Archive for March 15th, 2005

Brickabracka, firecracka, sis-boom-bah…

March 15, 2005

real leaders, real leaders,
rah rah rah!

What’s a whipped Democrat to do? Your party’s on a losing streak so long and so wide, it makes the Mississippi River look like the trail a 5-yr-old leaves when he pees down a hill. The last time the Democrats really did something right, Martin and Bobby were still alive. Now their party doesn’t know what it favors, aside from the party itself. It doesn’t know what it opposes, aside from the other party. And it has no serious people in its political leadership positions — I mean, c’mon, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid? You guys are pulling my lariat, right? You don’t actually expect people to listen to — much less, follow — those 2 nincompoops, do you? (In his defense, Reid is an upgrade over Tom Daschle, but let’s face it, Kenny from South Park would be an upgrade over Tom Daschle.)

Proposals for what the Democratic Party should do are various, but they fall into 2 basic categories: swing to the left, swing to the right (“stand up, sit down, fight fight fight” being what they’re already doing). The really interesting thing is, regardless of which category a given proposal falls into, that proposal’s proponents are starting from the same question: which way should we swing to recapture the most voters?

It is, of course, a silly question. For one thing, the American people are, by and large, sheep. They’ll follow anybody who’ll get out in front of them and act like he knows where he’s going, but if you chase them they just scatter. A large enough number of them to swing an election will buy into any plan or proposal or platform that makes them feel self-confident, feel that things are going to be okay. (Devotees of Ronald Reagan are given to calling this the “man on a white horse” phenomenon. Personally, I hate horses, and white makes me look fat.) That doesn’t mean people will follow someone who tells them we don’t have any problems; they know better. It means they’ll follow anyone who convinces them he or she knows how to fix those problems; they’ll get behind most any solution, so long as they’re persuaded it will make the problems go away. It might not be just, it might not be moral, it might not, in fact, be at all what they want once they have it, but they’re willing to try it. The American people, like most people everywhere, desperately want something to believe in. More than anything, they hate not knowing what to do. When someone comes along and says in a clear, firm, authoritative voice, “Here’s what we’re going to do, and here’s what’s going to happen when we do it,” they listen.

Which brings us to the second reason why the question being asked in Democratic circles these days is a silly one: it’s self-defeating. What the Democrats need is not a new set of more conservative positions, or a new set of more liberal positions. What they need is a set of positions they actually believe in. Do they really believe the decision on whether or not to have an abortion is a decision of private conscience? If so, they should come out strongly for Roe and not apologize for it. Do they really believe it’s inappropriate for a state agency like the public schools to be teaching children to favor one religion over another? If so, they should come out strongly in defense of separation of church and state, and say in a clear, strong voice why they believe it’s important. Do they really believe gays have the same constitutional rights as everyone else, and should be treated equally under the law? If so, they should stand up for those rights and not flinch, not quaver, not budge an inch.

Why do Republicans rule the day in the realm of “moral values?” It’s not because Democrats are on the wrong side of the moral issues. It’s because they’re on no side of the moral issues. The Democratic Party doesn’t appear to truly believe in anything. It seems like American voters favor conservative positions on the culture war issues, but in truth, the conservative positions are simply the only ones they’ve been offered. The Democrats haven’t really stood up for the other side of those issues and said, “Hey, this is right. It might mean some things are going to happen we don’t particularly like, but we don’t always get to make other people do what we want them to do.” If the Democrats don’t believe in their positions, why should the voters believe in them?

So, what’s my prescription for the Democrats? (I’m sure they’re dying to know.) Two things.

First, go somewhere quiet where you can think and reflect seriously about what you value in the American political tradition, what you believe in, and what you believe is wrong. Don’t come out till you have some answers you’re willing to go to the mat for.

Second: until then, roll over and play dead. I’m serious. Let Mr. Bush and the White House neocons and Tom DeLay and James “Roundpants” Dobson have abso-freakin’-lutely anything they want. Every judge, every tax cut, every constitutional amendment (yes, yes, I know, the states will have to ratify, thank God), every war, every abridgment of civil liberties, every intrusion on privacy, every slash in every government program, every deficit-swelling missile system, every corporate welfare program, every cancellation of international treaties, every environmental mess in the making. I can’t think of anything that will dry up electoral support for the America they’re selling faster than making people live in it.

Let the American people have what a majority of them apparently think they want. A big, bitter mouthful of it. And hold their nose and don’t let go till they swallow. They won’t be ready for a second dose for a good, long time. Hopefully, by then, the Democrats will have an actual alternative to offer.