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RENDEZVOUS WITH LUNACY
By David Podvin
Today, I claim intellectual superiority over one man, and one man only. I am deeply ashamed to admit that guy is not George W. Bush - it is Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, who is pictured above with me shortly after we heard the depressing news that the Republicans had taken control of Congress (I’m the debonair one, ladies. Please restrain yourselves - no marriage proposals).
On August 5, 2001, MakeThemAccountable posted the following: “A sparsely covered story might turn out to be the most foreboding development of this very sad week. Current Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said that the party needs to change its philosophy in order to appeal to Southern voters who are more culturally and religiously conservative.
When McAuliffe was appointed to lead the Democrats, Rush Limbaugh said that he was ‘a dangerous and evil man who was out to destroy the Republican Party’. This seemed to confirm that the new chairman must be a wonderful human being. However, McAuliffe’s recent statement proves once again that Democrats (not named Clinton) who are placed in positions of party leadership immediately go senile. His plan to reshape the party with the intention of winning the South is a formula for failure on a grand scale.”
This was not a forecast that required clairvoyance or, for that matter, sobriety. The observation is recounted solely to emphasize that, even from out here in the boondocks, it was painfully obvious what was going to happen. Why would voters choose a phony right wing Republican over the real thing? What made McAuliffe and Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt believe that rural conservative whites would choose warmongering Democratic slaves to Corporate America over warmongering Republican slaves to Corporate America? When I want to vote for a warmongering corporate slave, I always vote Republican.
The most recent Democratic travesty dates back to a precise moment in time: May 23, 2001. On that day, twelve Democratic senators voted to defund the Democratic agenda on which they had been elected. They supported the Bush scheme to award most of the Clinton surplus to wealthy Republicans. From that time forward, the game plan was to protect the Dirty Dozen from the embarrassment that would come with exposing the moral bankruptcy of Bush economics. The Democratic Party refused to advocate the Democratic economic platform and, in the process, lost credibility with its own voters. Now it has also lost many of the Quislings who supported the tax heist, which means that the party discarded principle in exchange for failure.
These shrewd tacticians can’t even master the concept of expediency. The entire strategy of groveling before Bush was lunacy and, on Election Day, the loons came home to roost. But even that hasn’t registered. After the election, McAuliffe appeared on television and declared, "Tonight was a good night for Democrats.” He’s learned nothing from this disaster. If Democrats fail to demand his departure, then neither have we.
The other foreseeable aspect of this electoral disgrace was posted on MakeThemAccountable on June 30 of this year: “An ominous phenomenon that reared its ugly head during the G.O.P. sweep of 1994 appears to have returned. In that year, when Newt Gingrich and the cave dwellers gained power, the decisive factor was not level of support. It was intensity of support. Simply put, the folks who want to pass laws sanctifying fetuses voted, while those who want to pass laws providing health care to children stayed home.
The Battleground 2002 poll released Tuesday reveals that the African American foundation of the Democratic Party base has little enthusiasm for the midterm elections. By contrast, the Religious Right is all sexed up and anxious to goosestep to the polls in a show of gratitude to their leaders for slashing civil liberties and tearing away at the social safety net. As in 1994, the intensity of support among the major parties’ respective core supporters favors the Republicans.”
I am not an astute observer of the political scene – I am merely an embittered observer. Yet despite being a rank political amateur, I am able to understand that the path to power does not consist of alienating people who are willing to vote for you in order to ingratiate yourself to people who are unwilling to vote for you. The current Democratic leadership just can't seem to comprehend this most important concept.
It is true that the Republicans had a huge monetary advantage, and that they chased minorities away from the polls, and that they view election laws as obstacles to be circumvented, and that the mainstream media was biased in its support for them, but none of that is ever going to change. If the Democrats are to be successful, they must resist the urge to externalize the blame. The slow motion disintegration of the national Democratic Party is not a function of evil conservatives or the whorish media; it is self-inflicted damage. The hemorrhaging will not be halted by a favorable set of news events – the change must come from within.
The first step on the road to recovery for the Democratic Party is to admit there is a problem. After accepting responsibility, the next crucial step is to grasp the much admired Podvin Immutable Law Of Politics™:
When your supporters don’t vote for you, then you
There is no brilliant strategy – even total capitulation – that will ever change this calculus. Rank and file Democrats were given only one reason to rush out to the polls – the horrifying specter of total Republican government control - and it wasn’t enough. Many Democrats also needed a positive reason to vote. ANY positive reason would have enabled more Senate Democrats to remain in office. A strong and courageous stand on ANYTHING would have inspired a greater turnout among the base.
Walter Mondale had less than a week to campaign, and no money. He was stripped of the Wellstone sympathy vote by a cynical conservative hysteria campaign. Apparently, right-wingers believe that it is depraved to use a memorial service to advocate that the deeply held beliefs of the deceased should live on. And yet, running as an unapologetic opponent of Bush against an extremely well funded foe, Mondale nearly pulled it off. The corporate media will paint the Minnesota race as a defeat for liberalism, but - as always - they are wrong. The old warrior had everything going against him, and he still almost won.
If I know my Senate Democrats – and, regrettably, I do – the message they will take from Tuesday’s debacle is that America prefers conservative Republicans. They will deduce that their political survival depends on moving closer to Bush. Of course, exactly the opposite is true. The Democrats who moved closest to Bush are now unemployed. Democratic political survival depends on persuasively pointing out that Bush is a corrupt liar who governs by screwing over the average citizen for the benefit of the corporations that govern this land of the free.
Agonizing defeat can lead to positive change. After decades of tolerating Congressional setbacks, the Republicans finally got tired of losing. They tossed out the inert Bob Michel and regained control of the House behind someone who desperately wanted to win: Newt Gingrich. Terry McAuliffe and Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt are the Democratic versions of Michel; they are ineffectual little lambs easily led to the slaughter. They could not even hold their own in an off-year election against the party of a blatantly incompetent president who allowed America to be terrorized, and who was personally involved in corporate scandals, and who presided over a recession, and who turned a massive budget surplus into a massive budget deficit, and who oversaw a rising rate of violent crime. The Democratic Party lost seats when Clinton was succeeding, and it has lost seats while Bush is failing. The agony should now be sufficiently intense to motivate change.
The Democrats were dealt a strong hand in 2002, and they folded. It is time for those who are responsible for this latest electoral calamity to leave – voluntarily or otherwise - and be replaced by people who are committed champions of the Democratic base. The right-wing Democratic Leadership Council and its Marie Antoinette economic policies should also be sent packing.
Abandonment of stated principles and unilateral surrender have now officially been discredited as tactics for regaining Democratic control of Congress. It is time for new party leaders to try a different approach, like treating their voters with respect. Bush and the Republican base have a symbiotic relationship – he attends to their concerns, and they respond by faithfully supporting the G.O.P. This intriguing arrangement might well serve as a useful model for the Democratic Party.
Rank and file Democrats are despondent because their party keeps losing without putting up a fight, but the gloom can be lifted immediately. By selecting leaders who pledge to spend the next two years proudly working to defend the interests of the base against the Republican majority, the party will begin its comeback. Democrats across America are eager to fight for their principles, and a partisan resistance movement to enthusiastically defy the extremist agenda of the right wing would inspire great devotion.
The Democratic march to victory in 2004 will start right after McAuliffe and Daschle and Gephardt are replaced by people who understand that being prostrate is not a winning stance. There should soon be a clue as to whether things are going to improve. The rumored replacement of Gephardt with Nancy Pelosi would be an important step in the right direction. The rumored replacement of Gephardt with Martin Frost would be another leap toward political oblivion.
My favorite saying – for reasons people who’ve seen me find hard to fathom – is that beauty is only skin deep. If the Democrats select principled leadership, then all of the anger and frustration after the next election will be felt by the hideous people who truly deserve to be miserable – people like George W. Bush and Trent Lott and Tom DeLay.
The ones whose repulsive ugliness is on the inside.
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