Monday, February 06, 2006

The “Problem” with Democrats and the Myth of the “Liberal Elite”

Will Rogers once said, “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” It is actually one of the strengths of the Democratic party—usually portrayed, however, as a weakness or “problem”—that there is no single point of view. Anyone who gives lip service to the idea of diversity knows that there is real diversity in the Democratic party (as opposed to the Potemkin diversity of the GOP). But many Americans—including, I think, most Democrats—have been persuaded that a loosely organized coalition of smaller, poorer, less fully enfranchised groups of Americans, including many homeless poor, unemployed and underemployed Americans, and Americans lacking health care and good education, constitutes “special interests” while wealthy Americans and even multinational corporations do not.

In a speech last October at Northwestern University, former Clinton campaign director James Carville told students that Democrats have to stop “shouting out” to every group in a crowd and tell a simpler, more compelling story. The “laundry list” of demands made by “special interests” is part of an “agenda” controlled by the “liberal elite.” I would love someone to explain to me exactly what this “agenda” is, created as it has purportedly been by a totally disorganized constituency, none of whom sees things the same way.

Not long ago on an e-mail listserve I belong to, someone called for a "postmodernist manifesto!" I still haven't figured out whether s/he was joking or not. Postmodernists are, I think, by their very nature unable to create manifestos. In order to have a manifesto, you have to have something like orthodoxy—a clear and unambiguous view of the world. Ideologues issue manifestos. Fundamentalists issue manifestos. Rationalists issue manifestos. Communists issue manifestos. Republicans issue manifestos. People who can not agree on what the single most pressing issue facing them is do not issue manifestos.

To be sure, postmodernists are part of the Democratic constituency. It is part of the "culture war" where one group with an entirely rigid, orthodox (and, honestly, quite shallow) view of the world and of "right" and "wrong" and "good" and "evil" confronts another group, a "feel good" kind of group, a group that says, "Hey, it's cool with me as long as no one gets hurt." But behind this stereotype, the culture war also represents a worldview of government control butting heads with a worldview of personal liberty. It just happens to be a fact of life that that worldview of personal liberty is extremely subjective.

And so the Democratic Party looks disorganized. They look as though they have no “message.” They look as though they “stand for nothing.” They look as though they “blow with the prevailing political wind.”

But anyone who pays attention to history, particularly the history of the United States in the last half-century (and this, of course would exclude Howie and most of neo-lith, neo-con right), knows what the Democratic Party stands for. They stand for human rights and against those who would violate them. They stand for the Constitution of the United States and against those who would hold it on contempt. They stand for freedom of conscience and against those who make moral decisions for others. They stand for both personal and social responsibility and against those who would make a fetish out of personal responsibility, thereby removing the emphasis from social responsibility. They stand for fiscal responsibility and against those who would endanger America’s future by dangerous deficit spending. They stand for the poor, the unemployed, the under-employed, the poorly educated, the victims of discrimination, those living without adequate healthcare or insurance, and against those whose main concern is the welfare of global capitalism. They stand for the rule of law, and respect for law, in the United States and around the world, and against those would thumb their noses at the idea of international law.

They stand, in the final analysis, for you and me, for “the little guy.” And the GOP stands for money, power, and business.

And that’s what the Democrats should start talking about.

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