Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Let’s Put Together a Party

Not that kind of party.

Let’s face it, the Democrats’ lackluster attempt to filibuster the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court was a joke. But it serves as yet another opportunity to assess where the Democratic Party is and where it wants to be, now and in the future. And with so many Democrats voting with the Republican majority to confirm Alito after the filibuster threat evaporated, it is critical to realize that the very attributes that could easily make the Democrats the majority party are the same ones that conspire to place it in jeopardy of becoming a near-permanent minority party. Just as Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff, Grover Norquist and Rick Santorum would have it.

The Democratic Party is by nature inclusive, a so-called “Big Tent” (and The Ringmaster loves a Big Tent.) It is a tent filled with a loosely-connected coalition of unionists and scientists, ethnic immigrants and racial minorities, entertainers and environmentalists, students, teachers, pro-choice, pro-peace and pro-equality populists – in short, a large majority of Americans. Yet its support seems evanescent, tentative, shallow: a mile wide and an inch deep. There hasn’t been any life in the party since Bill Clinton’s presidency. Hell, Clinton was the party, or at least the life of it. Then, the clock seemingly struck midnight and the party was pretty much over.

Both Al Gore and John Kerry were dreadful candidates – not only because of their own individual limitations, personality quirks and eccentricities but also by the shortcomings of their party. Ironically, Gore - who actually won the 2000 election before he lost it – and Kerry – who got more votes than any other Democratic presidential candidate in history and also lost – could have won their respective elections but both failed. They failed to connect with voters on a personal level, failed to define themselves, failed to neutralize the labels placed on them by the GOP smear merchants and swift-boaters, and failed to enunciate a vision for the country – because each had none. But this doesn’t explain how the Republican Party - especially this ghastly incarnation of it - whose core support is largely limited to conservative business interests and fundamentalist religious and social ideologues, is able to convince people to vote against their own self-interest and win national elections.

So how does this keep happening? Perhaps Shakespeare put it best: the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.

The same amorphous blob of an alliance that constitutes the Democratic electorate also comprises its elected officials. It is a party so disparate and diffuse in views, it cannot even hold a united front against an illegitimate war, an immoral national budget, a criminally monarchical President or a radical Supreme Court nominee. The party is so unsure of itself that it adopts the slogan, “Together, we can do better”, but can’t define what it does now, let alone what it can do. Better. Together.

As one blogger – Media Girl - noted recently on the website, BlogSheroes:
“What does the Democratic Party stand for, what does it represent, if it can't even put together a coherent message about progressive values, civil rights, human rights and basic equality? What good is a Democratic Party if it won't even stand up to the egregious and offensive push by the now-so-radical Republican Party to regulate one's body and one's bedroom?”
Much will be said and written in the coming months about what the Democrats must do in the 2006 midterm elections to start reversing their recent trend of marginalizing themselves out of power, and I will humbly add my $.02. Paradoxically, however, the way out of the margins is not through the center, but left of it. Just as young students need to master the fundamentals – the ABC’s - and a winning football team has to master the fundamentals - blocking and tackling - so, too, does a political party have to master the fundamentals - appealing and re-appealing to a core group of supporters: its base.

In a post I will put up shortly, I will attempt to remind the Democratic leadership and those empowered to make strategic decisions for the party, about their fundamentals - the ABC’s.