my pissant two cents

Saturday, November 20, 2004

a tale of two parties

the democrats are finally coming to grips with the defeat they (we) suffered a few weeks ago. the way they're handling it, at least publicly, is a powerful symptom of the disease that has led to steady losses for the dems in the past decade.

the problem is, there are two polar opposite and mutually exclusive approaches to the second bush term. one is the quest for bipartisanship and common ground, the other is a heels-dug-in fight for the soul of america. each has its appeal, and its drawbacks. each is valid, in its way. each has pitfalls for the party and the country. each is a recipe for success or disaster.

each was brought to light yesterday, in the public announcements of sen. tom daschle, outgoing senate minority leader, and sen. john kerry, defeated democratic presidential nominee. the fact that each of these men-- beaten in similarly fractious, mean spirited, low-road campaigns-- reacted so differently shows that there are many ways to accept defeat.

daschle lost his seat in iowa to republican challenger john thune under a hailstorm of republican attack. but in his farewell address to the senate-- which was attended by almost all of his democratic colleagues, but just a handful of republicans-- he called for cooperation and unity, much like that the upper house of congress exercised in the days after 9/11. (it is worth noting that this cooperation produced such ignoble results as the Patriot Act and the $15 billion giveaway to the airline industry, which continued to lay off workers.) observers noted that daschle spoke without bitterness or chagrin, refraining from acrimony that might have been well justified in light of the beating his reputation took in the election.

republican majority leader bill frist of tennessee praised daschle as a man of "true grace" and "integrity." quite a compliment coming from a man who, in campaigning for thune, suggested that the u.s. was in grave peril because of daschle's leadership of the democratic senators. i guess it's just politics....

daschle is not alone in his call for cooperation. former v.p. candidate joe lieberman (d-ct), new senate minority leader harry reid (d-nv) and senate judiciary committee member patrick leahy (d-vt) have all expressed optimism in working with the bush administration for the next four years. they say the future of the country rests in the ability of the branches of government to move beyond party politics and leave the differences of the past behind.

but don't count kerry in that camp. in a video email to his supporters yesterday, kerry called for a fight againt the high-speed rightward drift the bush people are working for. after thanking his supporters for their work in getting out the vote and challenging the media attacks of fox, sinclair and right-wing talk radio, kerry went after the bush administration's moves to weed out voices of reserve and reflection in favor of yes-men and -women who seek with singular focus to push forward the president's ultra-conservative agenda.

"we will continue to challenge this administration," he said. "this is not a time for democrats to retreat and accommodate extremists on critical principles. it is a time to stand firm." he then went on to announce his proposal to insure all of the nation's 8+ million uninsured children in the next congressional session, making good on his campaign promise to help untangle the gordian knot of the ongoing healthcare crisis. (you can sign the petition he wishes to present with his proposal by logging onto www.johnkerry.com/everychild).

these are strong words. too little, too late, many will say, and they wouldn't be far from the truth. but they needed to be said, now as much as then. maybe moreso.

of course, kerry has already come under attack for this call to political arms. it's a buzzkill following the mutual admiration society tea that was the clinton library dedication. it harshed the mellow of the warm fuzzies that accompanied the daschle speech. it undercuts the graceful exit kerry orchestrated in his concession speech.

and so what? since kerry's concession, bush has kicked anyone who wasn't prepared to carry his hardline conservative agenda off the team. the bleatings of appeasers in the democratic party do no one any favors while the bush people scheme to continue their errant ways and, in fact, make them even more extreme. cooperation in the pursuit of injustice is no virtue, to paraphrase barry goldwater.

this is the john kerry i had admired long before he threw his hat into the presidential ring. in the '80s, when he sat on the committee investigating the iran-contra scandal, he stood firm in his demands for information from the reagan/bush team that ran roughshod over the constitution in their zealous and illegal support for the contras' terrorist war in nicaragua. when committee chair daniel inouye (d-hi) sought to move on or take matters into chambers rather than discuss them under the bright lights of public scrutiny, john kerry demonstrated for all to see that he was not going to go along with a whitewash of serious crimes against the constitution.

if ever i saw a politician act on principle rather than expedience, that was it. i said, way back then, that this was a man with presidential mettle. of course, his presidential campaign displayed little of that commitment and vigor. the fullness of history may very well hold that john kerry lost in 2004 because he failed to give the public something to vote for, but chose instead to persuade them to vote against george w. bush. but that is not to say the he lacks the qualities that i saw in the iran-contra hearings; only that he didn't present them when the chips were down.

this is not to indict kerry so much as the democratic mindset that has prevailed since the midterm election in 1994 and earlier. the democrats have tried to be republican-lite. "we can do everything they want to do, just not as much." as my old pal ringo hallinan says, if you want a republican, do you choose the one that's made of plastic, or the one that's made of wood? in going after centrist voters, democrats have neglected to stand on the principles that made them the dominant party for half a century and have lost ground in the process. the race for the middle apparently benefits the republicans far more than democrats.

in daschle's parting shot, i see more of the same. the loyal opposition in this instance is really no opposition at all. we're not talking about a well meaning, beneficent administration that differs only in degree from the opposition. we're talking about extremists who are raiding the treasury, expanding the deficit beyond all reason, starting illegitimate and foolhardy wars, and making the poor pay for it all. if the democrats cannot or will not stand up against such things, why do they even exist?

it's entirely possible that kerry's message yesterday was the first step in a run for 2008, and that's not altogether bad. now that he has a truly national appeal (51% ain't a mandate, folks, and a lot of those red states went for bush only on very tight margins), he may be able to hit his stride earlier. if he can keep up the base that brought him just shy of the presidency, engage more potential voters, and provide a real alternative to bush and his ilk, maybe those middle grounders will come to him, rather than the other way around.

cooperation is one thing. capitulation is another. john kerry seems to know the difference. here's to hoping that his democratic collegaues in congress do, too.

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