "together."
(One might wonder why Newt seems so willing to be helpful. Veteran Newt-watcher Marshall Wittmann contended on his blog today that Newt "has a vested interest in seeing to it that the donkey prevails in November. On the ashes of the GOP defeat, Newt will begin his resurrection from the political graveyard...")
Interestingly enough, what Newt didn't say - and I can't believe he doesn't know this, since he's a student of history - is that "Had Enough?" was the winning slogan for Republicans in the 1946 congressional elections.
The GOP that year had only a national slogan, not a platform. They basically tapped into the public's postwar weariness about inflation (20 percent), housing shortages, meat rationing, and labor strife - all of which became identified with the Democrats, who had ruled Congress and the White House for the past 13 years. The Republicans didn't ever say how they would cure any of those ills (except for a vague promise to root out communism) - but they picked up 13 Senate seats and 56 House seats that November, giving them majorities in both chambers, simply by making the race a referendum on the "in" party.
Newt's suggestion that a mere slogan can win it for the Democrats might seem surprising - since, after all, he's widely credited as the mastermind of 1994, when (history claims) the Republicans swept to power in Congress thanks to a specific Newt platform known as the Contract with America. But, in reality, this is a myth that has gained retrospective credence. One week before that 1994 election, fully 71 percent of Americans had never heard of the Contract. That election turned on two factors: Republican voters' strong disaste for Bill Clinton and his Democratic allies; and an underwhelming Democractic turnout.
I'd bet that the Democrats in 2006 will try not to go overboard on specifity. It's quite possible they'll decide that a slogan akin to "Had enough?" might be enough.