Thursday, March 31, 2005

Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated

It has become fashionable of late to report on the death of the democratic party. Both sides of the aisle spent much of the last five months trying to explain not only how the democrats lost the election but how dead the party is. The democrats wring their hands and talk about having the wrong “narrative” (hint: when you start using words like narrative to explain how you got your ass kicked, you’re looking in the wrong place). The conservatives laugh and kick them a few more times for good measure. At least the conservatives are more self aware. They know they’re a bunch of slathering goons. They revel in it. They’re like Tommy and Jimmy and Henry Hill, sitting around the bar with the rest of the goodfellas alternately exploding in a terrifying frenzy of violence and then joking about it. Yes, life is pretty good on that side of the aisle.

On the other side you have democrats cowering in the corner saying “please, don’t hit me” whenever the Republicans get up on an issue. They don’t dare go after them on Terri Schiavo because they’ll look insensitive and cruel. They’ll roll over on the bankruptcy bill because they have to pick their fights carefully. Only on social security have they shown any spine, but it is the spine of a wounded animal backed into a corner by a pack of ravening wolves. They are fighting because social security is the cornerstone of the New Deal. It is their heart and soul. They are fighting for their lives. Impending extinction will bring even the most craven of cowards to life once in awhile. A few people, like Bill Bradley--check out his op-ed piece in yesterday's (March 30) New York Times--have some good ideas, but mostly they just run around like scraming five year olds in a school yard who have just had their collective lunch money stolen.

Which brings me back to the republicans, gloating over their new found power. The conservatives have managed to convince not only centrist republicans but also democrats that 20% of voters using “moral issues” as a reason to vote somehow gives them a mandate for wholesale social change after an election that was decided by one percentage point. The Christians feel the end times are finally near. The Hawks are jumping up and down and preparing to carpet bomb Syria and invade Iran with their newfound support for war. And, of course, the real soul of the Republican party, laissez faire big business, has done the real work of the party, going after bankruptcy protections, social security, and next medicare, in an effort to completely undo the new deal and promote their so-called “ownership society,” in which the poor are once again owned by the rich.

The elephants are quick to point out that nobody agrees with the democrats anymore, that they’ve lost seven of t he last nine presidential elections--without noting that the republicans themselves had lost eight of the twelve before that. They are gleefully declaring the total demise of the Democratic Party and the rise of a new wave of conservativism, the final culmination of the Regan Revolution. It reminds me of that scene in Angels in America when Joe Pitt is sitting in a bar with Roy Cohn and some nameless Regan staffer, being told “Washington is the place to be: We’ve got the Whitehouse locked up for the next twelve years.” Meanwhile, conservative talking heads portray the Democrats as sitting against the wall in a shocked stupor waiting for Hilary Clinton to come riding over the hill on a white horse and wearing a white Armani pants suit to rescue the party.

Well, maybe, and maybe not. Truth of the matter is that the democrats don’t have to do too much to win the next presidential election except find a net percentage point gain of 1.1%. They nearly unseated an incumbent president during a war. Americans never do that. When you look at it that way they have a lot going for them. They play well among immigrants, particularly Latinos, who are the fastest growing segment of the population. And it is entirely possible that, in the short term at least, the tide has turned for the republicans. Between their failure so far at convincing people to gut their safety net, and the backlash against their cynical, manipulative ploys in the Terri Schiavo case, it is the GOP may well have pissed off enough moderates now to swing the vote.

Of course, once we invade Iran, all bets are off.


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