Hard sell

(with updates)

On my previous post, "Throw the bum out", I seemed to strike a chord, at least among my relatively small group of regular commenters. All of us seem to be in agreement -- the Democratic Party has been displaying nothing but weakness and worthlessness to the people who are still pinning their hopes on it.

Now, I'm not backsliding. I have no respect for the gutlessness the Dems are showing, and in fact, have been showing, ever since the Supreme Court bitchslapped Al Gore out of his rightful electoral victory. The shadows are growing long in our nation. Night is falling, and never has our country needed courageous, ethical, honorable leadership more than right now. Our rights and our liberties are being whittled away, little by little. We live in a country of free speech zones and unregulated government surveillance, where the people in power feel they can break the law with impunity, and are apparently correct. There are people locked up in American detainment facilities who have never been charged with a crime, who have never been allowed to speak to a lawyer, who have never had a trial... and at any given time, a few dozen of them are being tortured by people wearing the American flag. And we all know it. And we aren't doing anything about it, and neither are our elected representatives. And I expect no more from the ruling Republicans, who have revealed themselves, since coming to power, to be little more than a pack of lying, stealing, murderous, avaricious, power-glutted swine.

But I do expect more of the Democrats. Apparently we all do. And right now, and for the past five years, nearly all of the Democrats who still have a shred of power have been failing us utterly. At a time when we need them most, they have done the least, and there is no excuse, and I have no respect for it whatsoever.

Having said all that -- and again, bearing in mind I'm not making excuses -- it should be admitted, Democratic politicians have a considerably more difficult job to do than Republicans. Or at least, so it seems to me. This is why:

Republicans basically sell a very simple product: hate and fear. It is, therefore, not particularly difficult to, in the phraseology of the modern political playbook, energize the base. Anyone can stir up hate and fear in nearly anyone else; it's easy. All you have to do is point and scream. It takes an effort of will to rise above the basic, primal territorial tribalism that we all are prey to; many prefer not to even make that effort, and many others can be hectored into abandoning it with very little effort. So Republicans don't have a great deal of trouble getting out the vote; there is always a large target demographic willing to buy what they're selling, and the undecided swing voters are naturally inclined to rabid xenophobia, too.

Democrats, on the other hand, are pushing an entirely different bill of goods. Where Republicans are shilling hate and fear, Democrats are hawking hope and compassion. Where Republicans are the party of getting ours now and to hell with everyone who isn't a tribe member, Democrats have a progressive social vision that says if we all work together, we can make the world a better place... not just for a privileged few that we are all hoping to become part of, but for everyone.

This is a much tougher sell. It is far harder to energize your base with reason and empathy than it is with anger, prejudice, and exclusionism. And, in point of fact, most of the Democratic gains over the past century have come not from enlightened, progressive people who want to improve the world for all its residents, but from minorities who feel overlooked, and who are hitching their wagon to the Democratic Party because they hope to increase the power of their own particular tribe... in much the same way the white male Christian dominated base of the Republican party votes Republican because they feel that white male Christian social dominance has eroded over the course of the last century, and they want to restore it to what it once was.

Selfishness is an inherent and inescapable human vice, and it will always be a part of all human social interactions, including politics. Conservatism, and the Republican Party in particular, incorporate selfishness as one of their essential platform planks, but there are plenty of selfish, power hungry people in the Democratic Party, too. Such people do not do things for reasons of morality, ethics, social responsibility, or individual integrity. They bide their time, they choose their battlefields, they pick their fights, and all that other high minded sounding shit that essentially means, they never go against the odds, and in fact, they don't get suited up until their focus groups and pollsters and market analysts and policy advisers tell them the odds are overwhelmingly in their favor.

But, even understanding all of that, it should also be understood that the Democrats have some reason for being reluctant to take a stand at the moment. When a defense attorney has no case, the law isn't on his side, and the evidence against his client is overwhelming, he still has one vital element he can always rely on: the jury. And no matter how bad it seems to get for the Republicans, no matter how many of them are indicted or convicted, no matter what laws the Commander in Chief or his cronies break this week, no matter how many scandals there are, the Republicans can still rely on one thing -- it is easier to sell people hate and fear than it is to sell them compassion and hope.

I think the Democratic Party is being foolish and spineless, and I think it's going to bite them on the ass badly when elections roll around, because if there is one thing people hate above all others, it's a coward, and that is exactly what most of our elected Democratic politicians look like right now. Yet, having said all that, it must also be acknowledged -- it's harder to get elected, and stay elected, when you're running as a Democrat, than when you're running as a Republican. Which is probably why so many lazy lying cheating amoral backstabbing hypocritical pricks run for office as Republicans every year.

There is good news. Katherine Harris has just decided to stay in the race for Bill Nelson's Senate seat in Florida. This is good news because Harris' numbers are abysmal; since she was linked to illegal contributions from bribemeister Mitchell Wade, who was one of Duke Cunningham's favorite campaign supporters. The scandal is an especially good one because it not only points up Harris' utter lack of scruples, but also her bungling incompetence. After going to dinner with Wade and accepting stacks of illegal cash from him, Harris then put in a bid for him to get $10 million in government defense contracts -- but she missed the deadline, and he got no return on his money at all.

The Republican Party apparatus in Florida is apparently doing everything but putting out a contract on Harris to get her out of the race; they know she's poison, while Bill Nelson is still very popular in Florida. Recently Jeb Bush himself noted that Harris was going to have to make the race about Nelson -- his exact words were "I think for Congresswoman Harris to win, this has to stop being about her and has to start being about Senator Nelson and about the future of our country and the future of the state"... Republicanese for "she's got to go negative in a really big way on her opponent to have the remotest hope". The problem is, her opponent has a great deal more material for a negative campaign against Harris than she has against him.

Harris has so alienated her own party that she has found it impossible to do any decent fundraising; for that reason, she's decided to commit her entire personal fortune of 10 million dollars to the campaign. This is also good news; it should trigger a 2002 campaign-finance reform law that includes a "millionaires amendment" meant to help candidates whose opponents pump big money into their races.

This will allow Nelson to triple or even multiply by six times the usual limits of $2,100 per individual donation to his campaign.

Personally, I don't just want Katherine Harris out of elective politics, I want her in jail. But I'll settle for having her lose a very high profile state election; if she fails to pick up the Senate seat she's gunning for, she'll have lost her place in the House of Representatives, too. It's things like this that can give a party momentum.

UPDATE: Over here we see Cheney vigorously denying (a) that the Administration will be bringing in any new policy advisers to try and shore it up before the mid-terms, and (b) that anyone has asked him to step down from the VP slot so another (electable) high profile Republican could get a running start at the President's job from the Vice President spot.

The easy read of this is that Cheney is on his way out, and Dubya has already hand picked the next VP, who will be the presumed, and probably actual, Republican nominee for President in 2008.

My deeper (and no doubt more paranoid) read of this is that Cheney's blowing smoke in an entirely different way. By mentioning the 2008 Presidential elections so casually, he's trying to reassure us that there will be elections in 2008. I'm still more than half convinced that at some point before Bush's second term runs out, we'll see his Administration attempt to unilaterally declare martial law. This seems to be what they are laying the groundwork for; everything they've done over the past five years seems to be a consistent series of probing actions -- "Okay, they're willing to tolerate this if we wave the terrorism flag enough, now, let's see if they're willing to tolerate the next step". The ultimate end of this road for a group as power hungry as Bush's group is can only be absolute political power itself. Some people think Bush is going to try to repeal the 22nd Amendment and stay in office that way, but I personally doubt it... Bush is headstrong, arrogant, and doesn't like to listen to anything he doesn't want to hear, but even he has to realize he can't possibly be re-elected again. No, my suspicion is that a martial law declaration lies not too far in the future... probably shortly after mid-terms, if the Dems make big gains in Congress.

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