Monday, June 27, 2005

Thoughts for Democrats

The level of political discourse in America has hit new lows. Heavy-hitters on one side make ill-considered statements, and heavy-hitters on the other side squeal like stuck pigs and demand apologies. It appears to me that Democrats have on balance been the losers. They make at least as many extremist statements as their Republican counterparts, and at the same time they can't fall back on the facts that they are the ones governing and the ones who have a program.

Talk radio isn't any better. Compared to the big kahuna, Rush Limbaugh, the talkers on Air America offer up loud extremism and foul language to compare with his humor, optimism, and willingness to criticize those on his side. However, if you go to some other talk radio personalities on the conservative side, like Michael Savage, you hear the same kind of extremism.

Speaking of Air America, a few days ago I heard Jeanne Garofolo talking to Margaret Cho on a call-in. Amid incredibly extreme statements and very foul language, they opined that Karl Rove, Ken Mehlman, and Scott McClellan are gay. Senator Rick Santorum, in their view, is bisexual or at least conflicted. To top it off, they asserted that Jeff Gannon had been sleeping with Karl Rove. Randi Rhodes carries on in about the same way, and Mike Malloy is even more offensive. What, exactly, is this supposed to accomplish?

Please don't bombard me with criticism that I'm focusing only on extremist Democrats. I've already stipulated that both sides are guilty, to one degree or another. My purpose here is to talk about Democrats, not necessarily because they're the most extreme but because their continuing failure to offer a rational alternative serves only to further empower Republicans and the right. Our two-party system, whatever its ills, works well only when two relatively robust parties serve to balance and moderate each other. The way things are going now, the Democratic Party is going to continue to be ineffective, and that worries me.

Political parties exist to elect their members to office. That's their most vital function in every democratic political system. Reading leftist blogs, listening to Air America, and watching Democratic Party leaders perform leaves little room for optimism about the future of the Party. Democratic partisans seem to be a lot more interested in airing extremist views, criticizing and obstructing the Republican majority, and in some cases promoting their individual self-interest than they are in winning elections. The American people understand this, and they can see clearly that the Democratic Party has no coherent policy stance.

Al From and Bruce Reed wrote a thoughtful article a while back that all Democrats should read. From is Founder and CEO of The Democratic Leadership Council, and Reed is President of the DLC. For those who may not remember, or don't know, it was the DLC that provided the launching pad for Bill Clinton, the only successful Democratic national leader in recent memory. Part of what they wrote:

Here are some simple truths every Democrat needs to hear. To win back the White House in 2008, our party must change. We must be willing to discard political strategies that may make us feel good but that keep falling short. We must finally reject the false choice between exciting our base and expanding our appeal, because unless we both motivate and persuade, we'll lose every time.

But above all, Democrats must be bold and clear about what we stand for. It's time to show the millions of people who can't tell what Democrats stand for that any American who believes in security, opportunity, and responsibility has a home in the Democratic Party.

As Bill Clinton told us many times in 1992, change is never easy. Our party's greatest challenge is to offer new, innovative, and progressive ways to expand opportunity, demand responsibility, and defend freedom and American interests in the world. That will require challenging party orthodoxy and, from time to time, making some in our party uncomfortable. But during the next four years, we have to be willing to surprise people once again. If we do that, we will earn the chance to put our ideas into action; if we don't, we will not win, no matter how much money we raise or how good our party machinery may be.'s a delusion to think that if we just turned out our voters, we could win national elections. The 2004 election should have dispelled that myth, once and for all. With an unprecedented effort to get out our vote, Democrats far exceeded all expectations -- and we still lost. Next time, we need to mount an unprecedented effort in persuasion, not just turnout. A party that has averaged 44.5 percent of the vote in the last 10 presidential elections and has only won a majority of the popular vote for president twice in six decades needs to start winning over some of the voters it's losing. ...

If we want voters, especially those in America's heartland, to take a new look at the Democratic Party, we must have the courage to take on the great challenges of our time: making America safe; building an opportunity society; standing up for core values of responsibility and family; and reforming a political system that is broken and corrupt.

From and Reed continued with a detailed discussion of positive steps the Democratic Party needs to take. It's worth a few minutes to read the whole article.


Blogger Gindy said...

I personally find Air America to be very difficult to listen to. I used to listen to Brian Whitman who is left of center. But, he just moved on to a different station. Savage is extreme. But, he also criticizes the President constantly.

11:23 AM, June 27, 2005  
Anonymous Fred Schoeneman said...


I agree that the level of discourse is pretty low and all, but I want to address the From stuff. Clinton was, indeed, the only strong Democrat candidate, but even then, I'd only say he was strong in 1996. Bob Dole was a strong republican, I thought, at the time, but anyways, he had the power of incumbency in 1996 so what's a more interesting election is 1992. But I think that Perot's influence on that campaign was stronger than most will give him credit for, don't you?

And if Perot explains 1992 (and subsequent 1996) then how does that affect your analysis? It suggests to me that the Democrats have larger core problems than even moderates like From can address. And it's even more troubling.


12:03 PM, June 27, 2005  
Anonymous Fred said...

Also, you're right about the comparisons between Limbaugh & Savage. Savage is a prick. I don't listen to Limbaugh much, but I'd compare him more to Howard Stern than Randi Rhodes.


12:07 PM, June 27, 2005  
Blogger John Walter said...

Um... Fred: why do you say Bob Dole had the power of incumbency? Did you mean Bill Clinton had it in defeating Dole? Possibly. But I think Dole was more hampered by the fact he couldn't generate enthusiasm among the GOP base because he tried to play the "moderate Republican" card and that hasn't worked since Nixon was reelected in 1972.

Savage needs some serious medication. Even so, he does ruthlessly criticize W. over illegal immigration and not reducing places like Fallujah to a radioactive ash heap. I find him embarrasing.

There is also Bill O'Reilly, who is constantly accused of being a conservative Republican but who has also frequently criticized the president as well as his brother, the governor of Florida.

Anyway, the Dems don't need Air America as long as they have NPR.

12:48 PM, June 27, 2005  
Blogger MaxedOutMama said...

Very interesting post, Tom. I think you pulled out the salient issue, and the reason that so many Americans are so mad at the Democrats. It's not so much the extreme statements, but their refusal to set forth an agenda.

I believe you are absolutely correct about our system requiring two parties who advance differing ideas about how to deal with the challenges that continually arise in any nation. We have lost our meaningful national dialogue because the Democratic leadership (who I do not really believe represents the bulk of the party) refuses to engage!

It makes me want to quote Lincoln about do-nothing generals. I find this whole development really unnerving. A one-party state is just not a good thing!

7:33 PM, June 28, 2005  
Blogger Paul said...

Many of these "democrats" seem are so far left that they poluted their own party. You hear litle from moderate democrats such as Joe Lieberman and when you do it is on Sean Hannity's show. At least the republicans respect their moderates and they hold high offices, such as Spector or McCain. These lefties won't be happy until the US is purely Progressive or Socialist.

2:29 PM, July 23, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Paul, I think you have a point. Extremists have taken over the Democratic Party, to some extent at least. Something similar happened to the Republican Party in the 60s, and it took a long time for them to recover. I really would like to hear more from moderate Democrats, who I think are still the majority of the Party.

4:35 PM, July 23, 2005  

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