Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Marine versus the Class Treasurer

There are lots of good reasons to like Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House, but one of them is not her commanding television presence.

So, on the question of Murtha vs Hoyer for Majority Leader, I have this request to make of House Democrats.

"Can we please, please, please, just once, have a public face for the Party that isn't a that of Class Treasurer?"

To all Class Treasurers, nothing personal. I was treasurer of our high school drama club. At the time I was 5 foot 7, weighed 120 lbs, never knew where my arms and legs were going, and while I had a fairly clear complexion for a teenager, when I did get a zit, it was always a large, red, angry one right on the tip of my nose.

What I'm saying is that the Democrats do not need one more representative going before the TV cameras and reminding the whole country of a 17 year old smartypants who could handle the bookkeeping.

Joe Lieberman, Joe Biden, Harry Reid, Charles Schumer, even Hillary---you look at them and you can see exactly what they were like when they were in high school.

Steny Hoyer---and just his first name alone should disqualify him. That's all we need to do, give the Republicans and the Talk Radio blowhards the fun of sneering out his name "Ssss-TENNN-eeeeee!"---is another face that only a high school guidance counselor could love.

To be fair to Hoyer, he doesn't look so much like a 17 year old math geek as he looks like the teacher who was the advisor to the Science Club.

I am not being trivial here. I am not making the case that Democrats should value image over substance. There are substantive reasons for prefering John Murtha over Hoyer. Which I'll get to. There are good partisan ones too. And they are often one and the same.

But these days people generally do not learn about the substance of a politician's or a party's stands except by coming to it through the image.

Television is the medium for reaching and persuading voters. In fact, for most people in the United States, all they know is what they see on TV. And what they see of the Democrats on TV bores them, sets their teeth on edge, or convinces them that we are the Party of cringing and obsequious weasels who won't take a stand on the right time of day.

Then there's the whole Mommy Party vs. Daddy Party question, a stupid question, especially as it stands now, with the the Daddy Republicans turning out to be the kind of Daddy who takes his paycheck, runs off to the track with it, stops in at a bar on his way home, makes a date with one of the cocktail waitresses (or the male bartender), and as soon as he walks in the door starts screaming at his wife because she doesn't have his dinner waiting for him hot on the table.

The unfortunate truth is, though, that the Democrats are seen as the girls' party.

We like to boast about the gender gap. Women prefer the Democrats and its their votes that put many of our candidates over the top. But in reality the gender gap is our problem. Men vote for Republicans in a greater percentage than that of the women who vote for Democrats.

The object, of course, is not to become another boys' party or more of a Daddy Party. The object is for Democrats to be seen as what they are, the party of the grown-ups, the party of everyone.

Having a big, burly ex-Marine standing next to Speaker Pelosi makes this point in the most visually compelling way.

On the whole, Murtha is far more conservative than most Democrats. It's worth noting, though, that while on votes important to the survival and prosperity of the middle class, the Drum Major Insitute gives Hoyer a score of 75 per cent to Murtha's 63 percent, which would seem to favor Hoyer, both scores earn a grade of C.

My Congressman, Maurice Hinchey has a score of 100 percent. So does the new Senator from Ohio, Sherrod Brown, and Nancy Pelosi, Henry Waxman, and MyDD favorite John Lewis. The presently much-reviled in the blogosphere for his DLC politics Rahm Emanuel has a score of 88 percent, a solid B.

Both Hoyer and Murtha voted for the damned bankruptcy bill.

Hoyer is better on social issues, particularly reproductive rights. But no Right Wing dreams of women as compliant babymaking machines are going to be realized in a House of Representatives presided over by Speaker Pelosi. Meanwhile the real threat to women's right to choose is coming from the state legislatures and the Courts, and over in the Senate is where the battles over Bush's judicial choices will be fought.

Beyond that, the House Majority Leader doesn't set the Party's agenda; it's his job to see that the agenda gets the votes. (I'd like to ask Murtha and Hoyer who'd they'd like to have as their whips.) Over the years, Murtha has been cozier with the Republicans than good Democrats would like, but of the two men, Murtha is the one who is most loyal to Pelosi. Hoyer has been and probably will continue to be too personally ambitious and that has made him and will probably continue to make him something of a double-dealer.

In other words, I trust Murtha to work hard to get bills he personally disagrees with passed more than I trust Hoyer to work hard to get things he personally agrees with passed.

Then there's the War.

Over the next two years, it will be the Republicans' strategy to tie the Democrats to the prosecuting of the war as tightly as possible so that in 2008 they can claim that we are just as responsible for its failure as they are, more so, because, after all, the Democrats are now running the show. (The Republican Campaign Slogan for 2008: George Who?) That's what the Baker-Hamilton Study Group is designed to do.

We know where Murtha stands.

Hoyer has been more in the camp of the Well, it's not going well, and I wish we'd never gotten in, and I'm kind of mad at George Bush about it, but gee whiz, I wish I knew what to do about it Democrats.

Whether or not it's the case with him, his opposition to the war appears to be a matter of opposing the way it's being conducted rather than fact that it's a lost cause and an utter disaster.

He's a perfect patsy for the Republicans' two-pronged attatck, accusing the Democrats of wanting to cut and run and demanding to know if we're so smart where's our plan?

If and when the time comes that the Democrats step up and say, That's it, no more, this has got to end, I'd rather have Murtha on TV saying it.

I know that in a perfect world image wouldn't matter, ideas would count above all, but there's no heaven on earth, and there never has been. Way before there was television, image still carried the ideas across. Successful politicians were expected to be great orators. Great oratory wasn't a matter of writing a great speech. It was a matter of delivering a great speech. Great oratory was public entertainment.

Abraham Linclon did not win over the crowd at the Cooper's Union at the end of his speech when everybody sat quietly for a while debating in their heads the ideas he'd just put forth. He began winning them over from the moment he stepped up to the podium. Lincoln had a funny voice and he was ugly, but those two qualities were part of his appeal.

And George Washington was brilliant at manipulating his own image and using his image to manipulate others.

Let's not even start on FDR.

I've written this before. It's ridiculous for people who know that John Kennedy beat Nixon in the debates because he came across better on television, and who should then understand the importance of this, to dismiss the idea that image matters. I'm tired of the Democrats losing on the issues because they keep having their arguments made by people who can't master the fundamentals of coming across as normal human beings on television.

I would like the face of the Democrats to be that of an ex-Marine who stands up and stands tough, who believes in what he says and sounds like he believes it.

Especially considering the presumptive Republican nominee for President in 2008 and the Media's love affair with him and image for him they have helped create.

See Maha on the good and the bad about Murtha and Hoyer.

Update: Jason Chervokas prefers Murtha but says the Right Wing blowhards have more of a stake in the fight, just because it gives them an excuse to accuse Democrats of being unable to lead because they don't march in lockstep like the Republicans.

Tom Watson reminds us to keep our eyes on the prize.

Update to the update: Ezra read this by Joe Conoson and it's given him more doubts about Murtha, although he's still more doubtful about Hoyer. Meanwhile, he's thinking Nancy Pelosi's showing signs she's not as smart or as clean as we need her to be. Read his post and follow the links.

Hat tips: Ezra Klein, Ian Welsh of the Agonist, and Greg Saunders at This Modern World.


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