Sunday, January 29, 2006

A Deadly Embrace

Before the 1968 Democrat National Convention in Chicago there really wasn't a great deal of difference between our major national political parties. Both were committed to containing the Communist menace abroad and strong on national defense. We had the choice of a slightly center-right national government and a slightly center-left one in terms of domestic policy. Politics was not then a matter of good versus evil. It was a matter of which party could do the most good or the least harm. The changes in the national political landscape since are both monumental and profoundly disturbing.

Democratic politics bears a striking resemblance to marketing. In order to maximize your market share and then defend it you must offer a mix of products and services more promising than that of your competitor and then insure that it does not fall so far short of expectation as to greatly erode consumer confidence. Your primary constituencies must get at least a little of what they wanted and that must be more than they would expect from your major competitor. You also must provide some return on investment to your financial contributors who are, in effect, your party's stockholders. It isn't a pretty picture but all of the idealistic alternatives to the crude workings of democracy have, when applied, proven to be dreadful failures.

Before 1968 the fundamental issue in contention between the Republican and Democrat parties was what was good for America. There has been no change since then in the Republican Party. Its foreign policy shamelessly aims at furthering American economic and security interests. Its domestic policy is oriented towards fostering economic growth and it is, on average, no more socially conservative than the average American. It has become a big tent. The same cannot be said of today's national Democrat Party.

While it is possible in a few strokes of the brush to characterize the Republican Party I find it impossible to do the same with the Democrat Party. While one need not look far to find a mountain of complaints directed towards Republicans in general and the Bush administration in particular it is impossible to find a mole hill of positive substance. Where do Democrats, in the main, stand on national security and foreign policy? What are the primary domestic policy initiatives that Democrats, on the whole, favor? Who, if anyone, speaks for the Democrat Party? Howard Dean? John (by the way, he served in Viet Nam) Kerry? The Daily Kos? Moveon.org? George Soros? Hillary Clinton?

Vagaries about doing some unspecified nice thing or things for "working families" or giving lip service to "social justice" simply will not do. Invoking class warfare isn't helpful when so many Americans have invested either directly or indirectly in the stock market in order to secure a comfortable retirement. Lot's of Democrats drive light trucks and SUVs and an energy policy aimed at punishing the owners of both is not successful party platform material.

For a successful center-left party to succeed it must have a center to anchor it in political reality and a left that pulls it no further left than the center can tolerate. Where, in the name of God, can one find a national Democrat center these days? The ever more demanding Left representing at most 20% of American voters is flourishing while the Democrat center has failed to hold. This is not a good thing because it vitiates the Democrat Party and in so doing artificially strengthens a Republican Party that needs a strong challenge to keep it focussed and honest.

The gradual erosion of the Democrat center that began in 1968 appears to be close to having run its full and catastrophic course. Like the Balrog in "The Two Towers" plummeting into a void the Democrat Party will very likely pull its adversary down with it. I do not look forward to an America governed by a corrupt and complacent Republican Party opposed by a small, leftist party of little popular appeal.

Politicians are to me almost all cut from common cloth regardless of party. They are, on the whole, easily bought if the price they must pay is that of re-election. They are no wiser or honest than the average American and in many cases much less so. The few conservative idealists who make it to Congress are soon disillusioned. Politicians on the edge and uncertain of their political futures are those most responsive to their most important constituencies. If the center of the Democrat Party loses to its Left conservatives will lose, proportionately, their influence on the Republican Party. The Republican Party will in turn lose its heart and soul.

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