A good friend sent me a link to a recent segment from The Daily Show that she thought segued nicely with my op-ed on the Democrats. Indeed, the segment essentially mirrors my argument: that for the past year the Democrats, rather than acting like a party swept into office by an immense popular mandate for reform, have been cowering like a bunch of marginalized, impotent pantywaists. So where’s my cut of the scriptwriting money?
This same friend, though--and she's not alone--has also challenged my analysis of the Democrats’ woes, suggesting that my indictment is too extreme, too sweeping. Is it, these friends have asked, the Democratic Party as a whole that has failed to live up to its promises, or is it certain rancorous elements within the Party—Joe Lieberman and the so-called “Blue Dogs” most prominently—who have derailed what the Party leadership might otherwise have sought to achieve?
Now, I’d be the first to agree that my analysis was anything but nuanced. I’ve never considered the op-ed form (or the blog form, for that matter) a place for hedging and niceties. But above and beyond the expectations of the form, I believe there is considerable value in radical analyses (in the root sense of “radical,” which means, in fact, “root”): analyses grounded not in the often distracting complexities and elaborations of the quotidian world but in first principles, in the solid substratum of what the writer takes to be the truth. The Democrats’ failure, I believe, is at root a failure of such principles, a concession to Beltway business-as-usual. And if so, then applying a Beltway analysis to this failure will not get us very far in breaking the paralyzing stalemate in which the Party currently finds itself.
Let’s consider, in this light, the Party’s treatment of the rogue Lieberman. A perfectly simple solution to his antics has presented itself all along, and if the Party leadership had the slightest notion of core principles it would have put this solution immediately into effect: call the silly monkey’s bluff. Let him caucus with the Republicans, participate in their filibusters, obstruct the reformist agenda the electorate who put his party in power charged that party to carry out. Let him hoist himself on his own petard. And then let him explain to the people why he was the one who took it upon himself to hijack their demands and their dreams. He wouldn’t have dared.
The Blue Dogs are a similar story. It serves their purposes very well, of course, to represent themselves as the true core of the Democratic Party, the “moderate” core, the “centrist” core, even the conservative core. But begging their pardon, that’s a bunch of bull. The Democratic Party’s core is no more conservative than the Republican Party’s core is liberal—the only difference is that the Republican Party recognizes this, and pursues an extreme right-wing agenda with scant regard for the naysayers among its ranks. The Republicans give those folks a place at the table, I suppose. But they don’t let them carve up the pie and shove it down everyone else’s face.
Without principles, without convictions, without courage, without vision, without conscience, no political party can hope to achieve anything of value or import. There has always been a deep well of populist, collectivist, socialist radicalism in this country, and when it gathers itself and comes to a full awareness of its power, it rocks the world: in the New Deal, in the Civil Rights and antiwar era, in the environmentalist movement, in the birth of labor unionism, in the kind of social collectivism toward which the ideal of universal health care points. In the past century, the Democrats have proved best able to tap this radicalism, to recognize it, energize it, call its core principles to light and fruition. That the very party that should be embracing, defending, and advocating such principles is now in full flight from them exposes the hollow charade the Democratic Party has become.
Should the Democrats ever come into full self-possession and self-consciousness, should they ever recover the root principles on which they rely, they might yet be what they should be. Failing that, they will remain what they are: a rudderless motley of hacks and masochists, a disgrace to the very legacy they should claim as their own.