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February 01, 2005

The "For Something" Trap

I'm rapidly losing patience with the "Dems need to stand for something" trope, the one usually offered by kindly conservatives in the context of well-meaning advice. This week, the guidance was proffered by QandO's Dale Franks, and it's springboard is a Christian Science Monitor editorial that worries itself sick over the Reid-led move towards opposition party. The criticism follows the usual trajectory, a graceful arc from sadness over the failing opposition party to invocation of the now-unemployed Tom Daschle who, the writer predictably writes, would be glad to tell you how well this opposition party stuff works out. Too bad such a fun to write post is so intellectually bankrupt.

Tom came from a crimson state that voted for President Bush in overwhelming numbers, so maybe if you're from Dubya country you might not want to be the nation's highest profile opponent of his policies. And I'm sure that's exactly what he'd tell you if you went to his door and asked, rather than simply imagined the conversation onto your keyboard. As for Reid and the Dems? They don't stand for anything? Really? Not even the 10 Leadership Bills that they unveiled last week as the centerpiece of their legislative agenda? Or did you just not take the time to look?

If the Dems really were a bunch of idealess naysayers whose only use in life was implying things about Bush's nominees, I'd wholeheartedly jump on the "they suck' bandwagon. But it's just not true. What is true is that they are a minority party subject to the whims of a hyper-partisan majority that has choked off every opportunity for the Democrats to put forth an affirmative agenda. The evidence of the Republican Party's near-despotic rule over the House, and to a lesser extent the Senate, is voluminous and outrageous. Democrats can't bring bills to the floor, Hastert won't put legislation up for vote unless a majority of Republicans support it (a stark contrast with the bipartisan vote-counting of certain Clinton-era policies), Democrats are denied the judicial courtesies they offered Republicans, DeLay regularly augments egregiously conservative portions of bills when he finds they gain too much Democratic support, and so forth. This is a public strategy aimed at painting the Democrats a wholly negative, unproductive party. But, as with so many PR efforts, it's relation to the truth is creative.

Fact is, Democrats have a publicly accessible legislative agenda that they're simply being barred from pursuing. They asked perfectly reasonable questions of Bush's nominees, queries that are all the more essential considering the mess these folks made of the last four years (does anyone really believe that the country was well-served by ignoring the August 6th PDB or the Geneva Convention?). And Republican dominance, for its part, is directly traceable to the determined bomb-throwing and demagoguery of that consummate oppositionist, Newt Gingrich. You tell me -- did it hurt them in the long run?

I don't fault the Republicans for misrepresenting the facts, they're a political party focused on consolidating their power. I blame the pundits, editorialists, reporters and writers who don't do the reporting or questioning that'd lead this absurd meme to disintegrate. And that goes for normally freethinking guys like Dale over at QandO, who must know better and, if they don't, damn well should.

February 1, 2005 in Democrats, Republicans | Permalink

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» Double-Edged Ideas from QandO
Ezra Klein responded by noting that the Democrats do have ideas, and noting "the 10 Leadership Bills that they unveiled last week". The Democrats, Ezra points out, do have an agenda...they're just unable to move it forward, because Republicans "won't put [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 3, 2005 11:40:30 AM

Comments

Thanks for the reality check on the 'party with no ideas' meme. I think the whining is supposed to stop officially on Groundhog Day...

Posted by: pat | Feb 1, 2005 4:13:48 PM

I buy into Dean's thing about not being Republican-lite. If for no other reason than the fact that if you are Rep-lite, then you're just a Democrat by name and not substance. Moreover, the Republicans used their very own Republican-lites to stand under the spotlight at their Convention back in August: Rudy, Arnold, and Zell Miller. The Republicans, at least partly, sell the Republican-lite image to the electorate and then shove their idealogical agendas through the backdoor. Yes, of course, this is not the whole story, but I believe it accounts for a large portion. A big problem for Kerry wasn't that he was too liberal, rather, I'd bet that most everyday people - those citizens whose daily lives are not consumed by politics - couldnt' differentiate Kerry from Bush. Many, if asked, would probably have responded that they "just don't see a difference." When Bruce Springsteen began his career, his record company was compelling him to become the next Bob Dylan and a few records later they were about to drop him. But guess what he did, he finally said, "Fuck you, I want to sing rock and roll," and we all know the history from there. Why the hell would you buy a Bruce Springsteen album that was trying to mimic Bob Dylan when you could buy Bob Dylan?

Democrats are currently an opposition party, by definition, and the correct course of action is to embrace that stance and charge forth. When Condi takes the stand, you call her on her misleading, when conservative activist judges are nominated you condemn their crooked positions, etc. If anything, the Democrats have acted too timidly and too polite. I do not suggest that they too start to misrepresent realities and succomb to ideological fantasties. They need to be more vocal, they need to call out the Republican party's mishaps more often and more vigoursly, they need to raise their voices because if they don't then, as Ezra alludes to by describing the Republicans' vice-grip controll over avenues of power, who the hell will and what will impede their agenda?

Posted by: steve C | Feb 1, 2005 4:25:34 PM

The important thing is for the Democrats not to allow the desperation of their predicament to move them to a point where they feel that abandoning reality is a good strategy, even if they feel that reality is hidden. The scary thing about this movement towards a national mentality that we need "strong" leadership is that it's very characteristic of the Middle East. The Democrats, as a political party, are America's only hope right now against falling completely into a Middle East mindset that we're constantly under threat from the rest of the world and can't be rational. Delving into unnecessary paranoia and underhanded tactics about the power of Republicans just perpetuates the problem.

The key is to be able to make the case that when the mistakes made by the Bush Admin begin to take hold, the Democrats have to be able to convince people that they are Bush's fault, and not because of the "liberals". Not an easy task, but if self-proclaimed liberals do irrational things, it gets even harder.

If anything, inspiration should come from our founding fathers. In standing against the British establishment, they never abandoned reason and they won their battle. Progressives can win today as well.

Posted by: thehim | Feb 1, 2005 5:58:49 PM

The truly bizarre thing about recriminations after elections is that every party that loses a Presidential election (God forbid they aren't in power in Congress, but any Democrat knows this still occurs) is said to be listless, bereft of ideas and in grave trouble electorally. God, I wish I had the time and effort to show op-eds from the early 90s concerning the "decrepit" Republican party, or the same in 1984 or 1988 concerning the Dems.

I've seen these articles after almost every damn election cycle in my life, save 2000.

Let's focus on where we are compared to 2002. We proved we can raise money without dependence on corporate donations and we did prove there *are* Democrats that aren't going to be pushed around. Further, there is a proven marketplace for "liberal" opinions (book sales, Stewart's show, Air America, etc...).

We're not dead yet and, yeah, we do have a good message that has a lot of resonance in coming years. Yeah, we have to wait for the other side to overplay their hand, but EVERY party out of party has to wait for that.

Yeesh -- I'm tired of kicking ourselves. Let's stop obsessing about ourselves and go after the other side.

Posted by: Chris Rasmussen | Feb 1, 2005 8:21:43 PM

In the tirade above, replace "EVERY party out of party" with "every party out of power."

Posted by: Chris Rasmussen | Feb 1, 2005 8:22:27 PM

Great post, Ezra - it seems that the while the Republicans are painting the Dems as obstructionist because they are opposing, well, their opposition, the Republican party itself is obstructing our democracy.

Posted by: maurinsky | Feb 1, 2005 11:56:47 PM

To even suggest there is the slightest similarity between Reid's style and Daschle's just astounds me.

I'll take Harry Reid and his war room mentality ANYDAY over Daschle. I think even though Daschle is from a RED state - if he were more like Reid 2-3 years ago - he'd still be in the senate....

AND you think Alberto Gonzales has a great American story? Try this about Reid:

He is the son of an alcoholic gold miner who killed himself. His mother did laundry for, in Reid's words, "houses of ill repute."

The whole story here http://slate.msn.com/id/2111392/

Go Harry - and Go Ezra.

Posted by: Wayne | Feb 2, 2005 8:17:16 AM

WHEN DOING GOOD IS BAD
L.K. Samuels

Isn't it always GOOD to help an orphanage, hospital, or church? Isn't it always GOOD to provide food, money and volunteer time for such worthy endeavors? What could possibly be considered BAD about helping noble institutions? It happens when free choice is replaced by violence and coercion. GOOD becomes BAD when people are physically forced to provide charity at the point of a gun instead of from the warmth of the heart. Many people assume that if the ends are GOOD and noble, the means do not matter; murder or robbery are permissible if the end result is GOOD. But do the "ends" really justify the "means?"*

By this way of thinking, the State can force citizens to do anything, if the overall result would be a better society. But what happens when we put this into personal terms? What if armed men came into your home each day to force you to work at an orphanage, hospital or church? Would you feel grateful? Or would you feel abused and that an injustice had been committed? Most individuals would be resentful.

Generally, people want the right to give personal consent. They want to determine what they do with their time and their lives. Anything else would seem unjust. But what about the unfortunate? Why cannot society forcibly take money from its citizens, or kidnap people or even murder them in the name of the unfortunate? Why cannot we hurt others for the GOOD of all? Because someone's GOOD deed is another's BAD misdeed. Is this possible? Could anyone justify cold-blooded murder as a GOOD deed? Many serial killers believe that they have helped society in some fashion ("missionary" killers who want to cleanup society). And what about the Nazi (National Socialist) program to gas and incinerate seven million Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and others? Most would agree that this was a BAD act, but Hitler and his administration considered it a GOOD government policy.

Unfortunately, governments often sanction any violent act to accomplish what they perceive to be a GOOD deed, contending in an egocentric way that they are right and everyone else is wrong; and therefore everyone must participate. In truth, a particular governmental program may indeed be important, even helpful. But the GOOD end achieved is not the point. Forcing others to do your bidding is BAD. Nobody's pet project is more important than another person's life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

The question becomes: who is to determine what is GOOD? Is it government? Or should it belong to individuals? The libertarian viewpoint is explicit. Only individuals can determine what is GOOD for them. Sure, they can make mistakes, but the only parties harmed are themselves. What happens when the State makes mistakes as it attempts to practice GOODNESS? How many people are harmed? Often, great multitudes of citizens. When the state attempts to do GOOD, it is done on a gigantic scale. Almost everyone is affected. Most are forced to pay and conform to a program that may or may not do the GOOD that was originally intended. And considering that governments worldwide are directly responsible for the death of up to 1/4 billion people in the 20th Century (wars, mass executions, genocides, forced starvation, political purges, Gulag, ad nauseam), should we expect government to do any GOOD at all?
*Machiavelli (1469-1527) coined the phrase "the ends justify the means."

FREEDOM WATCH
P.O. Box 22231, Carmel, CA 92922 * lawsamz@hotmail.com
Website: www.freedom1776.com

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