Democrats Meander in a New New Direction

By Dana Milbank
Friday, September 15, 2006

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the woman who will become speaker of the House if Democrats get lucky in November, began her weekly news conference yesterday holding up a red-white-and-blue brochure.

"I hope you all received 'A New Direction for America,' " she said, standing at a lectern that bore the same slogan. She called the manifesto "a compilation of many of the initiatives taken by our House Democratic Caucus that encompasses our new direction for all Americans."

It was a handsome booklet, full of homey photographs and popular proposals, but there was a problem. Democrats have had more "New Directions" recently than MapQuest.

Among the party's campaign slogans this year: "Culture of Corruption," "Culture of Cronyism," "Do-Nothing Congress," "Rubber-Stamp Congress," "Together, We Can Do Better," "Together, America Can Do Better" and, most recently, "Six for '06."

For those keeping score at home, Democrats arrived at "New Direction" yesterday by downgrading one of the "Six for '06" issues (health care) and upgrading three others (honesty, civility and fiscal discipline), for a total of eight items on the contents page.

By contrast, Republicans have settled on a single, unofficial slogan, which essentially says: Vote Democrat and Die. And in politics, scary and scurrilous usually trumps elaborate and earnest -- something Pelosi has experienced firsthand in recent days.

The California Democrat has been the focus of the GOP attack since her remark last week that capturing Osama bin Laden wouldn't make us safer. It was similar to sentiments uttered previously by President Bush ("He's not the issue") and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ("If he were gone tomorrow, the same problem would exist"). But it set off a flurry of Benedict Arnold charges from Republicans directed at Pelosi and her colleagues.

Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) wondered whether Democrats are "more interested in protecting terrorists than in protecting the American people." Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) stood next to a poster of Pelosi and her words about bin Laden and demanded: "Where do your loyalties lie?" House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said Democrats "are confused about who the enemy actually is."

Pelosi, sitting on the sofa in her Capitol office yesterday, took the treason talk in stride. "I've been a traitor for five years," she quipped, pointing out that Republicans said much the same thing when she proposed a 9/11 commission. By now, she added, Democrats have neutralized the issue.

That's mostly true. Polls show a shrunken GOP advantage on terrorism. But the Republican attacks have shifted the debate to the one issue that benefits them -- as Pelosi witnessed in her news conference yesterday morning.

Her opening statement covered a full range of Democratic issues: fiscal responsibility. The minimum wage. The trade deficit. Student loans. Health care. Energy independence. Social Security. Medicare.

Then came the questions. "This is now the third election in a row in which they've raised security issues just before the election," the first questioner said of the Republicans. "Why won't it work for them a third time?"

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