Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What's the Matter With Democrats?

Surveys consistently show that Americans agree more with Democrats than Republicans on major issues facing our country. And if it accomplished nothing else, the George W. Bush administration proved that Democrats can govern more effectively than Republicans.

So why do Democrats lose way more elections than they should? And why do those Democrats who do win struggle to consolidate their holds on political power?

David Michael Green, a professor of political science at Hofstra University and author of the blog The Regressive Antidote, provides a compelling answer: Democrats have forgotten how to be tough.

In a post titled "The Perils of Passivity," Green says he wants to laugh/cry every time he hears a right-winger portray Barack Obama, Harry Reid, or Nancy Pelosi as a hard-nosed, scary type. Writes Green:

It’s really astonishing, because I can hardly think of three wimpier or more politically anemic drenched noodles than these Democratic buffoons, along with the rest of their pathetic pity party. And also because America actually has had some pretty tough progressives in its history. Harry Truman would eat Harry Reid for breakfast, and still be hungry again before lunch. Lyndon Johnson could teach Barack Obama a few (thousand) things about how to move a legislative agenda through a balky Congress, and it wouldn’t involve getting his ass kicked by Joe Lieberman, I can tell you that. Franklin Roosevelt would surely be able to school Nancy Pelosi on the fine points to national leadership.

When did Democrats become wimps, and what has it meant to our country? Green has some ideas:

Democrats have been playing the weakness game for nearly a half-century now, ever since Johnson was driven from office in 1968. That has meant very bad things for the country, which has now been all but completely captured by economic oligarchs, via their wholly-owned human levers in both parties.

What is more remarkable is what it has meant for the Democratic Party, which seems incapable of being assertive even when it comes to preserving its own interests. And what it has meant for the Democrats is more or less that they lose elections, except when the default governing party of the GOP screws up so badly that the public has no other choice than to go with the feeble ones for a while. Republicans then get a few years to rehabilitate themselves, during which time they incessantly shred the Dems from the sidelines, and then the cycle begins anew.

It boggles the mind that the Republican Party, in its current pathological form, remains a contender at all, Green writes:

It absolutely defies the imagination that the Republican Party hasn’t been sentenced to death by hanging, drawing and quartering after the crimes of the last decade. But no, remarkably, they are in the midst of an amazing revitalization now, courtesy of their aggressive deceits and the utter capitulation of the party nominally in charge.

Why have Democrats been incapacitated by weakness? Green provides some disturbing answers:

There are three things that Democrats absolutely don’t understand about the notion of assertive leadership. First, if you don’t do it, you won’t achieve anything. The American political system, as created by the Founders, is designed to produce utter stasis, the only exception being, well, exceptional moments. Second, no one will follow you, if you don’t lead. Leadership is crucial to substantive achievements, but it also has its own intrinsic rewards. People want to be led, and they want to believe in their leaders. Indeed, they will follow strong leaders, like Ronald Reagan for example, even when they disagree with their politics. On the other hand, if you project fecklessness, they will tend to despise you, sometimes even though they like your ideas.

Finally, if Democrats don’t lead, the aggressive ogres in the opposition who care not the least about the corrosive effects of deceit and destruction on the institutions of democracy will go ahead and define you to the country, and not in a pretty way either. Sound familiar?

The latest example, Green writes, came when the Obama administration was slow to react to news that a terrorist had tried to bring down an airliner headed for Detroit:

So what happened next? What else would happen in an American political system populated by vicious Republicans and pathetic Democrats? The GOP thugs came out swinging, attacking the Obama administration for being weak on national security. It reminds me precisely of what Bush did. No, I mean what his father did. No, I mean what Reagan did. No, it’s what Nixon did. No wait, wasn’t this McCarthy’s stock trick? Get it? This is not exactly cutting edge, newfangled politics in America, though you’d never know it watching Democrats deal with this stuff.

Led by former vice president Dick Cheney, wingers used the opportunity--and a slight vacuum--to fill the airwaves with all kinds of lies and distortions. And Green writes that, sadly, this toxic stew probably worked, with Democrats allowing it to happen:

The point of all this is that the radical right’s arguments about national security this week are entirely absurd, and that’s on a good day. Most of the rest of the time they are completely contradictory and utterly hypocritical.

But this kind of thing goes on all the time. Obama is labeled a big spender for trying to use Keynesian tactics to rescue the economy from the disaster bequeathed us by a regressive goon who doubled the size of the national debt in just eight years. Democrats are called socialists for adding 35 million instant coerced customers to private insurance rolls, rather than creating a public healthcare plan, like just about every other developed country in the world. Obama is supposedly weak on national defense, according to the folks who ran two wars against third world countries right out of the tenth century, and succeeded in getting nowhere almost a decade later, while the US military is spent and the national treasury depleted.

It’s unreal. But worst of all, this stuff actually gets traction. Loads of it. Tens of millions of Americans swallow it whole, and many more are added to the ranks every day.

These are the wages of wimpiness. These are the perils of passivity.

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