Blogs > Cliopatria > The Decision the Democrats Face

Nov 3, 2004 6:47 am

The Decision the Democrats Face

It's about 4am PST. I'll try to be coherent.

The Democrats have to decide if this is 1928 or 1988. If they believe that the problem is the country rather than themselves, then it's 1928. That is, they basically believe what their leaders are saying about the social, political, military and economic issues and just have to live with the fact that the country doesn't at this moment. So like FDR in 1928 they have to simply hang on until the country comes around. (In 1928 FDR chose not to run for president because he believed it was impossible under the circumstances for him to win.)

If this is 1988 then the party needs to look inward and figure out what is wrong and how the problem can be fixed.

There's evidence to justify both positions.

If you believe it's 1928: Iraq is a mess but the country isn't yet willing to acknowledge that. If a year from now not much has changed there then the Democrats will be justified in waiting for the country to come around to their position. By then surely a majority will have done so even if Bush still looks strong as a leader against terrorism.

If you believe it's 1988: The Democrats have to figure out how to get back white men (whom they haven't had since 1964), or married women (whom they have now lost apparently).

This is not 1968, when the party rank and file revolted against the party bosses who had foisted Hubert Humphrey on them. No one thinks the Dems need a new McGovern commission to rewrite the rules governing party elections. Nor is it 1972 when the party decide to go with a left-winger with extreme views and then got punished for it. No, 2004 is 1984 and 1988 all over again. The party went with a northern liberal who lacked broad appeal in the South and lost.

The conclusion may be that the party has to find another third-way Clinton. Or, if the party thinks this is 1928, it just has to sit tight.

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Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

I agree with your comment, Don, except re gun control. I am not familiar with the specifics of Democrats blundering in Pennsylvania (which did vote solidly against Cheney-Bush I noticed), but it seems to me that the problem of gun control, like many other "Democratic" platform issues, is that they are too spineless in pursuing it. I was once even a member of one of the gun control groups for a while, but I quit after a few years out of frustration at their inability to achieve much of anything. Who cares if you are "limited" to buying one gun a month ? Something like 90% of all cops in America are in favor of real gun control, like most other democracies have had for years. But, Democrats try to "claim the middle" by watering down their position (on this and many other issues) thus ending up with mostly token platitudes against which the even more bogus but more energetic and consistent deceptive sound bites of the Republicans sound more appealing - at least to many in the rural hinterland to which you refer.

I would agree, however, that other problems, environmental non-sustainability, social security insolvency, foreign policy blunders, to cite just a few, should get more emphasis than abortion or even gay marriage. There are better ways to prevent unwanted pregnancies and easier ways to protect the civil rights of homosexuals, which are less readily used by hypocritical fake “chrisitans” as a “wedge issue” for their bogus “culture war”.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Democrats do not need -and ought not to try- to "decide if this is 1928 or 1988". Clearly there are similarities and differences with both previous presidential election defeats.

Open-minded and public-spirited historians should not kid themselves. The results of this just-concluded election represent a greater disaster for all of America than either 1928 or 1988 did for the national Democratic Party. When Kerry says there are “no losers”, he is just about 180 degrees off. The worst president in living memory has had his atrocious policies endorsed by the populace, and the whole country is worse off both symbolically and actually. God did not “bless America” yesterday, it is vain and silly to "pray" for it, and we can only hope that God and our grandchildren can some day forgive us.

George W. Bush was not elected president in 2000, he was selected, and even the minority that voted for him did not vote for record budget deficits, a gutting of civil liberties, civil service standards, and environmental protections. And they certainly did not vote for a arrogant, lame, badly botched and disgraceful adventure in foreign nation-building that has weakened America's national security for years to come. This is already worse than 1928 (and the equivalent of a crash of ‘29 has not yet happened).

But now the American voters, to their lasting shame, have ratified these horrors, and by a small but undeniable margin. For all his money, his energy and his authoritative delivery, Kerry barely managed to match the popular vote total of the much more wooden and tactically inept Al Gore (still less if you credit Kerry with absorbing most of Nader's reduction in 2004 vs. 2000). Adjust for all the electoral deceit, mudslinging, and trickery (for which the Republicans were guilty of more than their share), and that basic and ominous result would not be significantly different.

At the end of the day, there are no good substitutes in democratic politics for clarity of focus, consistency of message, and grassroots commitment. In all three of those areas the Republicans have performed noticeably better the Democrats. This presidential election is a greater debacle for the Democrats than 1988 was, and it will take more than a new Clinton to restore their fortunes.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Nice to hear that the South is not completely gone with the wind. Know any Christians down there familiar with the Book of Matthew, and what Jesus says therein about the meek, the peacemakers, and hypocrites, and willing to take on and expose some of the latter ? We (y'all) have four years to reclaim the faith from the hijackers of it.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

And what about the avalanche of tests, performance standards, etc, that are theoretically supposed to enhance competition, prod inferior schools into improving etc. ?

America's system of private and public universities is second to none in the world (not many other things besides violent movies you can say that about re America these days). Somehow, it seems to me, there ought to be way to use a private-public mixture of rules and funding to upgrade education at the primary & secondary level

Don Williams - 11/7/2004

In my post above, I meant to say "has given a Republican President the right to throw any US citizen into a concentration camp WITHOUT a trial by jury".

Don Williams - 11/7/2004

I think it is irresponsible to drag the Democratic Party over the cliff in the last six elections over relatively trival matters.
Millions of the poor, the sick, and the elderly are suffering badly due to Democrats' lack of discipline.

Point 1: It's senseless to push a progressive agenda when a corrupt campaign finance system gives our plutocracy the upper hand. Roughly 8% of the households
own 53% of the national wealth -- and the shift of national wealth to the very rich is continuing. The inequality in national income is even greater.

As I've noted, Bush now projects a federal debt in 2008 of $9.9 Trillion --$3.8 Trillion more than what he promised just three years ago. The huge baby boom generation is about to enter retirement -- with Social Security underfunded by $7 Trillion and Medicare underfunded by $40 Trillion. In 2008, The only "assets" Social Security and Medicare will have are $4 Trillion in worthless IOUS written by Bush and the Republican Congresses. Bush and the Republicans have stolen $Trillions from out Trust Funds in order to fund their tax giveaways to the richest 2%. The only way we will get those $TRillions back is by first giving another $4 Trillion to future governments -- in the form of high taxes on our 401K and IRA savings.

We should be concerned that our Republic shows signs of sliding into a South American-style police state ruled by a small wealthy oligarchy. We have recently had a Republican Supreme Court rule that a Republican Congress has given a Republican President the right to throw any US citizen into a concentration camp with a trial by jury.
Which makes the NRA's slogan "From my Cold Dead Hands" look rather silly. But then you haven't seen Charleton Heston waving a musket over his head since Ashcroft took over the Justice Department.

Our focus should be on returning control of government to the people. We need to overthrow the massive propaganda machine the wealthy have set up --the "mainstream news media" --by returning control of the public airwaves to the people. We need to ban campaign contributions and have public financing of campaigns --so that he with the best policies wins,not he who whores best for the rich. We need to change the government policies which are destroying the middle class and plunging many of our citizens into deep poverty.

In that regard, people who distract and divert the voters with chickenshit nonsense about gun control, gay marriage,etc -- are not Democrats, they are saboteurs.

Nancy Tann - 11/7/2004

I agree that the Democrats are too "spineless in pursuing" the agendas they believe in. The President made gay marriage and abortion the issues that mattered for some Americans. Ironically, if gay Americans were able to marry and adopt some unwanted children, perhaps there would be some solutions to both problems. But prejudiced people would rather have children go without homes than live with two parents of the same gender who would love them.
I think Senator Kerry made the point over and over about tax cuts for the rich. Unfortunately, he came across as very rich and "up there" to the same people who endorsed Bush, who is just as rich but able to act like a good old boy.
The last three Democratic presidents have been southerners. Wake up, Dems, and nurture some democrats in the South. You have been writing us off for too long and it's time for us to "rise again."

Don Williams - 11/5/2004

1) Maybe I'm overly sensitive to trends discussed in Richard Evan's new book "The Coming of the Third Reich"--
but it really looks more like 1930 in Weimar to me.

2) Our Democrats look very much like the Social Democrats of Weimar -- inarticulate, ineffectual, and contemptible in their weakness --because they have sold out to so many interest groups that they no longer can make a statement without a lengthy internal review. Lacking any strong committment to core values -- they are eager to make any expedient compromise that will provide a short term gain.

3) But most of all, the leadership of the Democrats share the same illusion that the Social Democrats had : that it can't get worse, that the mythical pendulum will swing the other way.

4) They don't realize that repeated mistakes and incompetence leads to disaster -- that eventually, supporters make the pragmatic decision to abandon morons and make a deal with the opposition, even if the opposition is the devil. That once a ruthless opposition gains the upper hand, it never, never relinquishes control.

5) Here in Pennsylvania, we had 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats in Congress in 2000. In the 1990s, however, the stupid national Democratic leadership decided to let the gun control movement drag the Party over the cliff even though (a) the gun control movement does not have 1/10th of the money , power, and dedicated support of the NRA and (b) gun control did nothing to help the party. As a result, the Republicans gain control of the state legislature and had the power to redistrict the state after the census. With much gerrymandering, they have ensured that the state now has 13 Republicans and only 6 Democrats in Congress -- with districts drawn up such that it is almost impossible to defeat Republican incumbants. This disaster has been repeated in Texas and elsewhere.

6) It is utterly ridiculous that a Republican party that routinely sells out 98% of the population in order to serve the richest 2% should be in power. But they are -- because the Democrats repeatedly fail to point out the facts to US citizens. Also because the Democrats repeatedly alienate large chunks of US citizens with stupid moves like gun control , gay marriage,etc.

7) Bush is following the same pattern as Adolf Hitler --
build a base in the rural countryside because citizens in those areas are ignorant --they have little access to communications/information and can be easily misled by deceit and a faux nationalism.

George Antrobus - 11/4/2004

There are strong pragmatic reasons to be against vouchers. The first is that when government provides a benefit to all comers with no means test that allows them to purchase goods and services the cost of those goods and services will increase. Let's say a private elementary school education at a certain school costs $3,000 a year. Parents make whatever sacrifices are necessary to send their child to that school. A voucher program becomes available that makes $1,500 available. The parents who send their child to that school now are saving $1,500 a year. The school sees a chance to raise tuition $500 reasoning that parents won't squak too much as they are still $1,000 ahead. Gradually other increases are made and eventually they are charging the same amount (adjusted for inflation) that they were charging before. They profit and the defunded public schools go to hell. It will be just like student loans. Making more money available for tuition guarantees that tuition will rise faster than the rate of inflation.

But won't people start new schools? Yes, and that's the scary part. They tried a voucher program in New Zealand and all sorts new inferior schools were set up by folks either eager to make a buck or inspired by some dubious notions of pedagogy. It is very similar to charter schools. I used to support the idea of charter schools, until they opened one in my community and it consistantly underperforms the admittidly inadequate regular public schools. And so do most or all of the other charter schools I read about. I'm sure the people behind them are terribly well meaning, but they just don't seem to work.

Andrew D. Todd - 11/4/2004

One obvious correction is school vouchers. Parents have the long-established right to superintend their children's education at their own expense. School taxes are ultimately tuition on the statistical installment plan, so what the opponents of vouchers are saying, in effect, is that the right of choice is reserved to those wealthy enough to pay twice. That is the sort of position one would expect the caricature-Republican to take. The claim of academic freedom, as applied to elementary schools, is rather thin. The colleges have lived for years under a system substantially equivalent to vouchers, ie. Student Loans, Pell Grants, tax write-offs, etc., even if it is not as pure as Milton Friedman would like, and they don't seem to have experienced any irreparable harm. Similarly, the "common school" argument is more or less equivalent to Charles Moskos' arguments in favor of universal conscription, which find very little acceptance in the Democratic Party.

The truth is that the Democratic Party's intransigence on the subject of vouchers is mostly due to the influence of the American Federation of Teachers. There are vastly more parents than there are teachers, so from the standpoint of political advantage, this is a no-brainer. One of the precepts of the Republican Party has been to promise vouchers in order to attract the religious right, but not actually to deliver them, because then the religious right would happily take its vouchers and go home and cease to be politically active. This plan requires the Democrats to act as willing "fall guys." There is no sensible reason that they should do so. The Democratic Party can simply outbid the Republicans, putting the cost onto the federal deficit. Something like the federal Hope Credit might be a good model, with the amounts adjusted to reflect the costs of primary and secondary schools. The Hope Credit has simple eligibility criteria, and it does not depend on working through the decisions of local administrators. It pays about 75% of the tuition of the "vanilla option," an in-state community college in the Midwest ($1500 of the first $2000). I suppose Catholic parochial schools would be the nearest equivalent.

The education colleges are gradually shifting over to a system of massive practice-teaching, in which people who are not temperamentally suited to be teachers are weeded out at an early stage (sophomore year, say). However, it will take forty years for the products of this system to work their way through the body of existing teachers. The Teacher From Hell will be with us for some time. Vouchers ought to be good for an extra five percent or so, and that's all the Democrats need to push the Republicans back to the Deep South and the Sagebrush.