Saturday, July 15, 2006

More On Democratic Politics

I've been deeply troubled (although you'd hardly know it, the way I've crowed about the Bush failures lately) about the state of the Democratic party. In the last few weeks, it's been a little better, as if someone called up the various factions and told them to tone it down, or even if in fact, a bunch of people independently woke up and realized there's a chance, an huge opportunity, to take this country back for the people.

I'm a lifelong Democrat, as anyone who's read this blog for any length of time has probably figured out. The first campaign I volunteered for was Humphrey-Muskie in 1968, when I was still in grade school and New York City was a lot more Republican than it is now. I was (probably still am a little) idealistic enough to think that a ten year-old kid could sway even one vote.

The Democrats back then stood for something: fairness. Civil justice, civil rights, progress. A break for the little guy against the big corporations and corporate agglomerations that held the Republican party in thrall. We had just suffered the loss of JFK and RFK, two giants of vision and hope for the future.

Forces were plotting against this trend and sprang up. Barry Goldwater, after his stinging defeat at the hands of Lyndon Johnson, went underground and began to formulate a new conservatism: activist, doctrinal, and populist, moving the Conservatives away from Eastern elites to a group who would even dare entertaining the notion of nominating Ronald Reagan, a know-nothing, do-nothing layabout, as a candidate.

Well, obviously, President Reagan WAS elected, even if he did little to nothing for the greater good of the nation besides make some of us "feel better about ourselves" (and I thought the Dems were the touchy-feely party!) During the 1980s, the conservatives in the Republican party reached out to the radical religious right, and thus was born a hideous two-faced monster.

Think of it this way: Ronald Reagan was the pinnacle of Conservative doctrine! And that was 25 years ago! Says a lot about the efficacies of that particular mode of thinking.

(I'm getting to the Democrats, relax!)

Then started a slippery slope in which the failures of conservative thinking having been exposed, became magnified; possibly, although I haven't thought this bit through enough to be certain, due to the alliance with the religious right. It might have been just simple greed.

Old school conservatism makes sense to me. I may not agree with much of it, but I can at least grasp the basic thinking: free markets are good, people can be not-so-good but generally they are so we need to trust them, we need a strong army and strong police force when they prove untrustworthy.

This new, warped conservatism is delusional. It says that free markets are good, so long as Jesus is running them. Christianity is the one true religion, unless you're poor or in trouble. Christianity and capitalism is the topic of an entirely other post, though (one I'm working on).

And so, in a broad skim, this is where the Dems are today: faced with a dichotomous and disharmonious opposition party that is beginning to fracture under the weight of carrying the burden of governance while failing to please either wing of its own party.

That's what makes this recent brouhaha in the Democratic ranks so unpalatable to me, and it must stop. We could have (hell, we did) beat Bush in 2000. We SHOULD have beaten him in 2004 (forget the vote counts. It shouldn't have come down to that). I don't think it's telling tales out of school to say the election was Kerry's to lose and he did just that.

This opened the door to what I think is the biggest blunder the Democrats made in the wake of the 2004 election: putting Howard Dean in as chairman of the DNC. Dean is not a reconciler, not someone who easily compromises. But let's look at the backstory a little, before we move forward.

In 1976, when Jimmy Carter won election, the die was cast for the next generation of Presidential Democratic candidates: decent, hard-working, values driven populists. That he lost to Reagan in 1980 should have been the wake up call to panic, as Reagan (who had run against Ford in 1976, unheard of for a Republican president to face primary challenges! That alone should have made the Dems sit up and take notice) was a lightweight, but the political machine behind him was not. Reagan should have been beaten easily: a party-switching, divorce with a nasty shrew of a wife, a colored political history, draft-dodging (in World War II, no less!) imbecile.

Carter lost. Reagan won just a hair over 50% of the popular vote, but wiped the electoral floor with Carter. Sounds sort of familiar, huh?

The next two candidates for President were along the lines of Carter: honest, decent, progressive and values-driven men. Mondale predicted the next President would have to raise taxes in order to stem the tide of the awful deficit Reagan had saddled us with and he was right, but he got the shit kicked out of him for being truthful. Dukakis, an extraordinarily uncharismatic man, managed to put himself forth as a competent administrator, but came across as so unemotional and disconnected when he ran against Bush the elder that he made Bush look hot tempered. Bush, who probably had never sweated once in his life into his Sperry Topsiders (well, maybe when he was shot down during World War II, if you believe the stories), was seen as emotional. Bush, who couldn't tell you the price of milk, was seen as connected.

Dukakis worked hard to lose that election, and the political machine that handled him really failed him badly.

During the second Reagan and first Bush interregnae, the Democratic party took a long hard look at itself. Born of this was a side organization, the Democratic Leadership Council, eventually headed up by one William Jefferson Clinton. This council was dedicated to a third way, that populist messages weren't working for the Dems, and that a shift to the center was in order. Sure looked like a winning strategy as Clinton was elected not once but twice.

Al Gore, too, was a member of the DLC. And he won (even if he lost), as well.

There's a hint in there somewhere...not....sure....where....*wink*

Too often, and I think not incorrectly, the DLC is criticized as yet another big business organ to wrest control of the government from the people. While you can't make the case that the DLC is as corrupt (or even as corruptible) as the Republican party, it's clear from the kow-towing that Democrats in Congress have made to the Bush agenda that there's a certain taint or corporate influence.

The one legitimate criticism that can be leveled at the DLC is that it's not energizing enough people to come out and vote, a claim that has some merit, although it can be argued that, since more people voted for John Kerry in 2004 than voted for Al Gore in 2000, this obviates that critique.

Bullshit. More people voted for Kerry because more people believed the country was headed in the wrong direction and that George Bush is a danger to us. They would have come out and voted for a ham sandwich. That had nothing to do with passion for Kerry, who by any account is a hard-working, decent man who had a vision for this country, but in the end, failed to articulate it. In fact, I'd make the case that his very thin-blooded approach to campaigning, especially to responding to the Swift Boat attacks, made people stay away from the polls.

So now we are engaged in a great political test of wills, in which the populist wing of the party, as represented by Howard Dean, is embroiled in a battle with the "triangulators" of the DLC, represented by Hillary Clinton.

Why can't we have both?

My ideas for how to do that, tomorrow

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