Remember that much-ballyhooed speech Tom Daschle gave last week ripping into President Bush's tax-cutting fiscal policy? Remember the oh-so-thin pancake the President made out of Daschle over the next few days when he dared Democrats to raise taxes "over my dead body."
Before this goes any further, let's confess that Hill Democrats are suffering from a crying deficiency of good strategy. It's not that Daschle's argument was bad on the merits. What it lacked was coherence. And in political battles coherence is king.
Daschle says the tax cut was bad. But he doesn't want to raise taxes. But that means we may have dip into Social Security revenues, or maybe raise taxes, or go into deficit spending. And all of those are bad. And so on and so forth.
Bush doesn't want to raise taxes, period.
Is this just the power of the presidency? The difficulty of running the opposition from the Senate?
I don't think so.
The key here is that Democrats are letting themselves get baited into the trap of solving the problems created by Republican policies, which is a category strategic error.
The president and his party promised X would happen and Y happened. They said that deficits wouldn't return and they did return. They had the power and authority to do it their way and now they have to take responsibility for what's happened.
It's not for the Democrats to figure out how to clean up Bush's mess or solve his problem for him. This is about taking responsibility. Something the Republicans seem quite unwilling to do. They blame the return of structural deficits on the war on terrorism and the downturn in the economy, each of which play a smaller role than the results of their own policy.
(Eventually, Americans will weary of such cynical use of the 9/11 attacks.)
Even with nominal control of the Senate, Republicans still basically run the show in Washington. So it's for Republicans to answer how they'll get the country out of the fiscal ditch they created.
This whole debate is about responsibility and values. Doing what you said you would do and cleaning up the mess you created.