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July 08, 2003
Love or War?

Elsewhere we may soon be arguing over whether or not Republicans are from Mars and Democrats are from Venus.

After some hard numbers detailing Republican obstructionism during the Clinton years, we get this:

Why are the Democrats so much more willing than the Republicans to make political sacrifices in the name of procedural fairness or of good government? Maybe Democrats are just nicer, but a more philosophical view is that liberals are committed to, are in fact bedeviled by, ideals about process that do not much preoccupy conservatives, at least contemporary ones. Liberals put their faith in such content-neutral principles as free speech, due process, participatory democracy. Is that too lofty? Then maybe we should say that today's liberals, unlike today's conservatives, don't believe in any particular set of ends ardently enough to blind themselves to the means they are using to achieve them.
I think that first, it's necessary, as always, to consider the question of each party's leadership apart from the members of the party, who tend (on both sides) to be less single-minded.

Each party is a conglomeration of miscellaneous, sometimes conflicting, interests. When elections are coming up (as they always are), party leaders try to pick and choose which of those different "interests" they think they can push through successfully, both in terms of getting candidates elected and in getting legislation through afterwards. When I speak of "Republicans" or "Democrats" here, I'm talking about the leadership unless I specify otherwise.

Democrats are, in fact, concerned with "process" in a way that the current Republican leadership is not. Someone has to care that the laws of the land and the intent behind those laws is considered. Historically, both parties have cared deeply about these things, in spite of the differences they've had about just what that intent might have been. It's only recently that Republicans have abandoned the well-trod paths of bipartisanship in favor of guerilla warfare.

(digression)

It's an odd reversal, if you think about it. The Republicans used to be the party of the First Methodist Church, and the Democrats of the great unwashed. Now the Republicans are the hellions, and the Democrats are the ones you want to bring home to mother. The G.O.P. is making such inroads among younger voters for the same reason that Fox News is making inroads among younger viewers. We live in a culture that values brazen certainty and loud conviction, no matter how wrongheaded. Pity the Democrats, stuck with the wrong set of virtues.
This is true. (In fact, I started to write about my view of Republicans "riding the Reality TV wave" before I realized that the article already covered the topic.) Republicans are trying to capture the attention-deficit younger voters to insure the survival of their party.

That explains, for instance, the leadership's fondness for the unlamented Savage*, rightfully booted from MSNBC.

It's a telling point, in my eyes, that he was sh*tcanned, not for telling lies, which he does frequently without any protests from his supporters, but for outrageous gay-bashing.

IMO, the Republicans were on more solid ground when they stayed away from their Christian Coalition members and didn't put their repressive morality and regressive social policies front and center in their platform. It's a sad truth that most people in the country find the economy mind-bogglingly complex, leaving them easy prey for campaign slogans that tarred Democrats as "tax-and-spend" maniacs and praised Republican policies as "fiscal responsibility." (Add in a couple of "let the voter keep their money" slogans and you've captured the economically challenged.) I'm not sure why they abandoned this approach unless it was that they were aware that their fiscal policies were about to alienate a lot of that same economically challenged voter base.

The Republican leadership's recent jump to the right in an attempt to woo the "angry white male" vote and the "Christian " vote is a mistake. They're fighting to turn the trend of society and they're going to fail. (Oh, their new approach provides catchy sound-bites for the evening news and makes sensational headlines, alright, so the media faithfully reports the Administration's truth-twisting talking points, but they offend or disquiet two people for every one person who accepts their rhetoric. Right now, they're counting on the old adage that, "no news is bad news." What candidates fight for is name recognition. If people know your name, they vote for you. I refuse to get side-tracked on a rant about how idiotic many voter are.)

My point, and I've got one, so bear with me, is that they're on the wrong track. The Republican Old Guard has not, let's be completely honest, ever come to terms with things like equal opportunity for women and minorities. The idea of treating gays like, well, like human beings is anathema to this same Old Guard, never mind the politically opportunistic blindness they show toward those openly gay members of their own party. The men currently in charge of this party are completely freaked out by all of the civil rights advances and no matter what they say publicly, would have no problems at all if the clock were turned back 50 years and those uppity women and 'colored' folk found themselves back in their powerless kitchens and ghettos.

Unfortunately for them, they do need today's youth in order for the party to survive and, aside from a tiny minority of vocal misfits, kids today just don't see minorities or women or gays as second-class citizens. So, as I said, the current leadership is sadly out of step with society and this is going to be their downfall.

* Re: Savage - For those concerned about his "influence" on society, I'd like to point out that in a forum I frequent where political discussion is constant and passionate from all over the political spectrum, most of the people who commented on Savage's firing, commented to say they'd never heard of him. Most of the right-wingers who had heard of him said they disliked him and were glad he'd been fired. If memory serves, only one person, someone whose opinions have previously revealed him to be just the type you'd expect to be a Savage listener, defended the guy at all.

(Some day I'll write an essay about this person. This is the person whose unbalanced defence of the indefensible, flying in the face of facts, impressed upon me the danger of blindly listening to the media. This person is the type who categorizes Clinton as the spawn of Satan whose every move was evil, much as I was beginning to consider Bush before I started stepping back and looking at things a little more calmly. This is the person who insists that Bush's invasion of Iraq was critical to save us from the WMD, but denies that the strikes Clinton ordered on Iraq's known/suspected WMD sites were, in fact, designed to protect us from said WMD or, in fact, did anything to protect us from WMD or even could be the reason that WMD are thin on the ground in Iraq today.

This person, while ratiuonal on many other subjects, begins to foam at the mouth when Clinton is mentioned. I was hoping to find out from them exactly what it was about Clinton that roused right-wing passions so dramatically but, to no one's surprise, this is not the kind of person who can cite facts or statistics. Once I objected to them citing Horowitz as a "news source", this person was pretty much out of examples of facts to back up their opinions. It's really sort of fascinating to talk to them. You pull the string (mention, "Clinton") and it's like the Energizer Bunny of bile. Goes nowhere in particular but it does go on and on and on.

(/digression)

Anyhow. The perceived "temperament" differences cited in the article are largely the result of the Republican leaders reassessing "business as usual" in the 80s putting in some long, hard years consolidating their hold on their party's elected officials. Recent media references to the "Republican Machine" aren't far off. They're organized nowadays in a way that Democrats aren't and probably never will be. (Liberals are, after all, concerned with personal freedom in a way that Republicans, regardless of campaign slogans, aren't.) The Republican leadership has tried to force their Congressional members into a solid voting bloc and, by and large, they've been successful.

There are Democrats who would like the party to get down off its moral pedestal and start fighting dirty, or at least dirtier. The journalist Eric Alterman, author of ''What Liberal Media?'' has complained that liberals need their own Fox News, their own talk radio -- their own unleashed attack dogs. Put Michael Moore behind a desk, and watch the right-wingers squeal. The problem is that many Democrats would squirm as well. It is just a fact that the Republicans are now the party of passionate convictions, while the Democrats are the party of grave reservations. The Democrats are essentially devoted to tempering the harm caused by the Bush administration, which is not much of an agenda at all, though it certainly makes a virtue of moderation. Ruthlessness is just not in the party's DNA.
I think this is wrong. Democrats can be ruthless. The current leadership just isn't willing to be as dishonest at the current Republican leadership. As we all saw during the Clinton years, there were plenty of times when the Republicans showed their willingness to shut down the country (indeed, they shut down the Federal government twice) rather than compromise or cooperate with any bipartisan legislation.

The Republicans, let's make this clear, care much less about this country than they do about being in power. They don't care so much what they're in power over. In fact, it would be to their taste to have a country much less gifted with Constitutional freedoms because citizens lined up and neatly numbered are much less problem. The current Republican leadership, you understand, read 1984 and didn't see what the problem was.

Ahem. Okay, I'm getting carried away. Democrats don't lack passionate convictions by any means. They're just don't automatically head to the extreme fringes of society when they want to get something done. The Republicans today have climbed into bed with people whose beliefs appalled their leadership and most of their party members of fifteen or twenty years ago. It's another example of short-term thinking.

(digression)

For those of you not well-versed in history (i.e., those who grew up under Reagan or something, understand that politics in this country changed dramatically after the Nixon years. Some major changes were underway before that, too, due to changes in the process of selecting party nominees. The Republican leadership has not traditionally been as obstructionist as the article shows it was during the Clinton years. The judicial nomination-blocking problem during the Clinton Administration, for instance, was an anomaly and, as the article states, can only be even tangentially understood in the context of the deranged Clinton-hating at that time. Historically, both parties have tended to block the occasional judicial nominee. This has always been a good thing since it largely acts to keep extremists (of either persuasion) off the bench.

The current Democratic filibustering in Congress is a result of the nomination of right-wing activists or just the kind of extremists that nomination-blocking is traditionally used for. What the right-wing defenders never say, and never want you to focus on is, as this article points out, the many, many, many Bush nominees who have sailed effortlessly through the system even though their beliefs were objectionable to the Democrats.

Nor does the right want to admit that, due to the aforementioned Clinton-hating, huge numbers of judicial nominees were blocked during the Clinton Administration. (Remember this when you hear about how clogged our federal courts are, okay? A lack of, you know, judges contributes significantly to such clogging.)

(/digression)

For the record, our political system encourages, in fact demands the bipartisan cooperation that the Republicans have abandoned. The Republicans are taking advantage of their current, temporary majority to ride roughshod over the Democrats and try to force through some of their (the Republicans) pet projects, but in the process they're alienating not only the Democrats but the moderates of the Republican party.

And, as we know, what goes around, comes around. Regardless of how cooperative Democratss are "temperamentally," those in Washington and in the party leadership aren't going to be feeling very bipartisan the next time they're in the majority and I promise you'll hear the Republicans screaming ten seconds before they're hurt when the time comes.

Like the impeachment moves against Clinton, and as I've said before, the Republicans open these huge cans o'worms with no apparent thought of consequences.

They're short-sighted. They'll do anything to win "the battle" and that causes them to lose sight of "the war."
Right now they're relying upon emotional jingoism to try and rally support around them and in some cases, with certain types of voters, it's working.

(I do find myself wondering how many people were led down the primrose path of hate by the combined efforts of the Republican leadership and the irresponsible press during the Clinton years until today they find that they have so much invested in Democrats being "the bad guys" that no matter what this Administration does, these people feel bound to support them. But that's a different topic and I'm no expert on psychology.)

Where was I? Oh. Yeah. However, as Bush's falling approval ratings show, these tactics are working less now than they did last month, and they're working a lot less today than they did in, say, January. The Republicans' tactics aren't sustainable. A hundred thousand, two hundred thousand, three hundred thousand, half a million, a million...as the unemployment numbers skyrocket, a lot of previously Republican voters are finding themselves disenchanted.

And the weight of history is against the party. Maybe the Supreme Court just recently ruled that gay sex is not, in fact, a criminal act, and that the Republicans' historical interest in other people's bedrooms is unconstitutional, but society has been headed toward this moment for a long time. Bucking the tide of history is futile.

As for the Republican leadership, well, as they increasingly allow their party's identity to be defined by hatemongers and outright liars they're going to alienate more and more of their actual voter base. The number of people who are going to fall into line behind the idiocies of people like Limbaugh and Savage is small but the amount of bad press generated by these people, and the number of moderate, sensible people turned off by the Republican party's affiliation with such people, is substantial. (I mean, how telling is it that not even the OpinionJournal found itself able to support Coulter's recently published apology for McCarthy?)

(digression)

I also see that they're trying to brand Dowd as the liberal version of Coulter, but that's just insanity on someone's part. Dowd isn't a liberal. They're just pissy because she stopped kissing Bush's boots. All you have to do is check any column she wrote during the Clinton years to figure out she's just one of those who goes after whoever is in office. Coulter, on the other hand, is marinated in bias and if some men didn't find their brains consistently softened by blonde hair and inappropriate cleavage, she'd be working at Denny's or IHOP, where she belongs.

(/digression>

The Democrats aren't "historically" the party of compromise and bipartisanship, they're just looking awfully good that way because of the temper tantrums thrown by the Republicans in the 90s and the way the same folks are behaving today.

The important point is not, I think, whether "in the end" it "pays to play nice." The important point is that bipartisanship is the way our government works.

Bipartisanship allows things to work smoothly, continuously, and with a certain consistency that allows citizens to plan (and lead) their lives in security. The Republicans have been trying to trash that bipartisanship for over a decade now and what they're going to leave behind is nothing but chaos unless the Democratic leadership grits their teeth and rises above "politics" to think of the country's long-term good.

Fortunately for us all the Democrats are, in fact, the party most likely to do that.

Posted by AnneZook at 09:32 AM


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