Slate's Politics: If Democrats Take Over Congress

If the Democratic Party wins enough races in the November 2006 election to win a majority in the House of Representatives, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says she may start investigating the Bush administration. Alex Chadwick talks with Slate political analyst John Dickerson about what the nation might expect from a Pelosi-led Congress.

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MADELEINE BRAND host:

This is DAY TO DAY. Coming up, east African pop music and Indie rock unite. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK host:

I'm Alex Chadwick. First, the political dreams of Democrats. A front page story in The New York Times, today, looks at a conversation among party leaders, how to win their way back into power.

They could win back the House in November's mid-term elections; the Republicans have held a majority there for a dozen years. What would Democratic rule look like?

We're joined by John Dickerson, Chief Political Correspondent for the online magazine Slate. John, you're writing about that exact question in Slate this week, and not very favorably on House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

Mr. JOHN DICKERSON (Chief Political Correspondent, Slate Magazine): What I've written about is there is this larger conversation going on, and Democrats are trying to figure out not only how to position themselves for 2006, but also how to position themselves for the presidential election in 2008.

Nancy Pelosi came out with a little bit of a peak of what the agenda might look like if Democrats took control of the house. She laid out a number of provisions, including raising the minimum wage, putting budget restrictions back in place; but, at the same time, she also talked about investigations of past Bush administration malfeasance. And my argument is that in the same breath you cannot do both; that there is a rhythm to the way you show a party to the people, and that when you talk about investigations you essentially overshadow any positive agenda items you might be giving birth to.

CHADWICK: But wouldn't Nancy Pelosi be speaking to that Democratic base? I mean, a lot of people in the Democratic base would like it if House Democrats could begin an investigation of the White House.

Mr. DICKERSON: That's exactly right. And they are angry both at Democrats for not screaming louder in the past, and also very angry at the press for not pushing on the president. So, you're exactly right, the base will love this.

My argument, though, is that the base is already pretty ginned up and that George Bush wakes up every day and gives the base more reason to be ginned up, so that Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders, as they're putting their strategy together, they need to appeal to those voters who aren't already ginned up about investigations and really taking to the Bush administration. They need to provide some kind of a vision about what Democratic leadership would be like.

Voters are telling pollsters that they don't like Congress, they don't like Republicans, but they don't particularly like the Democrats either. And my view is that they hold that opinion, because they know Democrats don't like George Bush. What they don't know is what Democrats stand for and what they'll do once they come into power.

By talking about a positive agenda, that goes to those voters; but by talking about investigations, it continues to raise doubts in the mind of those voters who haven't yet signed up with Democrats.

CHADWICK: The subject of The New York Times story that I mentioned earlier is exactly that. How do Democrats formulate a vision, and according to the people that The Times is talking to, the idea of consultants is out and Democrats should find a voice and speak to the common good - I think a phrase from former Democratic leader John Podesta.

Mr. DICKERSON: The idea that authenticity is important is not terribly new in politics, but in the Democratic base there is this feeling - and, again, this is what, perhaps, Pelosi was appealing to when she talked about investigations and when other Democratic leaders do, which is let's stop all the mamby pamby mincing around and let's say what we believe in - and one of the things we believe in is that the president has abused his power and we're going hold him to account, and that that position, as a kind of sign of authenticity, may have power, some Democrats believe, outside of those who may actually even want that particular investigation to take place. The people will give Democrats credit for just speaking their mind, even if they don't believe in the particular proposals they're putting forward.

CHADWICK: Well, if the Democrats need a vision or a package or a statement, what should they put in it? What should be in there?

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, Nancy Pelosi has put forward some of the elements of it, which is an increase in the minimum wage to appeal to working people, more budget kind of reality in the way Washington puts together a budget, because the deficits have grown and exploded. She's also put in some provisions that would promote tighter homeland security and that would follow Democrat's priorities on those security issues; but they are proposals that meet people in their daily lives in the way in which they look to government for solutions, and those kinds of programs are ones that people can connect with more than retribution that might come out of investigations.

CHADWICK: Analysis and opinion from John Dickerson, he is Chief Political Correspondent for the online magazine Slate. John, thank you.

Mr. DICKERSON: Thank you, Alex.

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