THE STRUGGLE FOR THE SOUL
OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY
By Alan Caruba
You notice, I said “the voters,” not the people who simply identify themselves as members or sympathetic to one party or the other. One of the Republican Party’s greatest problems right now is that it has drifted so far away from what its base believes and wants, many are prepared to stay home, short of candidates that offer them a compelling reason to show up at the polls.
The Democrats are faced with a different problem. Its platform is essentially the one that won four terms for Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s and 1940s. Responding to the Great Depression, FDR tapped every bright lad he could to come up with something — anything — that might turn the economy around. In the end, it was World War II that energized the nation and started the U.S.A. on its superpower trajectory. It was helpful, too, that the homeland, other than Pearl Harbor, had not suffered the destruction that occurred in Europe or Japan.
So, Americans, ever since, have had Social Security, Medicare, and a host of other “entitlement” programs. The problem for recent presidential administrations is that these programs are either broke or soon will be. When the GOP added a hugely costly prescription drug entitlement, they were acting more like Democrats, but, by then, the way Congress functioned, there were few members who could be clearly identified by party affiliation.
All were drunk on “earmarks” funneling millions back to their districts. The notion that local communities should run their schools is foreign to them. All seemed indifferent to protecting national sovereignty, securing the borders, or the invasion of a million illegal aliens every year.
The only thing with which one could definitively identify Republicans was their support for the war in Iraq. It was, of course, the single issue that turned control of Congress — just barely — to the Democrats in the 2006 elections and it is the one issue that will determine the outcome of the 2008 elections. The only issue Democrats have is their hatred of Republican President W. Bush and their opposition to Conservatives who have a visceral contempt for abortion, gay marriage, and thuggish foreign leaders.
In the 2008 campaign, Democrats will offer national health care, but that notion has been trotted out for a very long time and most people are vaguely aware of what a disaster it has proven to be in England and Canada, to name just two places. Michael Moore’s documentary, a celebration of Cuban health care, managed to overlook the many shortages of everything needed to practice medicine there.
Most books about politics are, by definition, partisan. A rare exception, however, is Matt Bai’s The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics. He is such a skilled journalist, a political writer for The New York Times magazine, that he humanizes the individuals who are now locked in a struggle to control the Democratic Party.
The result is, frankly, a hilarious portrait of a political party where obscenely rich people think their money can make a difference and buy them real influence, while nobodies with little more than bad attitudes and Internet sites like The Daily Kos have become movers and shakers to whom candidates must pay heed. Sandwiched between these groups are the party apparatchiks -- the fund raisers, the political consultants, the pollsters and the think tank folks, all of whom are desperately trying to fashion a winning campaign.
About the only thing the members of both major parties agree upon is that the members of the opposing party are just too dumb to understand the issues!
Neither party lacks for really dumb people, and this includes those who have risen to the top. At one point, prior to the 2005-2006 campaign, casting about for a new motto, U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi suggested that Democrats call themselves “the people’s party.” Bai notes that, “This slogan was quickly and wisely rejected, as it sounded like a communiqué from the party headquarters in Pyongyang.”
In the end, the Democrats concluded that policy ideas, leadership issues, and the usual rhetoric of campaigning weren’t needed, given the collapse of support for and by Republicans. Why “offer an actual agenda and risk the possibility that some voters might not like it?”
One of the real issues is the war against the Islamofascists, and, whether a Democrat or Republican is elected in 2008, he or she will be part of a continuum of Presidents who have either tried to ignore the Islamofascists, as did Bill Clinton, or put troops in the field to kill them, as did George Bush. It doesn’t matter in the short run what people think about the current state of the war — except for the way it influences elections — because it is a war which was declared against us and which we must pursue until victory, regardless of whether we want to or not.
Aside from a lack of any ideas, other than those inherited from Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Baines Johnson, the Democrats will continue to suffer from the general perception of cowardliness in the face of an enemy and endless bleating about the poor and disadvantaged. They tend to ignore the way America has grown famous and wealthy from people who worked hard, took risks, and moved up the economic ladder. The other factor working against them is the way the population has leaned to the Right ever since the days of Ronald Wilson Reagan and Barry Morris Goldwater.
Bush will not be a factor in the 2008 elections, except as a person on whom Democrats can fix (and waste) their hatred. But he is not running for office. Without a compelling reason to vote for a Democratic candidate, voters may decide to stay with the party that — flawed as it may be at this point — still believes in lower taxes, a strong military, and the magic elixir of freedom and opportunity.
American Government & the U.S. Presidency:
Presidential Politics & National Leadership
The American Political System:
Politics & Government in the U.S.A.
The American Political & Cultural Left:
Liberals, Statists, Socialists, & Other Leftists
Liberalism Versus Conservatism in American Politics
Traditional Conservatism: Questions & Answers
Conservatism: Attitudes, Types, & Present Status
Constitutional Conservatism: American & British
Classical Liberalism: Intellectual Foundations
Classical Liberalism: Conservative Liberalism
Manchester Liberalism & Social Darwinism
Modern Social "Liberalism": Statist "Liberalism"
Radical & Totalitarian Ideologies
Radicalism, Utopianism, & Totalitarianism
Alan Caruba is a veteran business and science writer, a Public Relations Counselor, and Founder of the National Anxiety Center, a clearinghouse for information about media-driven scare campaigns. Caruba writes a weekly commentary, "Warning Signs," posted on the Internet website of the National Anxiety Center, which is located at www.anxietycenter.com.
Caruba’s new book, Right Answers: Separating Fact from Fantasy, has been published by Merril Press.
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