Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Economist Puts the Chill on the Democratic Party

An article in the Economist (Subscription required.) magazine says that despite the fact that Bush seems to have lost the golden touch from his first term and everything he has touched lately seems to turn to dust, the Democrats ought not count their proverbial chickens.

The Democrats are quietly jubilant. They are seizing every chance they can get--and there are plenty of them--to brand the Republicans as the party of "corruption and cronyism". They seem to be recruiting good candidates for next year's elections. Some even wonder whether 2006 may be their equivalent of 1994--when the Republicans won 52 seats in the House and nine in the Senate, ending 40 years of Democratic rule.

They should hold the champagne. Parties don't win elections just because their rivals hit a rough patch. They win them because they win the battle of ideas, because they think ahead and cook up cogent policies, because they offer a positive vision of the future. Bill Clinton did this brilliantly in 1992. Tony Blair did it even more brilliantly in 1997. But, so far, not the Democrats.

Can anyone name a single exciting Democratic idea for dealing with poverty? Or crime? Or reforming the public sector? Or winning the KULTURKAMPF with Islamic extremism? In fact, can anyone name a single exciting Democratic idea, full stop? The Democrats have squandered their years in opposition railing against the Republicans rather than recharging their intellectual batteries. They may be winning a few political battles of late--largely because of Republican incompetence. But they are losing the vision wars.

The reason for this is as simple as it is potentially lethal: the Democrats are split down the middle on everything from Iraq to gay marriage. Centrists believe in working with business, protecting family values and fighting terrorism. "We believe that the September 11th attacks changed America for ever," says the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), "and defeating terrorism is the supreme military and moral mission of our time." Liberal activists believe the opposite: that corporations are bad, family values are hogwash, and the war on terror a delusion.

To my way of thinking, they are exactly right. Americans like to vote for candidates with big ideas and plans for the future. They almost always want someone who presents some idea of how to solve the problems the country is facing. That is what they are continuing to miss. They've railed against Roberts and they've railed against Katrina and they've railed against Iraq. But not one of them has come up with a realistic proposal or idea of how these should be handled better. Most of the public supported the Roberts' nomination. He came across as impecably qualified, even if you don't agree with his positions. (Even Rob agrees with this.) They don't have any solid ideas for how to make the response to a major hurricane better. They just complain about Bush's appointee or against some idea of how long a government response should be (although, the response was within the government's standard timeline). They ignore the fact that officials at the state and local levels--democrats--failed in their responsibilities as well. And, of course, the general philosophy on terrorism and Iraq tends to be to beat a hasty retreat and let them have Iraq--I mean, it's just one country? It worked with Austria didn't it?