Column No. 109 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH - June 8, 2006
Last week I began my column by noting that common to left-wing Democrats, old-style New Deal Democrats, progressive Democrats, many traditional liberal Democrats, among all sorts of Democrats that is, except the so-called “New Democrats” lead by the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), is the plaint “Why Don’t the Democrats?” By that is commonly meant why don’t the Democrats come up with a new, progressive, overarching philosophy, and why don’t they consistently distinguish themselves from the Republicans in general and the Georgites in particular on the principal issues that face our country: the role of government, the preservation of Constitutional Democracy, the War on Iraq, the looming threat to the planet as a whole of the consequences of global warming, and the prevention of future acts of Grand Theft Election.
I pointed out that the principal reason that that does not happen is that there is no “THE Democratic Party.” The best organized, best funded wing of the Party with the most regular access to the mass media is the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), considered by most observers to represent the right-wing of the Party. Last week I presented a brief (and surely incomplete) history of the development of the DLC. I pointed out that in the midst of the Reagan Presidency that was clearly taking the country to the Right, much-needed Democratic Party reform could have gone either to the Left (developing a New Deal-successor overarching public-service philosophy) or to the Right. The DLC took it to the Right. In a posture that it still holds to today, they stood for two principal principles: in order to get elected, in our public persona Democrats have to look as much like Republicans as possible, except that we’re nicer, and we have to play “small ball,” not in the sense that those hateful, single-issue, very loud identity groups do, but in the sense that we have to go with issues at the secondary and tertiary levels of importance, preferably ones that won’t offend very many people when we put them forth. And so, the issue for us non-DLC Democrats of every non-DLC stripe becomes, “just how do we get our Party back?” How do we deal with the DLC?
First, we have to consider what NOT to do. In dealing with the DLC we do not want to do in return precisely what the DLC does: spending a lot more time attacking the rest of us in the Democratic Party than they spend attacking the Republicans. For example, as our colleague Michael Carmichael has said of their new book on foreign policy With All Our Might. “Nowhere does the DLC volume present a serious critique of Bush administration foreign policy failures.” According to Michael, the authors of the book spend a lot more time attacking fellow Democrats than they do attacking the Georgites. Not that we should never attack, as for instance in getting on Hillary Clinton’s case for sponsoring anti-flag burning legislation or Barack Obama’s case for omitting from his vocabulary to the extent possible two critical words, “Iraq” and “Constitution.” But for the most part for us doing so must be a no-no, and whenever we do it, we must present the positive reasons for making our criticisms.
Second, unlike the DLC which often tends to personalize issues just like the Republicans do, we need to stay way from so doing and stay focused on the issues themselves. Unlike the DLC, we already recognize that all of the central Georgite polices, from the War on Iraq to the War on the Constitution to the War on The Environment to the War on the Rest of Us on Behalf of the Interests of the Rich, represent the most grave of threats to the future of our country as we have known it since the Civil War. And so, we need to deal with the DLC by hammering away on our anti-Georgite themes, on these major issues facing the nation, which now resonate with an ever-increasing part of the electorate. By so doing we will demonstrate their failings much better than openly attacking them will. Of course, each time we criticize a Georgite policy we need to present a positive alternative to it. The adoption of an over-arching philosophy, perhaps of the type I proposed in the first column of this series, will make doing so ever so much easier.
Third, we have to consider the fact that the DLC actually seems to like many of the Georgite polices, especially in the economic and military and even foreign policy arenas. Why? As David Sirota says in his new book, Hostile Takeover: How Big Money and Corruption Conquered Our Government--and How We Take It Back, (quoting here from the BuzzFlash promo for the book), “If the opposition party becomes part of the corporate consensus, in effect part of a hostile takeover, then you have an entire political system where ordinary people’s interests are not even being represented in the debate, much less in public policy. ... the middle and working class in America are being absolutely crushed everywhere they turn.” There are two positive ways to deal with this problem. One is to simply point out, without denigrating the DLC directly, how the corporate interests that they represent fly in the face of the interests of the country as a whole. Second, we need to identify as many specific pro-DLC corporate interests as we can and show how their professed interests stand in contra-distinction to traditional Democratic Party interests and concerns.
Fourth, we need to begin to approach directly and personally pro-DLC corporate interests and show them how their continuing support for DLC policies, which too often mimic Georgite polices although they are perhaps milder in tone, is not in their own best interests. An increasing number of traditional Republican voices are coming out against the Georgites, in the corporate sector, in the financial sector, in the military. We need to find ways of bringing these voices together and help us approach other possibly sympathetic members of their sectors. One organization that is already doing this is “Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities” (http://www.sensiblepriorities.org). Their full-page ad in The New York Times of May 21, 2006 calling for Rumsfeld’s resignation cited issues that the DLC generally shies as far away from as it can, issues with which many branches of the Georgite regime can well be confronted: “Financial mismanagement and unaccountability; incompetent forecasting; mammoth waste; plummeting morale; squandered good will; intolerance of dissent.” Folks, these are the words of worried business people, not traditional left-wing Democrats. Let’s build upon them organizationally.
Fifth, the DLC seems to often focus on how the Democratic Party can win electorally by using this issue or that or not using that other issue or this. We need to counter this by focusing first on why the Democratic Party should win, then going on to the “how.” This again gets back to staying on issue-message, on developing that over-arching philosophy for the Party, on staying on the attack against the Georgites not the DLC per se, and on coupling every attack item with a positive program item for dealing with the issue raised.
Sixth, certain leading DLCers are actually saying “gee, maybe it would be better if we lost the mid-term elections so that we would have a better chance of winning (electorally) in 2008” (Adam Nagourney, “Hey Democrats, Why Win?” The New York Times, May 14, 2006). By doing so they ignore totally what further substantive harms will come to our country, our Constitutional form of government, and the world as a whole under another two years of total control of the Federal government by the Georgites. Our position must be we that have to win, we need to win now, in 2006, at least one House of Congress, to at least slow down the Georgite avalanche of reaction. Then, once we get there, we need to have investigations, surely. But during the next two years we have to be equally strong in putting forward positive legislative proposals, whether or not they actually make it into law. If they don’t because we control only one House, that becomes the reason for campaigning to win both in 2008. If we somehow win both and then elicit a series of Bush vetoes, that becomes the reason for winning the Presidency as well in 2008.
Finally (for this week at least, and I do have additional thoughts on this one, surprise, surprise), we have to recognize that the Democratic leadership in the Congress is not monolithic nor is it stuck in a time-warp. We need to be patient while we continue to apply positive pressure. And so, just as we need to deal with the DLC not by continually attacking it but by going forward, we need to deal with the Democratic Congressional leadership not by attacking its negative parts that support, openly or covertly, Georgite polices, but by defending, supporting and encouraging those who are gradually turning against them. Who would have thunk it six months ago that as Hillary gradually moves to the Right and Nancy Pelosi gradually moves to the Left that the latter would be gradually replacing the former as O’RHannibaugh favorite whipping girl? Who would have thunk it that one of the most pro-military-might Democratic Congressman, John Murtha, would at the same time have become their favorite whipping boy? Times change and so do people. We need to stay positive.
That’s it for this week. More next.