By MSNBC-TV Contributor
updated 10/14/2005 1:04:47 PM ET 2005-10-14T17:04:47

This week, Democratic strategist Peter Fenn said, "Democrats are in an excellent position to pick up a substantial number of seats [in Congress] and, possibly, take back control." It's a feeling that is permeating the Democratic Party, especially among the consultant class. As much as I would like to agree with them, don't you believe it.

Yes, the President is mismanaging Iraq. He and his appointees bungled Katrina. Gas prices are rising, and he's appointing someone to the Supreme Court with as much experience on the bench as your local fry cook at McDonald's. Tom DeLay has become a symbol of the corruption that runs deep in politics. No, Republicans cannot run the country. But, the Democrats still can't run their own party. That's the rub.

Polls back it up. Despite all of President Bush's ham-handedness, he would still beat John Kerry if the election was held today, according to pollster John Zogby.

Think of the Democrats like a symphony orchestra. Before the conductor comes out at a concert, all the instruments are practicing pieces on their own, and the sound is disorganized and harsh to the ear. But when the conductor steps in front of them, with a baton for the orchestra to follow, the result is some of the most beautiful music known to man.

Iraq is a perfect example of the disjointed collection of instruments the Democrats have become. Some are saying the United States needs to pullout. Some are saying we shouldn't but should set a target date to leave. Some are saying we need to stay for the long haul. A couple of Democrats admit their vote was a mistake, and others say they would vote the same way again. Meanwhile, the large bulk of the Republican Party, save one or two members, are following the President's lead. Iraq is a cog in the war on terror; democracy in the Middle East is of vital interest; and we must win there. Bill Maher said it best: The President's vision might be screwed up, but at least you know he has a vision.

On the President's selection of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, maybe the Democrats were a little better. One of them said, "Her qualifications for the Supreme Court are non-existent. She is not a brilliant jurist, indeed, has never been a judge. She is not a scholar of the law. Researchers are hard-pressed to dig up an opinion. She has not had a brilliant career in politics, the academy, the corporate world or public forum."

Wait, no, that was uber-Conservative Pat Buchanan! While Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid was singing the praises of the President's latest nominee to the Supreme Court, other Democrats like Senator Charles Schumer were expressing skepticism, while Party Chair Howard Dean dismissed her. The jumbled orchestra wailed on, while Pat Buchanan was all over the airwaves giving the talking points the Democrats should have been giving in unison.

Finally, the Democrats don't have anyone leading the ensemble with a positive vision for the future. "No, no, no," Democrats tell me. "We're going to repeal the Bush tax cuts, put money into education, and save Social Security." First, no one knows any of these things because the party is never on the same page about their message, so some people are harping on Social Security while others are talking up health care. Second, this laundry list is not a vision. People do not vote for a party whose grand vision is limited to things like repealing tax cuts.

Newt Gingrich, a man I often disagree with but do respect, understood this. I can't recall a single thing that was in the Contract with America, but the name is definitely seared into my brain, and I remember it was ostensibly about reducing the size of government, increasing personal responsibility, and removing barriers to individual success. That was a vision. I remember that every single Republican played off the same page, as Newt conducted them. Republicans still play off the same page today under the conductor President Bush, and have added a new stanza - defeating Islamic extremists.

Vision and unity equal conviction in the eyes of voters. The Republicans understand that, and that's why they gained power and held onto it, even as they have run the country into the ground, and why the Democrats, who have proven themselves better at governing, are still struggling to convince America to give them that power back.

Flavia Colgan holds a religion degree from Harvard University.  Flavia serves as an MSNBC-TV commentator.

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