A Candidate for Scared Rabbits (2000)
Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me.
--Pink Floyd, "Comfortably Numb"
Paging All Auto-Pilot Democrats? Anybody home?
From Timothy Naftali writing in The Huffington Post:
Why aren't Congressional democrats demanding a review of the concept of a Department of Homeland Security? Why aren't democrats arranging townhall meetings across the country to discuss America in this time of challenges, reminding folks that it was the Democratic Party that gave the country the New Deal and the Great Society? Those programs were imperfect and had some negative effects but they sprang from an understanding that an energetic government can help heal communities, or in political science speak, that there are social goods that cannot be produced by the Market.
I suspect there are two reasons for the political inaction and both are shortsighted. Democrats have been running away from their domestic policy past as hard as they have the McGovern legacy. They fear that recalling the New Deal and the Great Society evokes the L-word and the specter of Big Government, and so it is better to offer the voters conceptual confusion than to open the door to any Republican attack. But what, after all, did George W. Bush initiate last week in New Orleans: a huge government program to alleviate poverty and rebuild a city. Isn't that what democrats do? In 2001 Bush deftly deflected public scrutiny from his weak performance on the day of the attacks (ironically he spent part of September 11, 2001 under secret service and military protection in Louisiana) and created a kevlar war presidency. If the democrats are not smart and nimble he will claim urban renewal and opportunity as his own, too.
The other reason for the democrats' lethargy, I suspect, is the beltway fascination with the president's approval ratings. I have never quite understood why they are supposed to matter in a second term. Bush is not going to run for president again and his nephew is still too young and Jeb has other things to worry about [and these numbers always change dramatically when the two sides start pouring money into political mudslinging anyway]. Yet the Democratic party seems to mistakenly associate low presidential approval numbers with its own success. Some highly paid consultant has been arguing that the democrats should let the focus remain on Bush, let him stew in his own mess and see those numbers continue to fall. Wrong. It is time for democrats to start talking loudly about their vision for the country, start talking loudly about why the president's agenda of tax cuts, an open-ended war in Iraq and urban renewal is a recipe for fiscal disaster. They should be talking about the bankruptcy of current conservative ideas in an imperfect world. Sometimes it is morning in America and it is raining. Are there any elected democrats capable of this? If not, perhaps it is time to start a new American party.
I'm enjoying watching BushCo implode, yes. It's gratifying to see the shine taken off of the Codpiece Cowboy's swagger. Maybe what goes round does actually politically come round. And nobody deserves to have the smirks slapped off their faces more than the current Mission Accomplished crew.
But standing silent while the Republicans thrash about in quicksand doesn't project leadership. And Democrats played no active part in BushCo's downward spiral. The greed and cronyism and corruption was beyond containment. The sheer cockiness of the players led to a false sense of invulnerability. Even the baaing sheep of the mainstream media were finally blown wide awake by the monumental imcompetence of FEMA and the cake-eating, guitar-strumming nonchalance of Dear Leader. And now, finally, the majority of Americans have turned against the folly and horror of Bush's War -- and the lies that sold it -- and the photo ops and propaganda that are its snake oil. It's now safe (according to polls) to actually speak against the war without being shouted down as an unpatriotic terrorist lover -- but, again, all I hear is The Silence of the Dems.
Two months ago, Gary Hart also wondered why Democrats are so quiet. He believes such silence in the face of BushCo's atrocious policies is cowardly:
History will deal with George W. Bush and the neoconservatives who misled a mighty nation into a flawed war that is draining the finest military in the world, diverting Guard and reserve forces that should be on the front line of homeland defense, shredding international alliances that prevailed in two world wars and the Cold War, accumulating staggering deficits, misdirecting revenue from education to rebuilding Iraqi buildings we've blown up, and weakening America's national security.
But what will history say about an opposition party that stands silent while all this goes on? My generation of Democrats jumped on the hot stove of Vietnam and now, with its members in positions of responsibility, it is afraid of jumping on any political stove. In their leaders, the American people look for strength, determination and self-confidence, but they also look for courage, wisdom, judgment and, in times of moral crisis, the willingness to say: "I was wrong."
To stay silent during such a crisis, and particularly to harbor the thought that the administration's misfortune is the Democrats' fortune, is cowardly. In 2008 I want a leader who is willing now to say: "I made a mistake, and for my mistake I am going to Iraq and accompanying the next planeload of flag-draped coffins back to Dover Air Force Base. And I am going to ask forgiveness for my mistake from every parent who will talk to me."
Further, this leader should say: "I am now going to give a series of speeches across the country documenting how the administration did not tell the American people the truth, why this war is making our country more vulnerable and less secure, how we can drive a wedge between Iraqi insurgents and outside jihadists and leave Iraq for the Iraqis to govern, how we can repair the damage done to our military, what we and our allies can do to dry up the jihadists' swamp, and what dramatic steps we must take to become energy-secure and prevent Gulf Wars III, IV and so on."
At stake is not just the leadership of the Democratic Party and the nation but our nation's honor, our nobility and our principles. Franklin D. Roosevelt established a national community based on social justice. Harry Truman created international networks that repaired the damage of World War II and defeated communism. John F. Kennedy recaptured the ideal of the republic and the sense of civic duty. To expect to enter this pantheon, the next Democratic leader must now undertake all three tasks.
The real defeatists today are not those protesting the war. The real defeatists are those in power and their silent supporters in the opposition party who are reduced to repeating "Stay the course" even when the course, whatever it now is, is light years away from the one originally undertaken. The truth is we're way off course. We've stumbled into a hornet's nest. We've weakened ourselves at home and in the world. We are less secure today than before this war began.
Who now has the courage to say this?
Who does -- especially in our age of talking points, robo-spinners, and scripted ops?
Break a leg?
[Cartoon by Mike Luckovich]
So, stand for something. How hard is that? Just speaking a little common sense would be refreshing. Here: try on a few of Mr. Animal's talking points...
*There's no shame in initially supporting a war when you were being fed false information. But, after seeing how the war was based on cooked intelligence, I do not support it -- nor do I support nation-building or other NeoCon objectives.
*Bush's pre-emptive war, coupled with his excessive tax cuts, are primarily responsible for our current deficits.
*Torture is wrong -- no ifs, ands, or buts. I do not advocate it under any circumstances.
*Advances in science have traditionally been one of our country's greatest continuing achievements. I support teaching established science and not religious doctrine in schools. I am in favor of stem cell research.
*Church and state should be kept separate. Privacy should be protected. Free speech should be guaranteed for all.
*This is a government for the people -- all the people -- not just those who can afford the rights and privileges.
*The government should not be drowned in a bathtub. It should be purged of pork and cronyism and find the brightest, most qualified people to serve, so that citizens are less likely to drown or fear harm from natural disasters or enemy attack.
*Energy needs go beyond electing oilmen to our nation's highest offices. Clean air and healthy forests need real protection and not an Orwellian smokescreen giving free reign to polluters and loggers. The environment is an important priority for all Americans -- and not merely raw material for corporations and their needs.
*Veteran's benefits are an inherent, non-negotiable priority. Supporting the troops is not abstract -- not a staged photo op or larger SUV magnet. We owe all of them a lifetime of support in college aid and medical coverage. I will not slash benefits as Bush has done.
*Many of the Bush-gutted social support programs that help students and the elderly and the poor and the bankrupt will be reinstated. If doing so means that some Bush tax cuts have to be rolled back, well, so be it. I expect these programs to be honestly and efficiently run, and any fraud will be vigorously prosecuted.
*I will work hard to keep this country safe. I'll keep abreast of world news rather than rely on an inner circle of sycophants. I'll read intelligence memos. If we are attacked, I will relentlessly pursue those who attacked us, rather than go off on a personal vendetta that has more oil and "easier targets." I won't mock the troops by playing hide and seek for missing WMDs I knew weren't there in the first place. I won't set a record for being on vacation. I won't eat cake and play the guitar while a major American city drowns or burns or is blasted into dust.
*I won't pay any pundits or television personalities to advance my policies. I won't wear a wire during debates. I will want every citizen to be a "have-more" and not just billionaires who line my pockets. I won't pre-screen any press conference, rally, meeting, or activity -- whatever it be. I won't tell those who disagree with me to fuck off. I won't tell reporters to stop interrupting me. I will not coddle anyone on my staff who commits acts of treason.
*As a Democrat, this is some of what I believe. Thank you.
See? That wasn't so hard, was it? I know the above is only a fraction of what might be said, but, hey, it's a start. And a start sure beats the alternative of resembling today's image of a scared rabbit candidate. People are fed up. Lead. Lead -- with strength and comfort and hope.
Because if you stay silent -- especially in the face of another Rovian assault of gay-bashing and flag-burning and terrorist-fearing emotive propaganda -- you will certainly lose future elections -- not with a bang, but with a whimper...and carrot breath.