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Democrats Beware: "October Surprise" Announced In Advance

[ Posted Thursday, March 20th, 2008 – 13:37 UTC ]

Every election season in American politics, speculation begins in late summer what the other side's "October Surprise" is going to be. What event will happen, what subject will be brought up during the final phase of the campaign, one month before everyone votes? Well, this year Democrats don't need to wonder any more. Because the Republicans have basically announced in advance what they hope to ride into office this year: provincial elections in Iraq.

First, a little recent history to understand how we got here. President Bush's administration has been pushing the Iraqi government to get some tangible things done. Bush has a deadline to meet, and he wants to show some progress. Next month is when we get the next report to Congress on progress in Iraq. The last one of these, back in October, pretty much halted Democratic efforts in Congress to end the Iraq war. General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker presented their version of "The 'surge' is working," and that effectively ended debate on the issue. Sure, there was some token resistance and high-profile votes, but we're still at war, which is still being funded by the Democratic Congress.

Bush desperately wanted some good news for this cycle as well. Last time around, buried in all the spin, was a pretty dismal report card on Iraq. Very few benchmarks had been met. Very little progress was being made on these benchmarks politically by the Maliki government. This time around, Bush is going to have some benchmarks to brag about. A de-Ba'athification law was passed, as were several other important pieces of legislation listed as benchmarks to be met.

But last month, a slight monkey wrench was tossed into this march of new legislation from the Maliki government. There were three contentious laws to be passed, and they were bundled together by the Iraqi Parliament (this was a fragile compromise among Shi'ites, Sunnis, and Kurds, each of whom wanted one of the three laws passed). Unfortunately, the Presidential Council vetoed one of these three laws, while passing the other two. The law they vetoed? Provincial elections.

Bush, for once, did something competent. He dispatched Vice President Dick "The Enforcer" Cheney over to the Middle East. Two days ago, he visited Iraq. Today, from a Washington Post article:

Iraq's three-member presidential council on Wednesday approved legislation that sets a time frame for provincial elections, a development that Iraqi lawmakers called an important step toward reconciling rival factions in the divided government.

The decision came two days after Vice President Cheney came to Baghdad urging Iraqi leaders to make more progress on political reconciliation. The council passed the measure after Adel Abdul Mahdi, one of Iraq's two vice presidents, withdrew his opposition. Under the legislation, Iraq would hold provincial elections by Oct. 1.

When the law was vetoed, last month, I wrote:

The Maliki government actually passed three important laws through their Parliament, which was also a sign of improvement, but the Presidential Council just vetoed one of them (the one the Sunnis supported), which is important because of the timing. Remember all those purple fingers from 2004? The plan was that local elections would take place in Iraq at the beginning of October, but now this is not going to happen. So President Bush, the Republicans, and John McCain won't have a media coup one month before our own elections. Look for some heavy pressure by the Bush folks to get this resolved, because it was obviously designed to put some "good news" from Iraq on the front pages of American newspapers while heading into the home stretch of our own election season.

Now that Cheney has knocked some heads together, the Iraqi election is going to happen a little more than a month before our own. And purple fingers are going to be "Exhibit A" this year in the Republicans' campaign strategy. Their storyline will go something along the lines of:

"We are WINNING in Iraq. We have achieved success after success, and the only way to continue this success is to put Republicans back in office. If you vote for Democrats, you are voting for failure, surrender, and probably treason. Vote responsible Republicans into office, and we can get on with responsibly declaring "Victory" and getting the troops out of Iraq, while leaving behind a shining beacon of democracy for the entire Middle East to envy. President Bush was right all along, John McCain is right as well, and the only way we can continue this parade of victory is to elect John McCain our next president, and give him a Republican Congress to get the nation's business done safely, responsibly, and victoriously."

While polls show the American public still wants to get out of Iraq, the public's opinion is notoriously fickle. Lots of good news from Iraq right before our election may convince some fence-sitters that McCain would be the best bet after all. Two other important events will happen in October as well. It will be time again for another six-month report to Congress, which will push the "we're winning" storyline onto the front pages again. And Muqtada al-Sadr will decide if he's going to extend the cease fire for his Mahdi Army for another six months. If he does so, it will add to the general Republican framing of success in Iraq.

Democrats are going to need a counter-narrative to answer the Republican spin, so they'd better start working on it now. The good news is, they've got plenty of time to do so. The bad news is, it's going to be a hard storyline to counter, so Democrats need to come up with something good in order to do so. But if Democratic campaign managers are not ready with their own framing of the issue when it happens, then they're not going to have any excuse. Because Republicans have given them six or seven months to work out their response, by helpfully announcing this year's October Surprise in advance.

Can Democrats rise to the occasion? Time will tell....


-- Chris Weigant


4 Comments on “Democrats Beware: "October Surprise" Announced In Advance”

  1. [1] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    That seems like a very risky strategy. Sure this isn't a Machiavellian Democratic October surprise?

    It could help McCain if wildly successful, but could go far the other way. Even without the US involved, I would expect Provincial elections in a war torn fledgeling democracy to be good for at least a couple of high level political assassinations and a half a dozen bombings. Add to that a cycle of attacks to coincide with our own elections and October could be a very bloody month. A solid month of violence in the media distracting from the dialogue of how to solve domestic problems can't be to helpful to McCain...

  2. [2] 
    Michale wrote:

    Although my scorn of polls is firmly on record, I thought this was kind of interesting..

    1 in 5 Dems Defect to McCain if Their Candidate Loses Nomination...

    Things do not bode well for the Dems this year...


  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:

    Given all the reports that we are seeing, I honestly cannot see how the Democrats can win the general election in November.

    I can't say that I have any sympathy for the Dems. I have been saying it since Sep of 2005 that, when you foster an atmosphere of hatred and intolerance ala Taylor Marsh, Daily Kos or, it's not something you can control and direct at will...

    Right now we are seeing Clinton supporters being as vicious and reprehensible to Obama supporters as they are to Republicans. And, (although to a lesser extent) vicie versie...

    I said, back in Sep of 2005 that, when all is said and done and all the spewage is quieted, we need to remember that we are all Americans..

    The Democrats haven't learned that lesson. The lesson that, when all the hatred and all the spewage is quieted, they are all still Democrats...

    The problem isn't partisan politics. That's merely a symptom.. The problem is hatred and intolerance..

    Apparently (and sadly), the GOP doesn't have the market share of those nasty evils...


  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    To tie the above comment into the subject of the commentary....

    I don't think the GOP will need to bother with an "October Surprise"...

    The Democrats have, pretty much, totally destroyed any possibility of winning the White House.

    I will even go so far as to predict they will lose majority in the House & Senate by a good margin...


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