Right now, Obama's leadership on national security polls well, but imagine how much better it could be if Democrats were actually prepared to press their advantage home. What if the administration had well-briefed allies on the Hill ready to talk up the administration's approach whenever cable news gets interested in this issue? What if the chief of staff were bragging to friends in the press about how well his team is doing in closing a national-security gap with the GOP? Obama's willingness to challenge conventional wisdom about both the substance and politics of national security was part of what made him such an attractive presidential candidate. And in many ways, his administration has followed through on that promise. In political terms, however, the Democratic Party -- from the White House chief of staff on down -- is stuck in an unfortunate defensive crouch.Play perpetual defense at the expense of offense isn't something that afflicts just the Obama administration. This has been a tendency of Democrats for over a decade -- seeing a decline in frequency (NOTE THE TIMING!) in the messaging coming from the DNC, DCCC, DSCC, leadership, and candidates in 2006 and 2008. Hey, weren't those big election win years for Democrats? Well yes. Yes they were.
Democrats nationally are still defending themselves against 30 plus years of Republicans doing a much better job of framing every issue -- from taxes and foreign policy to the Democratic Party itself. They are in a position to shift those narratives, and play offense. But the window of opportunity is closing.
In Utah, Democrats must play offense much of the time -- though it's still debatable offense must be ignored as often as it is... Ahem, Utah Democratic Senators! -- but nationally the party and the President still enjoy comfortable margins of public confidence on many issues. Locally, we're missing opportunities to draw a connection with voters between Mike Noel's lack of education on several issues, Howard Stephenson's impracticality, and Carl Wimmer's near-secessionist caucus, and the Republican Party. Nationally, Democrats miss an opportunity to stop using right-wing terminology and ideology to defend their own policy and agenda. Locally, we're greatly outnumbered. Nationally, there's no excuse for defense only strategy other than habit, and lack of vision.
They need to redefine the issues on Democratic Party terms, not defend their policy on Republican terms of past decades. And to do so, their going to have to be a bit more gutsy in their approach.
When the Republicans campaign on "Repeal it" in a few months, Democrats should respond with "Hell yes we rammed it through!" When Republicans campaign on "no taxes" in a few months, Democrats should remind everyone of crumbling infrastructures and underfunded, necessary agencies at the end of Bush's free-for-all. And when Republicans campaign on bat-shit, tea party rhetoric, Democrats shouldn't be afraid to point out that the opposition has lost it's mind.