INVESTI-GATE…Over at the New Republic blog, Michael Crowley notes that the latest Republican fundraising email, like earlier versions, hypes the threat that a Democratic Congress would conduct politically-motivated investigations, including trying to impeach the president. Crowley comments: “It’s pretty clear what Republicans…want this election to be about.”

The obvious implication here seems to be a point that Slate’s John Dickerson made more explicitly yesterday: That since Republicans clearly want to scare some people into thinking that a Democratic Congress would plunge the nation into turmoil with ceaseless partisan investigations, Democrats should keep a lid on the investigation talk. (Crowley may not be arguing this, just noting the Republicans’ tactic. But Dickerson is.)

I have a story coming out soon that, among other things, concludes by arguing that this thinking is exactly wrong. Remember how well it worked when Dems tried to avoid talking about national security in 2002? If Democrats try to similarly sweep the subject of investigations under the rug, Republicans and the press will frame the issue as being about destructive partisan payback — and possible impeachment. If Democrats want to avoid this characterization getting fixed in the public mind, they can’t just try to wish the whole thing away. They need to aggressively challenge what Republicans are saying, and talk instead about conducting fair-minded investigations focused on fixing the problems of the Bush years. As Matt Yglesias puts it, “What’s at issue are two different ways of characterizing this. [NRSC chair Elizabeth] Dole wants people to think of partisan witch-hunts, Pelosi wants people to think of sober-minded oversight. Simply resting silent on the issue isn’t going to stop Dole and whomever else from saying what they want.”

It’s also worth noting that Republican attempts to highlight the investigations issue have come almost exclusively in fundraising emails. In other words, they’re using it as a tactic to gin up their plugged-in supporters, but not, so far, as a part of their broader message to ordinary voters. And when you think about it, you can see why they might not be too enthusiastic about a campaign message that draws voters’ attention, even obliquely, to the slew of scandals and screwups of the Bush years. After all, it’s not exactly inconceivable that voters might welcome the prospect of a party pledging to look into, and then fix, the policies of a president with a 32 percent approval rating.

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