September 15, 2005
Outrageous Accusations Against the Democratic Party
commentary by Mary Wildfire
Why is it that Democrats keep losing elections, even though most of the voters agree with them on most of the issues? We're told that the American electorate is getting more conservative, and there is some evidence that this is true. But when you ask people where they stand on the issues themselves, you'll find that
many aren't as conservative as they think they are--a right-wing media machine has demonized the word "liberal," but it simply isn't true that the average person agrees with the Republicans on issues.
When you look at this question from the angle of economic interest, the current situation looks even odder. Most people in this country are losing ground; most feel insecure about their jobs and their futures. This is a direct result of the policies of the current administration especially, but to a lesser degree
it results from the pro-business, pro-free trade, and anti-union policies of the last several administrations. When you look at the votes in Congress on these things, almost invariably the Republicans support them in significantly greater numbers than Democrats--sometimes overwhelmingly greater numbers.
Another place the difference between the parties is most stark is in legislation relating to the environment. When asked, most people will tell pollsters that they want clean air and water, that they're concerned about global warming, that they don't want more public forests cut. True, they also want to keep driving big vehicles and don't like mandates about things like recycling and carbon taxes. But these attitudes put them in the middle, while the actions of the Republican majority have been consistently destructive of common resources like air, water, and forests--because they're doing the bidding of industry lobbyists. Americans are aware of this, and are very cynical about it.
Yet Democrats can't seem to win an election. Why?
Many allege that Gore was a wooden, inept politician, and the same has been said of Kerry. Both came across as elitists, men with a lot more education and class privilege than your average voter. And so they were. But equally so was Bush, although he has spent years learning to fake a down-home, good-ole-boy charm.
Some say that Kerry made a mistake in failing to articulate an alternative to Bush's policies, especially on the Iraq war. Yet Dean, who came out against the war, was sidelined early in the primary process. Now Dean has won the top post in the Democratic Party--and suddenly he won't speak against that war! Why not? Along with the other contenders for the presidential nomination, Hilary Clinton is already speaking up in favor of the war. Since an increasing majority of the public now opposes the war, this would seem to be odd behavior.
What's wrong with the Democrats? Time and again, we see that those Democrats who run for Congress
as Democrats do much better than those who try to walk quietly down the middle of the road, standing for nothing much. When Gore spoke up in a populist fashion, like an old-fashioned Democrat, his numbers surged. But he knocked that off well before the election, and they sagged again. Edwards spoke in the same vein, and was soon more popular than Kerry. Recently, a Democrat in Ohio made strong antiwar statements--and this was a candidate with intimate knowledge of the Iraq war, as he had recently served there. He didn't win, but he came fairly close in a strongly Republican district.
The Democratic Leadership Council ignores this evidence, proclaiming after each failure that the Party needs to move even further to the right. Since the Republicans have taken the opposite attitude, placating not the middle but their most radical constituents and refusing to compromise on the smallest item, this means the government as a whole has lurched quite violently rightward.
Why is it that the Democratic Party insists on mealy-mouthed centrist
policies, even as this strategy keeps costing them elections? Surely a
reasonably charismatic white male candidate willing to speak forthrightly
against the war, against free trade treaties that cost so many American jobs,
against tax cuts favoring the rich, and in favor of strengthening environmental
protections, would be very well received. Suppose this candidate went beyond
these well-established, safe positions and advocated for ground-breaking,
innovative, progressive programs, such as implementing universal healthcare, or
the Apollo Program. Apollo would put $30 billion over ten years into a crash program to develop renewable energy sources and subsidize conservation efforts--thus creating millions of jobs while increasing our security and reducing our dependence on foreign oil,
and cleaning up air pollution and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Surely, such a candidate could be very popular indeed. (Kerry did support Apollo, but didn't make a real push for it.)
So why don't the Democrats allow anyone at the top levels to take stands like these? I believe it's because the corporations that are the source of the great majority of campaign contributions wouldn't like it. The truth is that the Democratic Party is as eager to court big money as the Republicans, if not quite as good at it. They will never be able to compete in this racket; after all, who wants to buy a donkey in an elephant suit when you can buy a real elephant for a little more money? But corporations and a small number of wealthy people still give more money than millions of small donors can. And the money is what counts, to those at the top of the Democratic Party.
Sometimes I wonder if it isn't even worse than that. Observing the inept posturing of Gore and then Kerry, I often wondered if they really even wanted to win. Could it be that they never expected to--that their job was simply to run the race? Surely it's paranoid to imagine that the Democratic Party honchos have colluded with the top brass on the other side, agreeing to pretend to be an opposition party, in order to keep a real opposition party from arising. And yet, if that isn't what's going on, these guys are long overdue to start acting like Democrats and winning some races! The fact that they consistently refuse to capitalize on what should be
easy opportunities provided by the greed of the Republicans, lends fuel to speculation that there are not really two parties in this country at all. According to this view, there's just one pro-corporate party, called the Republicans. This party casts sops toward religious conservatives, to win them over so they have cover for their real constituency---the rich. It has a subsidiary called the Democratic Party, which is actually a PR team
assigned to play-act the role of opposition party.
Sure, there are plenty of sincere people in the Democratic Party, from candidates to local party workers--but at the top, it looks suspiciously like there has been a massive sell-out. It's a sell-out not only of the Democratic Party, but of this country, with its long tradition of democracy. Increasingly, it looks like the Democratic Party will never return to us. We need to fight our way through its entangling remnants, to create a genuine opposition party.
We can't wait any longer. The corporate party has all but destroyed this
country, as has been graphically illustrated by the unbelievable response to
Katrina: all military-style repression, no help.