Saturday, June 25, 2005

Democrats Drop the Ball

I wish that the Democratic elite would stop being "outraged" by the Bush administration and start honing our own critical edge.Chuck Shumer, Joe Conason, and a cast of hundreds of Democrats were sputtering over Karl Rove's claim that the Dems would have advocated therapy for bin Laden after 9-11. But, they exclaimed, "I'm FROM New York." "We were OUTRAGED by the attack on the twin towers." "We were WITH George Bush in the days after 9-11." "It was Rove who turned the war against terrorism into a war against Democrats. That's what's unpatriotic." Conason argues that current poll numbers mean that Rove is speaking from a position of weakness and that the Republicans are in trouble.The Republicans are certainly failing. Because of the Bush administration's fantastic misjudgments, the American military has been stalemated by the insurgents. The economy limps somewhere between mild progress and stagnation. Unemployment isn't bad, but profits aren't very good. The DOW has never made it back to its 2000 peak. Nasdaq is currently at 40% of its peak. Republicans are under attack for corruption at the national level and state levels. And it looks like John McCain is going to take a shot at the Republican Right during the 2008 primaries.And what do those Democrat leaders do? Do the Dems have a position on the future of Iraq other than we shouldn't have gone to war in the first place? No? Have the Democrats held the Bush administration accountable for its tactical blunders? No? Do the Democrats have a position on the economy? No! The list of No's goes on. What really gets the Democratic leadership is strong speech by either side. Rather than add to Dean's fire, the Democratic Congressional leaders pooh-poohed Dean's partisanship. Then they let Dick Durbin twist in the wind. Now, they're outraged by Karl Rove.But Rove has their number. Not only has Rove beaten the Dems two elections in a row with first a fairly weak candidate and then a failed president, he knows that the Democratic leadership is not a strong group. And he knows where they're not strong. So, Conason is wrong when he claims that Rove is speaking from weakness when he makes fun of the Democrats for not being tough enough. To the contrary, Rove is speaking from the great strength of the 30-35% of the electorate that take the weakness of white Democrats as an article of faith. Until we realize the extent to which people think this, we aren't going to get anywhere.Why do people think that white Democrats and liberals are weak?Partly, it's a matter of associating the broad principles of liberals with weakness. Liberals are reluctant to go to war, try to empathize with non-whites, poor people, accused criminals, and people in non-Western nations, and support for gay rights and women's rights. Being bigoted to the bottom of their tippy toes, conservatives interpret most of these positions as effeminate weakness. So, somebody like Rove is speaking from a powerful (if extremely mistaken) faith when he treats the Democrats as weak on this score. This doesn't mean that we can't answer people like Rove, but it does mean that he is speaking with authenticity.Rove's contempt for Democratic principles resonates with Republican constituencies. What gives Rove's comments real bite, however, is that Democratic leaders waffle so much in relation to those principles. Democratic leaders are unimaginative, weak, and uncertain in promoting liberal principles and Democratic Party constituencies. To give one example, Kerry was very weak on abortion during the second debate and I know some people who voted for Bush because of that. Same with just about every other issue. The Democratic leadership can effectively obstruct when they're opposing the latest right-wing outrage. However, the Democrats waffle horribly on gay rights, racial issues, support for unions, victim's rights v the rights of the accused and so on. Given the limitations of the Democratic leadership, Rove is credible when he pronounces liberals weak.The second area of weakness is that the Democratic Party is afflicted by a moderate DLC wing that considers liberals their primary enemy and Republican policies as a model to be emulated. Support from big business gives the DLC a bigger voice than it would otherwise merit and the constant carping of the DLC and moderates like Mickey Kaus against any effort to define a party position creates both the image and the substance of weakness.A third area of weakness is that the Democratic leadership and Democratic-leaning journalists do not return Republican and conservative fire. This can be seen in the response to Rove. Rove claimed that the Democrats wanted to give al-Qaida therapy rather than hunt them down and kill them. Democrats like Conason have been offended and outraged, but they have not returned fire at all. Why can't somebody say that the Bush administration has been acting as al-Qaida's no. 1 recruiter--first by the pointless invasion of Iraq, second by the promotion of torture in the Gonzales memos, third by the "take every man of military age" tactics of the military sweeps, and fourth by the outlaw conduct of the facilities at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Democratic elites don't have the imagination to respond to Rove and the Bush administration this way and they don't appear to have the backbone for the ensuing media firestorm that would result. This is where Rove has a real point about the weakness of the Democrats. People like Rove and Cheney have the guts to tell outrageous lies and defend them. Our ineffective Democratic and liberal elites don't even have the courage to tell the truth. Sometimes, I think they would rather avoid thinking about it.


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