I'm one of those people who can quickly see if a room is ugly. I am, however, constitutionally incapable of figuring out how to make it beautiful. I'm simply lacking in those visual and spatial abilities. I'm constantly reminded of my own weakness vis a vis decorating — the almost anarchic ability to destroy without the corresponding ability to repair or reconstruct — when I see the Democratic approach to politics. (Of course, I have the wisdom not to decorate, while the Dems don't seem to know enough to keep out of politics.)
I know I'm not that first point out that the Democrats don't stand for anything positive. Their whole platform is "I hate Bush." However, sometimes it really takes a Democratic newspaper to expose this trend. The following quotations are from articles that appeared in the New York Times this weekend. One, by Peter Beinart, intelligently points out that the Democrats have consistently run away from the issues most important to the American people, sniping from the sidelines, while offering nothing in return:
This fall, for the third time since 9/11, American voters will choose between Democrats and Republicans while knowing what only one party believes about national security. In 2002, Democratic candidates tried to change the subject, focusing on Social Security and health care instead. In 2004, John Kerry substituted biography for ideology, largely ignoring his own extensive foreign-policy record and stressing his service in Vietnam. In this year's Senate and House races, the party looks set to reprise Michael Dukakis's old theme: competence. Rather than tell Americans what their vision is, Democrats will assure them that they can execute it better than George W. Bush.
Beinart goes on to urge Democrats to become classic Cold War liberals of the type all of us neo-cons were before the Democratic party went flaky, and we moved to the Conservative side. Indeed, I'm tempted to tell Beinart to stop casting longing glances over his shoulder at classic — and long defunct liberalism, and simply move to the conservative "Dark Side," where all those classic liberal ideas actually took root. This, Beinart describes pre-Vietnam liberalism in terms that, to me, sound remarkably like modern Conservatism. (He's just in denial and doesn't recognize that fact):
But before Vietnam, and the disappointment and confusion it spawned, liberals did have a clear story of their own. In the late 1940's and 1950's, intellectuals like Reinhold Niebuhr and policymakers like George F. Kennan described America's cold-war struggle differently from their conservative counterparts: as a struggle not merely for democracy but for economic opportunity as well, in the belief that the former required the latter to survive. Even more important, they described America itself differently. Americans may fight evil, they argued, but that does not make us inherently good. And paradoxically, that very recognition makes national greatness possible. Knowing that we, too, can be corrupted by power, we seek the constraints that empires refuse. And knowing that democracy is something we pursue rather than something we embody, we advance it not merely by exhorting others but by battling the evil in ourselves. The irony of American exceptionalism is that by acknowledging our common fallibility, we inspire the world.
Obviously, I think Beinart is on to something, although I think he's looking in all the wrong places. Tim Roemer, however, a former Indiana Democratic Congressman, accepts without blinking the fact that Democrats don't stand for anything, that they have no vision, that they're adrift and angry. Indeed, he looks to the past and thinks this is just wonderful. To him, the hand of history tells him that this existential meaninglessness is a sure sell for the American people:
AMERICANS have clearly had enough of the Bush administration's record: 7 in 10 say the nation is headed in the wrong direction. But with the 2006 Congressional elections fast approaching, Democrats must not get so irrationally exuberant that they lapse into old, bad habits.
In January, President Bush's adviser Karl Rove outlined the issues he believes will lead Republican candidates to victory in November: national security, the economy and taxes, and the courts. Democrats cannot allow Republicans to define the terms of the debate. Instead, they should take a page from history and from a different Karl.
In 1946, Karl Frost, an advertising executive, suggested a simple slogan to the Massachusetts Republican Committee: "Had Enough? Vote Republican!" Frost recognized that these simple words could unite his national party and blame its opponents, who controlled Congress, for causing or failing to solve the many problems facing the country, including meat shortages, economic difficulties and labor unrest. The strategy worked: in 1946, both houses of Congress flipped.
Sixty years later, Democrats would be smart to turn Karl Frost's slogan on Karl Rove's strategy.
"Had Enough? Vote Democratic!" is a slogan that spotlights the many mistakes in Iraq, the mismanagement of Hurricane Katrina and the mangling of fiscal responsibility with "bridges to nowhere." Indeed, you can see and hear Democratic candidates rallying their voters at Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinners with a passionate and rhythmic chorus. . . .
The article goes on and on and on with the standard recitation of George Bush's myriad sins and failures — and offers not a word about what Democrats will do. Only in the last paragraph, in a two sentence throw-away, does Roemer suddenly observe, "But make no mistake: new ideas matter. Democrats will also need the artillery of a disciplined, focused set of core proposals to complement their criticism of Republican excesses." There you have it. If we hate Bush vocally enough, people will run into our arms so, quick, think of something for them to find once they're in our embrace.
So, in one weekend, we have someone intelligently thinking about history, although drawing the wrong conclusions (in my humble opinion), and someone else looking to history to find an empty slogan he hopes will diguise the empty vessel that is his Party. Roemer may be right that the Dems can win in 2006 based on this chimerical platform, but that victory may prove to be the Party's downfall in the even more important 2008 election year. It's one thing to win without ideas; it's another thing to govern that way. For the American people, governance for two years by a party distinguished solely by its hatred and vapidity may be enough to send them right back to the Conservatives.
By the way, as an aside, if you want to see a rip-roaring Mark Steyn article about Democratic misuse of history, be sure to check out his latest column. In it, Mark Steyn riffs off of the Dems' habit of relying on a purported Jeffersonian quotation, to the effect that "Dissent is the greatest form of patriotism." In fact, Jefferson said nothing of the sort, something that sentence's clunky language and pedestrian structure should immediately have made obvious. As Steyn says:
What does it mean when so many senior Democrats take refuge in an obvious bit of hooey? Thomas Jefferson would never have said anything half so witless. There is no virtue in dissent per se. When John F. Kennedy said, "We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty" — and, believe it or not, that's a real quote, though it's hard to imagine any Massachusetts Democrat saying such a thing today — I could have yelled out, "Hey, screw you, loser." It would have been "dissent," but it wouldn't have been patriotic, and it's certainly not a useful contribution to the debate, any more than that of the University of North Carolina students at Chapel Hill who recently scrawled on the doors of the ROTC armory "F— OFF!" and "WE WON'T FIGHT YOUR WARS!"
Talking to Technorati: Democrats