|Attention, Small-D Democrats: The Party's Over
by James Ridgeway
(Village Voice, Nov. 12) -- Since last week's election, liberals have
been melodramatically wringing their hands, while the pundits have
rushed to expound upon the deeper meaning of the Republican sweep.
The Democrats lost, they say, because they no longer stand for
anything. From the pundits' portentous tones, you'd never guess that
they were beating a horse that's been dead for more than 30 years.
In fact, this party has been disintegrating since it nominated
Hubert Humphrey in the bloody streets of Chicago in 1968. The
Democrats haven't had a shred of original ideology since the New
Deal, or a spark of fire in their bellies since the nominally liberal
momentum of the Kennedy-Johnson years ran aground on the party's
cowardly refusal to oppose the Vietnam War.
And it was Jimmy Carter who provided the spark that fired up the
right wing. His decision to abandon the Panama Canal helped result in
the founding of the New Right. That, in turn, went hand in hand with
Ronald Reagan's march to power. Flailing wildly, Carter tried to beat
the right by co-opting its economic plan, doing such things as
embracing deregulation of the energy industry and other businesses.
Charting new ground with an allegedly centrist support base, Clinton
tried to outfox conservatives by adopting halfhearted versions of
their own plans. Clinton put the final nail in the New Deal's coffin
-- embracing welfare "reform," screwing up and then abandoning
healthcare, even letting it be known that his administration would
look kindly on experiments to reform Social Security by handing
partial control to Wall Street brokerages. He managed to leave his
greatest mark on history by giving the Republicans an opportunity to
impeach him because of an ill-timed blowjob.
Today's Democratic Party is less a party than an entrenched
Washington apparatus, which operates as a sort of simulacrum of
itself, bellowing the names of past icons, while it carries on the
business of responding to the interests of one lobby group or
another. It is what William Greider calls a "managerial" party,
exemplified by the technocratic fussbudgets in the Democratic
Now, some say, there may be a real shakeup in the party in the wake
of the midterm defeat, the failed Dick Gephardt stepping down as
minority leader, and the Democrats turning to new leadership in the
form of California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. But this is sham.
Gephardt is not quitting as a failure, but to prepare for a
presidential run in 2004.
As of late, Pelosi is best known for her role as senior House
Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, where with the rest of this
deadbeat crew she ignored or covered up the U.S. intelligence
fiascoes that led to 9-11.
Pelosi hails from a Baltimore Democratic political family and says
she traces her roots to FDR. Currently she's known as the mother of
documentary filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi, who traveled with George Bush
during his campaign, and whose filmmaking, among other things,
apparently spurred the two families to meet for lunch.
The Republicans, on the other hand, have, since the days of Barry
Goldwater, articulated a clear ideology. Beginning with the Nixon
campaign of 1968, they have carried out an elaborate plan of action
to muster the "silent majority" and bring what was a splintered and
broken party to power. They have successfully positioned themselves
as the party of conservative "principle," with a mission to roll back
the ever encroaching federal government -- shutting down agencies and
privatizing others, returning power to the states, crushing the New
Deal welfare state -- while restoring old-fashioned Christian
morality to civil society.
There is some substance to these political claims, but not much.
Right now, the Republican majority is using its power to expand, not
contract, the role of the government, replacing the welfare state
with a far more costly and intrusive police state, with an economic
program based on Keynesian pump-priming for the defense industries.
Power may be wielded to advance ideology, but more often, ideology
is a front for the simple protection of power. Bush may pose as a
Texas wildcatter, a Bible-thumping Christian zealot, a war-ready
patriot, and a champion of the common man. But in reality, he's a
blue-blooded New England Methodist who dodged the draft by joining
the National Guard and pledged for Skull and Bones at Yale.
And he's never had anything remotely like an ideology, with the
possible exception of the 12-Step Program. If Bush succeeds in spite
of an elitist pedigree, it's because he heads -- and epitomizes --
today's Republican Party. This is a party that wields the money and
power of Big Business, shrewdly woven into a populist, patriotic
ideology designed to appeal to a country so desperate for passionate
ideals that in return it will give them the license to rob their
pensions and send their children to war.
Those who fail to fall for all this are left feeling powerless and
depressed, wondering where to go next. The answer is not terribly
hopeful, but it is very simple -- and it has nothing whatsoever to do
with party politics. Take every opportunity to oppose the power
structure: March on Washington, go on strike, organize a boycott,
start a resistance radio station, take to the streets with the
If you are looking for models, they are all over the rest of the
world: the East German Christian opposition to the Honecker police
state that led to the toppling of the Berlin Wall, the massive Czech
uprising, the South African overthrow of apartheid, the protests in
Seattle. Don't wait for the Democrats to do it. Do it yourself. Stand