Monday, March 20, 2006

Rahm Emanuel and the storytelling of politics

At Newsweek, Jonathan Alter looks at Rahm Emanuel's "discipline," which might just be what the Democrats need to put them over the top this coming November:

Seven months is forever in politics. By fall, the Dubai ports flap will be old news and Karl Rove's "tougher than thou" strategy could be back in the groove. Emanuel knows that if Democrats turn the election into a referendum on how to punish Bush (censure, impeachment) instead of on the Bush record, they'll get clobbered. But election experts are reassessing their earlier predictions, as districts in upstate New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania once thought out of reach for Democrats move into play. Controlling at least one chamber of Congress will give the Democrats the subpoena power necessary to offer some basic accountability. If Rahm Emanuel can pick the lock, he'll help open the door to a long-overdue housecleaning.

If Democrats succeed in nationalizing the midterms, Republicans could be in trouble. Emanuel seems to know what he's doing, but he won't be able to do it alone. Ultimately, the Democrats will need to summon the discipline to avoid internal strife and to define collectively the narrative of corruption and incompetence that has characterized the Bush presidency.

Politics, it seems to me, is often about storytelling. The candidate or the party that tells the best story usually wins. Like it or not, Bush told the best story in 2004, a simple story about terrorism that appealed to post-9/11 fear. Democrats cannot let that happen again. With chapters on Iraq, Katrina, Portgate, illegal wiretapping, K-Street corruption, fiscal mismanagement, and the like, there's really no reason why the Democratic story shouldn't resonate with the electorate this year.

Democrats just need to figure out how best to tell that story.

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