Thursday, July 10, 2008


Wouldn’t you know it? I finish posting yesterday, go to lunch and open up the latest (July/August 2008) copy of “American Prospect”, and what do I find? Paul Starr has an article entitled ‘The Year of Passion’ (page 3). A bright guy with all sorts of proven ability to translate Wonk into decently comprehensible English. But he’s kinda partial to Democrats aka Liberals aka Progressives and can’t often find a downside to whatever that Party produces, from whichever end of itself is in play at the moment.

But sometimes you find the most remarkable straws in the wind of these kind of articles. So it is here today.

In gearing up for unifying the Democrats among themselves before trying to get their hands on fresh voters, he tosses out a quick sketch of Democratic voter-strategy “in recent years” (ummm … 40 years?)

“To appeal to the Reagan Democrats some held that the party needed a candidate who was culturally and religiously close to Middle America.” Well, and that’s where Carter and Clinton came from. Of course, there was no guarantee that the Party was going to actually engage in any constructive dialogue with “Middle America”; the unspoken middle here is that the Party needed to appear like it was ‘concerned’ for Middle America. Something very bad for America began here back then: a major Party’s concern for appearances over substance. A-n-d it would come to be demonstrated that the Party’s ‘substance’ was not only very much against the interests of “Middle America” but that its chosen modus operandi would now be an anti-democratic evasion, even suppression, of frank and candid dialogue with the very citizens whose votes it was trying to get.

Naturally, those folks who were opposed to, uncertain about, or skeptical of the ‘revolution(s)’ that the Party was starting to court like a drunken frat boy at a beach party were all just ‘backlashers’, unenlightened, closet racists, fundamentally rapists, and opposed to progress in general in any shape or form. Ah those were the days! Fresh, clear, concise, and candid political thought and dialogue to meet the challenges of the times.

They weren’t nice people, obviously, if they opposed the Democrats’ multi-headed Thing, la Cosa Democratica, ‘our thing’ as the mobsters used to say. If you didn’t agree with this or that Identity’s programme, or were doubtful as to the efficacy of the relief the Party proposed to meet the ‘emergency’, then you had pretty much defined yourself as evil. And does t-h-i-s sound like a good way to conduct foreign policy? And does it sound kinda familiar? Funny how the day moves, with stuff churned out for domestic consumption migrating unexpectedly to foreign policy … the apprentice sorcerers of the Party proved as inept in their heyday as the hairless, braying neocons who stitched together the Iraq War in those wine-drenched, six-course laboratories ‘inside the Beltway’.

So if they weren’t nice, and indeed had clearly proved themselves evil, then they had to be called some name – isn’t that what kids do on the playground? So ‘Reagan Democrat’ became the approved term of opprobrium to describe a major chunk of the adults in the country; rather than something stodgy, clunky and insensitively accurate such as ‘decent folks who aren’t sure what’s going on with FDR’s party and would like to toss in their two cents’. Hateful, dahlings, simply hateful. My how the unwashed do carry on. We shall no longer let them eat cake.

And so it has come to pass.

But there was another approach Starr recounts. A “populist” strategy would “wage its fight on economic grounds”. Sorta an FDR way to go. But very early on the Democratic pols realized as through a glass darkly that having unleashed all these Identities with their ‘emergencies’ and demands, and having already declared that the whole caboodle represented the classic Democratic push for Future and True Democracy, and was simply a courageous extension of FDR’s New Deal … having set all that in motion, there was no way in hell that any one Party was going to be able to meet all those demands, especially on a basis regular enough to count on the votes and campaign donations. In the old days you could get a bunch of interests, even clashing interests, around a table and everybody gave something to get something. But nowadays, in ze New Amerika, each Identity had a set of demands that were non-negotiable, litmus tests by which each pol, without further ado, was judged to be a sheep or a goat (don’t go anywhere else with that, now .. this is serious).

So the Party had to make a deal with the devil: give the corporations – through their lobbyists – whatever they wanted and receive reliable cash in return through the PACs, while giving the Identities whatever they had to give them as often as they could, and look like they were ‘sensitive’ and ‘concerned’ all the time. The lobbyists blossomed, the PACs blossomed; while the Identities got attention and, especially after the Commies went bye-bye, even law was bent in the favor of this or that demand. Of course, all that brouhaha provided a nice cover for the ‘deregulation’ so dear to the hearts of corporations and the wealthy. But the personal was political, not economic, so nobody noticed.

The media might have, but by permitting an increasing corporatization, the possibility of some enterprising ‘investigative’ reporter blowing the whistle on all of this was minimized. And so ‘investigative’ reporting mostly went away. All this was before 9-11 and before the admittedly puke-making Bush-2 administration.

And there was a third approach, as Starr (stunningly) reveals. “Instead of trying to appeal to voters who had moved right, this approach called for reaching out to millions of nonvoters, many of them minorities, women, and young people.” Well, well. Starr recounts this gently and distantly, as if it t’warn’t such a big thang, and – anyway – happened so long ago that no sane person could get worked up about it now (the very textbook example of Facts On The Ground in its advanced phases).

But it was – and still is – a huge ‘thang’ indeed. No, nothing wrong with the idea of registering voters. But as pro-democracy as it all sounded and – my, my - appeared, the Party undertook this in order to stifle the effects of huge numbers of grown-up and decent voters whom it had accursed and cast into outer darkness. And with ‘Black Power and ‘black rage’ roaring through some groups like a California brush fire, and all-sex-is-rape racing through other groups like a fiery new religion, and youth being as brain-mushy as the young developmentally are … well, this was a recipe for a certain kind of disaster.

And worse. Because Starr immediately goes on to say that “… minorities, women, and young people … simply haven’t seen any connection between politics and their own lives”. What the frak? After 40 years of wandering in the deserts of Democratic pandering, a well-informed, sympathetic author can see this? If a plan hasn’t worked after 40 years … is it possible that the tires should be kicked and the hood looked under, forthwith? And 40 years of huge cost to the country – and in the intangibles far more than the tangibles. Of course, it really hasn’t been ‘politics’ these past 40 years, has it? Not any sort of democratic politics. It’s been a revolutionary politics, or a whole mess of different revolutions’ politics, but it hasn’t been your grandfolks’ politics, not FDR’s politics, not Martin Luther King’s politics, and not really a politics any civics text even today could dare prepare you for. Nope. None of that.

Pity the poor Democrats. If they looked ahead at all, they probably assumed that they would simply be greeted as liberators by sufficient numbers of newly-freed oppressed persons so as to guarantee a Democratic domestic imperium forever and a day. But the oppressed never seemed satisfied, and for every oppressed person to whom you were ‘sensitive’ you pissed off a dozen who felt dissed, and beyond the thousand lakes of the oppressed there was an unfathomable sea of those whom you had really and truly dissed, not only by calling them bad names but by stealthily undercutting not only their right to be heard but their economic security.

So then the Dems found themselves – although I bet they never could admit it themselves – precisely in the position Stalin had presciently avoided: they had backed a revolution but had not immediately and ruthlessly Terrified the populace into accepting it as a good thing, had not immediately and ruthlessly wiped out all but those who held their own interpretation of the revolution.

Worse, they found themselves held hostage by their own creations. What pol now can dare to be seen as ‘being insensitive’ to whatever shrewdly-staged ‘outrage’ this or that Identity chooses to place before a camera? Increasingly whacky sex-offender legislation at all levels of government continue to be passed by majorities surpassing even the post-9/11 war and ‘national security’ legislation that so many legislators now – as if by inadvertence – admit might have needed at least a couple-three minutes’ more perusal.

Maybe they figured that ‘in time’ Time itself would make the problem go away by taking the Reagan Democrats away. After all, if you can’t be seen too obviously breaking eggs, you might simply wait until the eggs rot. How many Americans today can remember when politics was an adult activity (however shady or even indecent)? How many Americans have grown up taking for granted that half the citizenry are probably dangerous sexual aggressors and that knowledge is just a trick played on you by unseen rich people who want to keep you down? How many have grown up thinking that there is actually no ‘word’ that deserves a capital letter (Truth, Justice, even God) and that it’s all a matter of what you want and what you can get here and now? How many think that ‘news’ is somebody saying how terrible they feel on TV, and that ‘whatever’ happens in a wider world beyond that is nothing they can do anything about anyway?

Well, how surprising is it that long before everyone who ‘remembers’ could shuffle off this mortal coil, the Dems now have to cobble together a winning voter-base? Who they gonna call? Their own ‘oppressed’ base was split from the get-go by the incredibly feckless idea that numerous different and/or opposed demands can be magically blended or made to cohere to an extent sufficient to win elections. Untold numbers of more reliable voters were kicked to the curb and now need to be gotten back. Or not – it appears from Starr’s articles that the Dems are still thinking about trying to raise up yet more Identities out of the very ground.

It’s a monstrous problem the Dems have. One they set for themselves decades ago.

What choice doWe have? McCain? A continuation of the Fundamentalist/Bushist Ascendancy?

I’d say that we need to face – and make the Democrats face – just what it is they’ve done; let the sun shine in on all that half-ripe glop they’ve been calling ‘politics’ and ‘liberation’ for 40 years. The Republican decent-adults are so shredded as to be unable to rally in time, and the current Republican macho/neocon/real-men-don’t-apologize method of governance and conducting foreign affairs is too entrenched for that Party to wrest its destiny from them. The Democrats have been as ideologically rigid, although much more ideologically promiscuous, than the Republicans; but at least the Dems haven’t raised rigidity to the level of Masculine/PatrioticVirtue the way the Republicans have.

There’s at least some sort of chance of the Dems being able to platform decent maturity again.

That’s Our best shot, I’d say. Nothing quick or easy about it. But that’s something any grown up could have told Us. And – I believe – a lot of Us still know that, and still remember, and still hold.. It’s time, to borrow a Demmy phrase, to ‘share’.

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