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Saturday, March 18, 2006

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.


At 4:41 PM , Anonymous Asshole said...

Been saying the same for awhile now.

We're all really fucked.

At 10:09 PM , Blogger Julia said...

I agree with you, but you've missed one important point. If the Democrats have become spineless, who has removed their spines?

Unfortunately, it is we, the liberal voters. We just don't vote, particularly in primaries. Our party leaders have to watch what they do, and what they say, to avoid being Repub targets, because they know their own base can't be trusted to support them.
They NEED to see that we, the liberal base, will turn out and support them. Not just at the polls, but by working their campaigns.

Plus, it's a real whoot working on a campaign committee.

At 7:54 AM , Anonymous The Aberrant Eye said...

If the Democrats have become spineless, who has removed their spines?

I find myself agreeing, these days, with the theory Tim Kreider expressed in the Artist's Statement to his most recent "The Pain -- When Will It End?" cartoon < http://www.thepaincomics.com/weekly060315a.htm >: "[The Civil Rights Act] was the last time the Democratic Party stood up for anything it believed in and because of it they lost the South forever and learned that they must never under any circumstances stand up for anything again." A few years later, the right-wing media noise machine was established (google on "Powell Memorandum") to cement that idea and related ones into the public consciousness; we're living the results.

They NEED to see that we, the liberal base, will turn out and support them. Not just at the polls, but by working their campaigns.

It'd certainly be harder for the Fog Machine to obscure.

At 9:29 AM , Blogger Highlander said...


I've always been reluctant to embrace the whole 'if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem' scenario. That is, no doubt, my own selfishness speaking, but I'm not sure, in this case, there is anything wrong with wanting, or even feeling entitled, to just live my life in relative peace and civility.

Having said all that, I do not believe that the people we elect to office 'NEED' to see that we, the liberal base, will turn out and support them. Nor am I willing to buy into the notion that volunteering to help with a political campaign is now to be construed as my duty as a good American. You want to volunteer, knock yourself out. I turn out to vote; that's enough civic duty for me.

To answer your opening question, I have to agree with The Aberrant Eye. Who has removed the Democrats' spines? Well, the organized conservative movement has spent a great deal of time, effort and money trying to bitch slap the left into cowed submission, but honestly, Democratic politicians don't have to take it, nor does the media... they choose to, because they find it easier than standing up and fighting. Beyond that, the half of the country who would rather vote their ugly prejudices instead of bothering to grow up is largely responsible, too. The Republicans couldn't sell hate and fear if they didn't have a ready market for it.

If I seem like I'm blaming everyone but myself, and doing my best to find any rationalization to keep me sitting at home in my comfortable chair in front of the computer instead of taking to the streets with a clipboard or a placard in my hand, well... okay, sure, I am. But I do vote, and if I don't vote in primaries, well, it's because I don't care to register with either party... the Repubs because they just plain suck, and the Dems because they often just plain suck.

However, I must come back to this whole notion of 'our party leaders have to watch what they do, and what they say, to avoid being Repub targets, because they know their own base can't be trusted to support them'. I strongly disagree. If 'our party leaders' need to know their liberal base will support them, then they need to start running on liberal platforms, and they especially need to stand up on their hind legs and take the righties on.

The right has never been weaker than it is now. If 'our party leaders' won't get in the game now, then we are indeed, as Asshole says, 'really fucked'.

At 4:58 AM , Anonymous S.M. Stirling said...

American politics has undergone a process of polarization in the past two generations; conservatives now almost all vote Republican, and liberals all vote Democratic.

This was not the case historically -- FDR's Democratic party included Jewish socialists in New York and Jim Crow Bourbons in Alabama. The GOP in those years had a lot of liberal Republicans.

The problem with this process of polarization from a Democratic point of view (and I'm a registered Democrat) is that conservatives outnumber liberals in the US by about 2 to 1, and the gap is increasing, for a number of reasons.

For example, conservative religious types have about 3 times as many children. 97 of the 100 fastest-growing counties in the US voted for Bush in 2004.

All this means that the Republicans have much more margin for error than Democrats do. They can play to their base, because it's bigger. If Democrats play to their base, they lose.

2004 demonstrated this. The Democrats had everything going for them -- lots of money (more than the Republicans, for once), lots of energy, party unity, high turnout.

And they lost. This means that even if everyone naturally inclined to vote Democratic turns out and votes, we still get stomped.

It also means that it's harder for Democrats to nominate someone who can win nationally. Anyone who really pleases and energizes "the troops" is likely to come across as grossly offputting to the general public.

We need to broaden our base.

At 6:36 AM , Blogger Julia said...


You misunderstand. It's not the old "part of the problem" cliche that I'm talking about. The cliche I'm referring to is "If you don't want to work to fix it, don't bitch about it." Volunteering is how our system is fueled. It's more important than money.

Unfortunately, you are being naive if you think support isn't a concern of politicians. Face it, their priority is getting elected then re-elected.

The sad fact is that when folks just vote in elections and ignore primaries, you leave people like me to decide who gets to run for office.

And that is scary. Really, ask anyone who knows me. That's scary.

At 7:19 AM , Blogger Highlander said...

There may be a post about this in me, but I'll test fly it here: I think the Democrats would benefit greatly from trying to include some pragmatic planks in their platform that would have vast popular appeal. Stuff like:

***Real laws based on the concept of a right to privacy. Instead of a Federal Do Not Call List, pass a law that says anyone who calls a private phone number for commercial purposes MUST have that person's written authorization to do so before hand, and said authorization MUST be renewed every 60 days. Pass a similar law regarding one's personal information -- for any entity to sell or give away any information attached to a private individual, including phone number, address, email address, etc, they MUST have the individual's written authorization, and again, it must be renewed every 60 days. Back it up with stiff fines immediately levied out of a telemarketer's superfund set up and administrated by the Federal government, which are paid directly to whoever gets their dinner interrupted by a prick telemarketer, or suddenly finds themselves receiving unwanted junk mail.

* * * A Federal Access to Business Law, which requires all companies doing business in any way in the United States to actually hire a real human being to answer their phones. No more automated switchboards.

* * * A real push for better health care. Avoid the phrase 'universal health care'. Look into ways to vastly expand the current Medicare system, to the point where every American citizen can get some kind of medical care simply by showing their Social Security card (Social Security taxes should be good for something). Let private insurance companies function as value add ons to the basic citizen plan. Over time this would gradually be streamlined into a single payer system, but start small.

**A Support The Troops plank, featuring an extensive overhaul of military benefits -- pay our combat veterans better, provide them and their families with better housing, educational opportunities, and the same kind of medical care that the President gets. Also pass a Federal law requring that any soldier who is not properly equipped for a mission does not need to go on that mission (by definition, providing troops sent to Iraq with a list of necessary equipment costing hundreds of dollars that they are expected to supply themselves would allow any of them to simply say 'sorry, I'm not going'.)

* * * * Create a national referendum mechanism. Every four years, everyone in the country gets to vote on a limited number of vital topics, Yes or No. This could be anything from Should Congress Impreach The President For Being a Lying Sack Of Shit to Should America Be A Signatory To The Kyoto Treaty? 10 topics every four years, compiled via write ins, voting to be done American Idol style, by dialing an 800 number (or even a 900 number, and use the money to help the health care system, or something).

The last one I'm not sure how you'd enforce... maybe you couldn't. Perhaps Congress could simply ignore the results. But a national plebiscite every four years would at least allow the country, as a whole, to make its voice known. And we could at least make it possible for the country, as a whole, to fire any elected representative on a Federal level that we don't feel is doing an acceptable job. One of the real problems with our country is provincialism; as long as the representatives of Georgia keep funneling the pork into Georgia, their jobs are safe, but this does not serve the overall interests. This would give everyone in the country some kind of check on that, although a particular Congresscritter would have to offend pretty egregiously to make it onto the Referendum List (think Tom DeLay or Katherine Harris here).

There are quite a few other items like this that I believe the Dems could bolster their mass appeal with. But this would require being willing to actually commit to something, to stand up and promise something positive, which would then require actual delivery afterwards if you ever wanted to get another vote. Something like the Republicans' Contract With America, but, you know, progressive.

Let the Dems come out with some platform planks like this, and I might actually register as a Democrat, and even work on someone's campaign. Until they get a backbone, though, I'll continue to prioritize other things.


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