The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

25 August 2003

Democrats in disarray

George Packer, in the September/October Mother Jones, on the decaying of the Democrats:

Everybody knows that the Democratic Party has lost its way. The Clinton years once seemed to have ended a long-term decline — but they only slowed it, and that only temporarily. Clinton's political genius was to convey an adherence to liberal values while abandoning liberal positions. This served him very well, but it didn't serve his party. It was an entirely personal achievement. Since then the party's decline has picked up speed, with the low, ominous rumble of a landslide. These days one has the sense of having leapfrogged the Clinton years backward and landed in some sunless late afternoon of the Mondale-Dukakis era.

The operative word here, I suspect, is "landslide."

What are the Democrats to do? Can they do anything at this point? Splintered as they are, reduced to a collection of, in Packer's phrase, "small-minded, turf-conscious groups," it's hard to imagine how they can even nominate a Presidential candidate next year, let alone beat the Bush machine. Part of this, I think, is Dubya's willingness to borrow occasionally from the Slick Willie playbook: espouse one set of platitudes for public consumption, embrace another when the votes come down. (What? You thought W's enthusiasm for cutting taxes made him some sort of fiscal conservative? Have you seen the budget lately? Bush suffers Deficit Attention Disorder as acutely as any Seventies Democrat.)

But even if Bush proves, as expected, to be unbeatable, the Democrats are not excused from the obligation to come up with a candidate who is actually credible, and if that means cheesing off substantial portions of the party's base, so be it. As Packer explains:

[T]here is something worse than losing, and that is losing pointlessly, which is how Al Gore lost (or, as you might have it, how he won). The way for the party not to lose pointlessly is to proceed incautiously. The most attractive candidate will be the one who airs ideas that risk alienating a constituent of the alliance — not, in Clinton's manner, for tactical reasons, but because the ideas might be good ones and might catch the public pulse as [Adlai] Stevenson did half a century ago, making future victories possible.

Stevenson, I remind you, is to Democrats what Barry Goldwater is to Republicans; while he never won the Presidency, his particular set of ideas eventually did get to the White House. I'd like to think there's a JFK-like figure (well, in some respects, anyway) in the Democratic Party's future — even if that future doesn't start until 2008.

2012, even.

Posted at 7:15 PM to Political Science Fiction


Is "Deficit Attention Disorder" your phrase? Anyway,
it's terrific!

Posted by: John Rosenberg at 10:25 PM on 25 August 2003

I'm ready for another one or two viable parties. Dems are pretty much a rag-tag crew already and Repubs have also shown a potential to splinter. Three or four parties would have a healthy affect on politicians and voters alike.

Posted by: Mike at 11:10 PM on 25 August 2003

this next election is a wildcard. All this talk of bush being unbeatable is (for want of a better word) a canard.

bush is only unbeatable if two things happen:

1) he uses that massive war chest to buy votes outright

2) the citizens of this country forget EVERY SINGLE WORD he uttered in the last election.

theres a chance for #2.

the phrase sounds like the one from the onion.

Bush Diagnosed With Attention-To-Deficit Disorder
WASHINGTON, DC—Pointing to massive war-time tax cuts, physicians from the Congressional Budget Office diagnosed President Bush with attention-to-deficit disorder Tuesday. "The president exhibits all the symptoms of ATDD: impulsiveness, restlessness, inability to focus on mounting U.S. debt likely to reach $400 billion by the year's end," Dr. Terrence Spellman said. "Failing to address his affliction could lead to serious long-term fiscal health problems for future generations of Americans." To treat the president's ATDD, Spellman prescribed Ritalin and an introductory course in high-school economics.

Posted by: bruce at 3:34 AM on 26 August 2003

I don't know how much claim I have to the phrase, if any; it was the title of a Vent article I did in October 1998, although the title appears only in the Vent index, not on the article itself.

Posted by: CGHill at 6:33 AM on 26 August 2003

great minds think alike...

Posted by: bruce at 9:11 PM on 26 August 2003