• Attention, Small-D Democrats
  • You Are Not Free to Move About the Cabin
  • A Gulf Has Turned Into a Chasm
  • What You Don't Know Can Hurt You

  • Attention, Small-D Democrats
    The Party's Over

    Since last week's election, liberals have been melodramatically wringing their hands, while the pundits have rushed to expound upon the deeper meaning of the Republican sweep. The Democrats lost, they say, because they no longer stand for anything. From the pundits' portentous tones, you'd never guess that they were beating a horse that's been dead for more than 30 years.

    In fact, this party has been disintegrating since it nominated Hubert Humphrey in the bloody streets of Chicago in 1968. The Democrats haven't had a shred of original ideology since the New Deal, or a spark of fire in their bellies since the nominally liberal momentum of the Kennedy-Johnson years ran aground on the party's cowardly refusal to oppose the Vietnam War.

    And it was Jimmy Carter who provided the spark that fired up the right wing. His decision to abandon the Panama Canal helped result in the founding of the New Right. That, in turn, went hand in hand with Ronald Reagan's march to power. Flailing wildly, Carter tried to beat the right by co-opting its economic plan, doing such things as embracing deregulation of the energy industry and other businesses. Charting new ground with an allegedly centrist support base, Clinton tried to outfox conservatives by adopting halfhearted versions of their own plans. Clinton put the final nail in the New Deal's coffin—embracing welfare "reform," screwing up and then abandoning health care, even letting it be known that his administration would look kindly on experiments to reform Social Security by handing partial control to Wall Street brokerages. He managed to leave his greatest mark on history by giving the Republicans an opportunity to impeach him because of an ill-timed blowjob.

    Today's Democratic Party is less a party than an entrenched Washington apparatus, which operates as a sort of simulacrum of itself, bellowing the names of past icons, while it carries on the business of responding to the interests of one lobby group or another. It is what William Greider calls a "managerial" party, exemplified by the technocratic fussbudgets in the Democratic Leadership Council.

    Now, some say, there may be a real shakeup in the party in the wake of the midterm defeat, the failed Dick Gephardt stepping down as minority leader, and the Democrats turning to new leadership in the form of California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. But this is sham. Gephardt is not quitting as a failure, but to prepare for a presidential run in 2004. As of late, Pelosi is best known for her role as senior House Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, where with the rest of this deadbeat crew she ignored or covered up the U.S. intelligence fiascoes that led to 9-11. Pelosi hails from a Baltimore Democratic political family and says she traces her roots to FDR. Currently she's known as the mother of documentary filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi, who traveled with George Bush during his campaign, and whose filmmaking, among other things, apparently spurred the two families to meet for lunch.

    The Republicans, on the other hand, have, since the days of Barry Goldwater, articulated a clear ideology. Beginning with the Nixon campaign of 1968, they have carried out an elaborate plan of action to muster the "silent majority" and bring what was a splintered and broken party to power. They have successfully positioned themselves as the party of conservative "principle," with a mission to roll back the ever encroaching federal government—shutting down agencies and privatizing others, returning power to the states, crushing the New Deal welfare state—while restoring old-fashioned Christian morality to civil society.

    There is some substance to these political claims, but not much. Right now, the Republican majority is using its power to expand, not contract, the role of the government, replacing the welfare state with a far more costly and intrusive police state, with an economic program based on Keynesian pump-priming for the defense industries.

    Power may be wielded to advance ideology, but more often, ideology is a front for the simple protection of power. Bush may pose as a Texas wildcatter, a Bible-thumping Christian zealot, a war-ready patriot, and a champion of the common man. But in reality, he's a blue-blooded New England Methodist who dodged the draft by joining the National Guard and pledged for Skull and Bones at Yale. And he's never had anything remotely like an ideology, with the possible exception of the 12-Step Program. If Bush succeeds in spite of an elitist pedigree, it's because he heads—and epitomizes—today's Republican Party. This is a party that wields the money and power of Big Business, shrewdly woven into a populist, patriotic ideology designed to appeal to a country so desperate for passionate ideals that in return it will give them the license to rob their pensions and send their children to war.

    Those who fail to fall for all this are left feeling powerless and depressed, wondering where to go next. The answer is not terribly hopeful, but it is very simple—and it has nothing whatsoever to do with party politics. Take every opportunity to oppose the power structure: March on Washington, go on strike, organize a boycott, start a resistance radio station, take to the streets with the anarchists. If you are looking for models, they are all over the rest of the world: the East German Christian opposition to the Honecker police state that led to the toppling of the Berlin Wall, the massive Czech uprising, the South African overthrow of apartheid, the protests in Seattle. Don't wait for the Democrats to do it. Do it yourself. Stand for something.

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