Uniting the Democrats
With the political wind in its sails, the Democratic Party seems quite united. If the election next week brings major success to the Democrats, they need to recognize how they got here and plan effectively how and where to go forward as a party. The last Sense post mentioned the Democrats looking ahead may need to subdivide, but it would have been more correct to say they need to perfect their new union.
George Lakoff in "The Political Mind" argues for abandoning the concept of a left to right political spectrum, with moderates in the middle. He points out that conservatives and progressives do not have different values, but they do have different modes of thought. Progressives think of government as a nurturing entity which protects and empowers people and fosters community responsibility. Conservatives think of government as an authoritarian entity which emphasizes force and power and unregulated economic privatization and clebrates individual responsibility.
Lakoff maintains that we all possess the capability for both modes of political thought, and that some of us use one mode of thought on some issues and the other mode of thought on the remaining ones. He cites as examples Joe Lieberman, who is conservative on Iraq and school vouchers, but progressive otherwise, and Chuck Hagel, who is progressive on Iraq but otherwise conservative. To Lakoff, a so-called "moderate" is not someone with moderate views on all subjects, but rather someone with conservative views on some and progressive views on others.
After the Civil War, the Republican Party was seen as the party of northern big business which had defeated the South and abolished slavery. White Southerners embraced the Democratic party during Reconstruction and continued through the Jim Crow decades, forming a strange bedfellows alliance with northern progressives and labor groups. The Republicans kept the big business interests and blended it with an appeal to the rugged individualism of the western states. The uneasy Democratic marriage finally dissolved as civil rights laws were passed, and the south changed to Republican. Republicans used white backlash in the north to peel off labor votes, while at the same time undermining unionism itself. The Vietnam War had also turned many young people away from the Democrats.
Democrats tried to adjust to changing times by opening the party up and encouraging conspicuous inclusiveness. This played right into the Republican appeal to backlash and the Democrats hit a low point in the 1972 Nixon re-election. Nixon turned the public against him by expanding the Vietnam War and undermining the Constitution with Watergate, lacking only a ruining of the economy to have beaten George W. to the terrible trifecta. In reaction, voters elected Carter and gave him a Democratic Congress. But analogous to the George W. fiasco in Iraq, Democrats won the 1976 election War but lost the occupation of the government by not having a unified plan of how to proceed.
As Reagan took over the Republican Party, the Democrats were pushed out of power and have been floundering ever since. Bill Clinton came along at the right time for Bill Clinton. Bush I was a weak candidate facing an economy weakened by the bogus Reagonomics of trickle down. The populist third party appeal of Perot split the vote and Clinton was a supposed new Democrat centralist. Clinton was more of a conservative on economic issues, favoring free trade instead of working for fair trade, having no policy to support American workers in general and working single mothers and workers who lost jobs to globalization in particular. As we can see now, the Clinton years of prosperity were built on their own bubble and house of cards. The same lack of a Democratic master plan led to the loss of Congress after two years of Clinton. Monicagate played into Republican mythology, but also affected the attitudes of many progressives who are somewhat conservative on personal sexual morality. Al Gore was no better campaigner than Bush I, and Joe Lieberman did not inspire any progressives, many of whom sensed his conservative views on religion and war.
By 2004, the public mood was starting to go against Republicans, but the Democrats were not quite ready to seize the opportunity. The fresh appeal of Howard Dean brought activism back to the party, but Dean did not have the gravitas to run for President. John Kerry had the gravitas but seemed to be from the same school of campaigning as Bush I and Gore. Running mate Edwards had charm and labor appeal but not enough gravitas to make it on his own and not enough chemistry with Kerry. They came close, but the Republican vote suppression program that stole Florida in 2000 did the same in Ohio in 2004.
After the close loss in 2004, the Democrats finally started to get their act together, deciding they should be the party of all America, viable in every state of the Union. For 2006, they recruited appealing candidates in some fairly conservative states, people who had a mix of progressive and conservative views, but whose conservative views were traditional ones rather than of the culture wars variety, and all of whom agreed the occupation of Iraq should be ended as soon as possible. Democrats even rejected Joe Lieberman, though his new designation as Independent still got him back into the Senate and he now parades around in support of McCain.
Barack Obama had been a sensation at the 2004 Democratic Convention, most importantly to party insiders who recognized his unique set of talents. But Hillary Clinton seemed the heir apparent. As a testimony to the sincerity of Democratic inclusiveness, in a year that the right white male could have walked away with the election, the Democrats fought it out for 2008 between a white woman and a black man. The other white contenders, and the one Hispanic, over the long primary season enabled Clinton and Obama to rise above the pack and demonstrate their excellent abilities. Clinton fought hard and fairly dirty, which enabled Obama to show he could handle it and seasoned him for the general campaign.
Coming out of the primaries, the Democrats were actually quite unified on the issues. Some unhappy Hillaryites are still bitter that Obama won, but there have been no Democratic defections to McCain. McCain can only cite Lieberman as a Democratic supporter, conveniently ignoring the fact Lieberman has been an Independent since 2006. Almost daily, Republicans have been coming out in support of Obama, some citing various lacks in McCain, most notably his lack of judgment in choosing Palin, and all of them pointing to the obvious and unique ability of Obama to lead the country at this time.
The Democrats seem to be on the verge of a new era for the party and for our country. The two headed donkey is not pulling against itself, but is actually seeing both legitimate points of view, the need to protect and empower all Americans, while at the same time staying true to real economic and individual values. In that sense, it is reflective of the majority of Americans, who are overwhelmingly rejecting the Republican elephant which has been wearing blinders as it has stampeded us into War and trampled our Constitution and our economy.