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Friday, April 18, 2003

What’s Wrong With The Democratic Party?

Nothing, actually.

First of all, it is terribly important that we remember that the Democratic agenda is remarkably coherent for such a large coalition and it is universally supported within the party and by a majority of the country as a whole.

That is really quite remarkable when you think about it and it is the Democratic Party’s great strength.

We are weak on national security, but I think we can deal with that if we do not cede patriotism and American values to the Republicans. This issue is driven by emotion, not policy, and that is best conveyed through symbolism and rhetoric. We can do that. (See my post below for a longer discussion of that concept.)

It is also important to remember that the Bush administration does not have a real governing majority or an electoral mandate. They just behave as if they do. There seems to be a misapprehension that there has been a huge sea change in American attitudes and political belief and that a vast majority of “regular Americans” have rejected us decadent liberals when in fact all that happened was that a small handful of votes went the wrong way in ’02. Al and Ralph, both left of center, won a clear majority in 2000. We should not allow them to make even us believe that they are universally beloved and supported in this country. The ballot box has certainly not demonstrated that and neither do the re-elect numbers.

Yet, they have successfully enacted a radical economic and social agenda of supply side tax cutting, begun a revolutionary overhaul of the legal system, initiated massive regulation rollbacks and dissolution of the traditional separation of church and state. And they have also, not incidentally, completely overturned half century of foreign policy doctrine in just 2 years.

What’s amazing is that they have done all of this not only without a mandate, but without even explicitly campaigning on those issues or being honest about their implications. They are secretive and uncooperative with both the congress and the press and have assumed an inappropriate level of power in the executive branch. They do this because they know that they cannot win with their real agenda.

So, if most Americans support the Democratic agenda and the Republicans are blatantly governing far more radically than they promised in their campaigns, how are they getting away with it?

First, the other side has a huge advantage in money, incumbency and a constituency that benefits lopsidedly from the unrepresentative electoral college and senate. These are very powerful advantages that are unlikely to go away soon. But, even more importantly, they are overwhelmingly powerful in media, with the megaphone of power they now hold in all branches of government as well as the outright ownership of powerful talk radio, Murdoch newspapers and cable news. As Seeing the Forest so astutely observes, they have a message amplification infrastructure and the Democrats don’t. And that infrastructure serves as a conduit to the grassroots and the mainstream media. It shapes the conventional wisdom and defines the boundries of the establishment mainstream. All of these forces taken together give them the advantage even though a majority of Americans support the Democratic agenda and would reject the radical elements of the GOP agenda if they knew what they were.

Karl Rove knows this and has refined GOP tactics to obscure that profound weakness by using their infrastructure to not only demonize Democrats to the faithful (as they have always done) but to present the Republican Party in general and George W. Bush in particular as a triumphant and overwhelming juggernaut in the belief that this will carry the mushy uninformed with them over the finish line and keep the press on message. It is why, as Paul Krugman points out, “they focus all their attention on an issue; they pull out all the stops; they don't worry about breaking the rules. This technique brought them victory in the Florida recount battle, the passage of the 2001 tax cut, the fall of Kabul, victory in the midterm elections, and the fall of Baghdad.”

But, he downplays the most salient aspect of these victories. The Republicans don’t just “not worry about the rules.” The fact is that they haven’t won anything without cheating since Bush ran as a moderate, seized office on a technicality and began to govern from the most radical edge of his party. The tax cut was passed with fuzzy math and outright falsehoods about the beneficiaries and the election of ‘02 was (barely) won because of smears against a disabled Vet and a coordinated talk radio campaign against a dead man’s grieving family. The invasion of Iraq was sold on lies about WMD and ties to terrorists.

The Bush administration, then, really is the political equivalent of Enron. Ken Lay and George W. Bush and Karl Rove and Andrew Fastow and Jeff Skilling and Dick Cheney are all cut from the same cloth.

If you recall, what Enron essentially did was cook up a bunch of complicated experimental schemes to take advantage of “energy deregulation,” one of those ivory tower think tank wet dreams they managed to foist on a gullible public in various states . They were theoretically clever but had never been tried in the real world. And they predictably failed, but since the company’s financial reports were so byzantine it was able to hide their losses by creating a bunch of new off the books sweetheart deals with insiders and investment bankers who were also recommending the stock to the public. And they kept moving like sharks, using misdirection and tricks to keep investors looking at their "next big new market," while they covered up the failure of the last one.

When a rare person raised questions, the entire establishment that now stood to benefit from Enron’s success joined together to silence the critics. The company appealed to stockholders purely because of their winning ways and preternatural confidence. Nobody knew the details but they knew the plan was good because the cheerleaders and the analysts were all so convinced. So, everybody bought the stock and it became a self fulfilling prophesy. For a while.

They danced as fast as they could but inevitably all the fuzzy math and all the false bravado and all the secrecy and all the backroom dealmaking eventually caused the company to cave in on itself. There was nothing left but a bunch of theories that never worked and a crippling amount of debt.

The Democrats’ job is to prevent this from happening to the country. As taxpayers and citizens we are all shareholders in U.S. Inc. and if George W. Bush gets 4 more years I have no doubt that the results of his erratic decision making, his lack of transparency, his trust in radical ideologues and his reliance on sophisticated public relations to mislead the public will crash into reality. But, by that point the country will have been so seriously damaged that we may never quite recognize it again.

We shouldn't let these guys intimidate us. They are dangerous, but it's because they are reckless and corrupt not because they are a political juggernaut. That's their schtick. It's not real.


Seeing the Forest has more on this subject today, as does the watch and worldgonewrong. If my comment section is any guide, Democrats have a lot of thoughts on this issue.

My position is most poetically expressed by that most excellent comment writer -- the farmer:

"W is only a "great brand" by virtue of the marketing that made him a "great" brand. Great in this case, having about the same inate "great" value as say, the Great San Francisco Earthquake, the Great Fire of 1871, the Great Depression, and/or the Great White Shark. As "unknown blogger" mentioned, you can sell a rock in a box if you want to. Its still just a rock. But, its the box that sells the rock.

So, as Digby is getting at, its now up to liberals to restablish their dominance in the political marketplace. To market a high quality product in a highly visible high quality package. A better deal, more for your money, at a better price. Something that you can plant and it will grow for you. A real live perennial tree of liberty that you can plant in your own back yard. Not a nut tree either. Too many nut trees already. Rather, a big sprawling sugar maple, or a big blue atlas cedar. Or an apple tree, the kind you can make your own fresh pies from for years and years. Mom will love it. Mom and her apple pie tree. Its a patriotic American living thing and it arrives in a traditional hoop bound oak stave barrel half all ready to be planted in Washington DC. Ships in 2004, order today

Now, that's what I'm talkin' about...