The Costanza Gambit
There is a classic episode of Seinfeld in which George Costanza bemoans the fact that his instincts, when it comes to women, are all screwed up. Every time he follows them he strikes out. Jerry suggests that if his instincts are always wrong then maybe he should just do the opposite of what his instincts tell him to do. George does just that and immediately starts succeeding with women at a level beyond his wildest dreams.
I was reminded of this when reading this article in the Post. In the article every Democrats good friend, George W. Bush, warns the Democratic party that it will pay a price if it doesn't propose a Social Security plan of its own:
President Bush concluded a three-state swing to sell his plan to restructure Social Security, warning Democratic opponents Tuesday that they will suffer political consequences if they continue to oppose his proposal without providing one of their own.
Flanked by Republican Sens. Pete V. Domenici (N.M.) and John McCain (Ariz.), Bush invited Democrats "to come to the table" to help devise a solution to shore up Social Security's finances. "I believe there will be bad political consequences for people who are unwilling to sit down and talk about the issue," he said.
Now, in the past, when Republicans have told Democrats "jump!" the response has been "how high?" The Democrats have treated advice from Republicans as if it were a sincere assessment of the political consequences of opposition. And what have the Democrats gotten for their continued willingness to cooperate with Republicans? Bupkiss!
But the Democrats aren't playing by the established rules any more. The Republicans said the Democrats need to put forward a plan, the Democrats have declined. Result: Bush's plan is sinking and Democratic approval ratings on handling Social Security are going up. Similarly, the Republicans pushed through the Shiavo mess, daring the Democrats to oppose them. Again, the Democrats declined. Result: Overwhelming opposition to the Republican actions from the public and a growing sense that the GOP is dominated by extremists.
Every time in the last few months when the Republicans (and their allies in the opinion mafia) have said that the Democrats will pay a political price for not doing what they say they should be doing the Democrats have responded by doing just the opposite and, like George Constanza, they are starting to see some benefit.
It's still early and the Democrats could still backslide into their old habits. But they've taken the first tepid steps into the waters of being a real opposition party and they've discovered that it isn't as cold as they were told.