Monday, February 28, 2005

Democrats being Democrats?

Today I was following my nose (and a bunch of links) as I often do, from Instapundit to BuzzMachine to Oliver Willis, when finally Willis's commentary inspired me to bloggage. Thusly:

Jeff [Jarvis, of BuzzMachine, a Democrat but one who can be critical of his party] believes that there's room for the two parties to work together. On what planet?


...and elsewhere,

The weakest points for the Democratic Party have been their moments when they have shunned what it is to be a Democrat (intelligent answers to complex dilemmas, common sense over corporate cronyism, justice over calculated acts of violence) in order to be "just like the Republicans" (ie. voting for the Bush tax cuts or the war in Iraq).


It takes no particular genius to combine these statements logically and come up with the following: Republicans, who are The Enemy (per the first statement), stand for [per the second statement] foolish answers to complex dilemmas, corporate cronyism, and calculated acts of violence. If he honestly sees Republicans in this light, it's really no wonder the Democrats lost seats across the board in November. Even politicians who hold no love for bipartisanship tend not to portray their opponents as moronic criminal types, if they want to win office. (Dean, on the record as a Republican-hater, sort of excepted.)

Willis subtitles his site, "Like Kryptonite To Stupid." If I were in the mood to be pedantic, I might point out the flaw in his simile: kryptonite does nothing to stupid (or to stupid people or to stupidity). But maybe - considering the very evident inefficacy of this worldview at winning elections - it's accurate after all.

Update: A commenter points out that I'm guilty of a similar sin: extrapolating the words of one blogger to the entire Democratic party. S/he's right - my post does read that way. What I should have said instead of "If he honestly sees Republicans in this light, it's really no wonder the Democrats lost seats across the board in November" is, "If Willis's view of Republicans is widely shared by Democrats, or even just by significant portions of the Democratic leadership, it's really no wonder the Democrats lost seats across the board in November."

6 comments:

Bloggerhead said...

Jamie,

You may just want to consider that you're engaging in the same thing that you accuse Oliver of doing. You take a post by one blogger and extrapolate it to caricature all democrats (being democrats, those dumbasses, if not demons). Hardly the stuff of constructive dialogue, I'd say. And the notion that this is the reason why democrats have fallen on hard electoral times is true only to the extent that it is the Right that has become proficient and shameless (and well-financed) at demeaning and demonizing the Left, e.g. anti-American, soft on crime, tax and spend, objectively pro-Saddam, godless, and even, recently, racist and homophobic.

Whatever works, I guess; it's politics after all, not foreplay. But you shouldn't delude yourself that it's the party out of power, and still representing almost half the country, which is solely responsible for the absence of dialogue.

Bloggerhead said...

Jamie,

You may just want to consider that you're engaging in the same thing that you accuse Oliver of doing. You take a post by one blogger and extrapolate it to caricature all democrats (being democrats, those dumbasses, if not demons). Hardly the stuff of constructive dialogue, I'd say. And the notion that this is the reason why democrats have fallen on hard electoral times is true only to the extent that it is the Right that has become proficient and shameless (and well-financed) at demeaning and demonizing the Left, e.g. anti-American, soft on crime, tax and spend, objectively pro-Saddam, godless, and even, recently, racist and homophobic.

Whatever works, I guess; it's politics after all, not foreplay. But you shouldn't delude yourself that it's the party out of power, and still representing almost half the country, which is solely responsible for the absence of dialogue.

Bloggerhead said...

Jamie,

You may just want to consider that you're engaging in the same thing that you accuse Oliver of doing. You take a post by one blogger and extrapolate it to caricature all democrats (being democrats, those dumbasses, if not demons). Hardly the stuff of constructive dialogue, I'd say. And the notion that this is the reason why democrats have fallen on hard electoral times is true only to the extent that it is the Right that has become proficient and shameless (and well-financed) at demeaning and demonizing the Left, e.g. anti-American, soft on crime, tax and spend, objectively pro-Saddam, godless, and even, recently, racist and homophobic.

Whatever works, I guess; it's politics after all, not foreplay. But you shouldn't delude yourself that it's the party out of power, and still representing almost half the country, which is solely responsible for the absence of dialogue.

Jamie said...

Bloggerhead:

Thanks for the reality check - I am guilty as charged. I should edit my post to make it clear that IF Willis's view is widely held, or held by the powers-that-be in the Democratic party, it represents, I think, a serious barrier to constructive dialogue, as you say.

"Some of my best friends are Democrats," I might add. (Eye roll - but it's true.)

But I stand by the point I was obviously less than articulate at making: the attitude that being a Democrat means you're intelligent, honest, possessing of common sense, and just - all in contrast to your Republican opponents (because I think that inference can be drawn from Willis's words) - is unlikely to grow the base a whole lot and will certainly make it hard to win over moderates.

I'm going to assume you're speaking from the Other Side of the Aisle - do you see, as I do, the perniciousness of the "mouthpieces" of a party setting themselves against the common folk of non-coastal America? In terms of winning elections, I mean? I'm speaking, for instance, of Dean's comments about drivers of pickups with Confederate flags on them, etc. - he was trying to make the point that the DNC needs to go after those voters, who ought (in his opinion) to share common cause with Democrats but who identify themselves more readily with Republicans - but his statement came out as not just patronizing but insulting to the very people he said he needed to reach. This kind of rhetoric doesn't help the DNC.

On the flip side, in my experience, when the GOP wants to make a rhetorical point about Democrat platform issues to which it stands in contrast, it tends to toss around "liberal elite," "Democratic elite," "leaders of the Democratic party," etc., as opposed to tarring the whole mass of Democrat-voting Americans with the same brush. While it's possible that it's just semantics on both sides, at least the Republican rhetoric doesn't diss the rank-and-file voters, nor assume that the reason nearly half the country didn't vote for W is because that nearly-half is stupid or sheeplike - just possessing of wrong priorities, perhaps, or bound by traditional voting patterns.

Devo said...

Jamie, you make an interesting point. I believe the old Zero Population Growth movement made a similar mistake back in the day when it was cool to blame all the woes of the world on erroneous Malthusian hypotheses. If they're trying to get their consitituents to not have babies, while at the same time their detractors are mating like bunnies, how will they promulgate their message? Paradox in motion, beautiful.

My point in responding to your post, however, is that as angry and disaffected as so many Dems appear these days, it's simply astounding that the entire party hasn't collapsed in on itself. I don't want to count myself among either Dems OR Republicans, as I find both groups guilty of a great many eggregious breaches of logic and responsibility, however, in the current climate, I'd probably be more comfortable siding with the Dems. Frustratingly enough, I say this specifically BECAUSE they are able to see the complex problems present in our world and not relegate the available solutions to black-and-white, us-and-them reactionary chest beating. Pointing this fact out will get the Dems nowhere. Proposing solutions that will work in an intelligible way might be a good start, but our collective National Attention Span has been cropped far too short to tolerate such ridiculously responsible and intelligent actions. I just wish that the events taking place in the world today didn't appear so transparently corrupt and wrong-headed to those of us inclined to genuinely think about them. Corporate cronyism is a perfect example. How can an intelligent, thoughtful individual (as you surely seem, Jamie) regard uncontested reconstruction contracts given to Halliburton as anything BUT corporate cronyism? Particularly when you take into account the overwhelming presence of ex-employees of said company in the very cockpit of power responsible for disseminating said contracts? Furthermore, when no official explanations are offered, the more curious among us tend to get a bit frustrated.

Please don't think that I'm indicting the Republican party in its entirety or clearing the Democratic Party from complicity at all. I'm merely pointing out that excessive abuses of power are right in front of our noses, and without thoughtful and incisive opposition, they will only continue. Democrats are the only collective force with the legislative clout to even broach these abuses. However, I do agree with you that intelligent confrontation of said abuses is woefully sparse.

Jamie said...

Devo:

I share your frustration, but for different reasons... I want the Democratic party to survive this crisis, as a counterbalance if nothing else. I wish, I so wish that there were readily available commentary on the passing of the Whigs, for instance, here in this country; it'd be instructive to note whether the party just vanished, leaving a vacuum that the "new" second party arose to fill, or whether there was, behind the scenes, a more gradual evolution of parties such that when the last hangers-on of the Whigs-by-name retired from public life, the new party structure was already there. Analogous to our time: is MoveOn the Whigs, or is the Democratic party the Whigs? Or neither - will the Democratic party pull out of this willful tailspin and recover its rudder? (That may be a mixed metaphor.)

Anyway. It strikes me as both interesting and irritating that the Republican party used to be the party of shades of gray, the Democrats the party of black-and-white. The Republicans were castigated for being "in bed" with anti-Soviet dictators the world over, the Democrats for taking too simplistic a view toward social change (the throw-money approach, the pass-a-law-and-immediate-change-will-result approach). Back in the day, if I'd been able to get around my aversion to government programs, I'm sure I would've been a Dem; they were the idealists and the believers in humans' essential good nature back then. I remember being confused by realpolitik - and relieved when I finally learned about the neocons' more principle-driven approach to foreign policy.

"Corporate cronyism" - is it worse to have corporate cronies, or for your cronies to be union leaders, or old boys from your home state with no other significant credentials, or campaign contributors? It's the quid pro quo of politics, and as you say, neither side is innocent. But IMHO, neither side is as guilty as all that, either, since cronyism is at least fairly transparent (as opposed to more insidious corruption elsewhere - like the UN), and we tend to have a reasonably thorough change of government at least twice a decade.

On the subject of changing this system, I tremble. If we removed the obvious motivation, what would take its place?

Tell the truth, I've always discounted the Halliburton stuff; I've been involved with the energy industry on and off for my entire adult life, first on the environmental side, now (through my husband) on the finance side), and frankly there don't appear to be many companies worldwide who could have taken on as big a contract as Iraq reconstruction, including oilfield services, is. There's Halliburton, Schlumberger, not a lot more. And Schlumberger is - ahem - French. Should it have been sole-sourced? I can think of at least one compelling reason why the administration would have wanted to: time. Is that sufficient? Hmm. Certainly Cheney's Halliburton connection has given the administration's opponents ample fodder for finger-pointing, even though he divested himself even further than the law required.

Please note that I'm but a simple housewife... but I guess it's time I dug into the Halliburton question, because it does tend to come up. New project!