January 24, 2005

The Problem With Democrats

The center-left is completely obsessed with the question of why they lost the elections of 2002 and 2004, what it takes to win again, and how they get back on top. While it's silly to think that after holding the House almost uninterrupted from 1932 to 1994 - nearly six decades in total - the Democrats are suddenly bemoaning the current situation like a pack of spoiled brats, it's not off-base for them to ask why they suck. They do suck, and the reason will not be immediately obvious to them.

The reason they are casting about for any and every solution is because they so thoroughly hate and fear Bush and the GOP. Why is that? The answer is also the first part of the two-part answer they're all looking to find and exploit. They believe their own lies; they believe the propaganda, fear-mongering and negativity they hurl at Bush and conservatives and even often hurl at more bipartisan and conservative Democrats like Lieberman and Zell.

They believe their BS that Bush is going to blow up the world, going to tank the global economy, going to make old people eat dog food, going to bring back segregation and then sharecropping, going to make girls un-enroll in school and go home to cook and wear burqas barefoot, going to let corporations belch forth entirely unnecessary pollution to destroy the environment he hates so much and that he's going to let the rich and the rednecks run the country forever after.

First, how they somehow have combined the rich and powerful CEOs and the dirt-poor trailer-inhabiting rednecks into the same pseudo-conspiracy is a testament to the purely superficial nature of these charges. But they actually believe on some level that these are true. That Bush, who by and large avoids a lot of controversy and sends tons of cash to the mindless government programs Democrats love, is a horrible person and a horrible President. This fear, brought on by their own over-zealous electioneering and pressure groups, is why they can't stomach this election result. They 1) hate that Bush and his friends beat them (though Bush is frankly a more moderate Republican on almost all issues than even most GOP Senators) and they 2) can't believe somebody they 'knew' was so horrible could beat them.

So part one of the two-part answer: they believe their own propaganda. Propaganda, both the true and the untrue, is a part of politics and often a useful and necessary part. But if they can't separate from that and realize that they need to be at least somewhat open to working with the White House and ignore the crazy nuts on the fringe, then they're screwed. They can't flirt with Michael Moore when he says things like there is no terrorist threat (he equates it to auto accidents, I believe) and they can't get mixed up with the idea that Bush knew about 9-11 or that Israel knew or that the attacks were faked in whole or in part.

Michael Moore sat right next to Jimmy Carter on primetime TV. More than that, Democrats and Kerry didn't seem to ever explicitly distance themselves from Moore when he said his kookier stuff (his movie Fahrenheit 9/11 basically said Bush and the Republicans were Orwellian fascists). The people who did trash Moore from the center-left were either small potatoes or Bush-voters like Zell. Now Zell got trashed by the Democratic talking points, but Moore didn't. When Democratic proxies, pundits and so forth got on the news they would either ignore Moore or defend him to some degree. This is symptomatic of the left's problem separating from its rhetoric.

Of course, there were also a lot of problems relating to the war - unfounded charges of profiteering, widespread charges of intentional, grand deception that weren't satisfactorily proven, and of the not-rare-enough instances of Moore and others actually siding with the Iraqi insurgents. The Democrats, especially Kerry and Terry McAuliffe, did not do enough to distance themselves from the radicals. They didn't have to be part of it, they just weren't on the other side of it. Their silence meant something - it allowed the protesting far-left to think they were marginally better than Bush and the GOP. But it also meant something to voters in the middle, who saw that Kerry wasn't entirely shutting down the loonies to his left.

Believing their own lies let them think that people gave a damn about silly French theories that 9-11 was faked, that the war was entirely fought for oil, that Bush was going to invade another dozen countries, and that he was evil incarnate. If they had been more objective - able to judge their message, propaganda and PR from an outside perspective - then they might have realized that they need to step away from that stuff and prove that the Democrats could be patriotic without being conservative or moderate. They might have tried to build a more principled, better-defined policy path instead of fluctuating between appealing to the anti-war left and appealing to the pro-war center.

Even worse, they were and many still are convinced that running out, yelling loudly and being extreme somehow equates to being principled. Just because you're loud, proud and unique doesn't make your principled. They confused extremism with standing up bravely for their principles.

The second part stems from the first. They refuse to see anything but their own propaganda, and then often a relatively raw version of it. This has blocked them from getting new ideas. Why do they need a plan to reform Social Security? It's fine! For education, their plan is to throw more money at it and maybe to equalize funding - hardly a new idea. For almost everything, they are rehashing unorigtinal, uninspired ideas that mostly involve more money, more bureaucrats and more commissions to talk about hiring more bureaucrats to spend more money.

The good ideas have come from the center-right - their think tanks, their politicians, their proxies. Vouchers and health savings accounts are two of the most innovative examples, but there are many others. The Republicans have good, original ideas to present in addition to their tried and true staples like defense spending, tax cuts and ending abortion. The Democrats just aren't the party of ideas; most of their ideas are already in place.

They are reduced to just augmenting the status quo. More money to the same educational system, more government spending on the same health care system, more money routed to the same military and police forces, more money sent to local fire and police, more money sent to environmental clean-up and oversight, more money money spent on all the things they think people like.

The Democrats are a shopping list, not a political party.

Each item on the list represents a pressure group, a social demographic or a retort to Republican policies. The result is that they just spend money in place of instituting any real reforms.

They're stuck peddling their bad ideas and their silly propaganda because they think it's the honest truth. This is blocking them from getting new ideas and fresh blood, since they thought the old ones were so correct. The base thinks that more energy is the same thing as more principled, so that's what the left will go and do unless the center-left of the Democrats manage to grab hold and make a new direction.

The Democrats need to build up their think tanks, need to encourage new ideas, need to stop name-calling about those with different opinions on race, religion, economy and society, and need to come up with a platform that's more than just spending priorities.


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