Thursday, July 17, 2003

Why Think When You Can Sloganeer?

To note that the American political dialogue is vacuous would not be a novel or new commentary. It has been on a downslope for decades, if not longer, and many commentators and political scientists much smarter and wiser than me have made note of the decline. However, there is a very recent slogan/tag line that has really stuck in my craw, so to speak- the tendency of liberals to villify Congressional Democrats as Bush Lite.
The impetus for such a charge is the Congressional cohort's lack of fight over Bush's tax cuts and the war with Iraq. And even as someone who does not accept the Bush Lite rubric, there is more than a grain of truth to these allegations of impotency. However, it is important to look at the political atmosphere in which these fights have taken place. Whether we are willing to accept it or not, this President has been extremely popular since 9-11. For better or worse, the American people have come to trust the President on issues of national security and that has had a spill over effect on domestic and foreign (war) policy.
Bush enjoyed stratospheric approval ratings from October 2001 until very recently. And, despite there being some potential for battle on tax and domestic policy issues, there has not been the sort of target rich environment that those who criticize Congressional Democrats seem to believe there was. Sometimes liberals forget that the rest of the country does not share their worldview or outlook. Simply put, for a Congressional Democrat to have taken on Bush between 9-11 and the midterm elections would have been political suicide.
One of the other charges levelled against the Party is that it lacked any coherent message going into the midterms last year. And this, I think, is a much more compelling agument. Again though, we must be careful not to overlook reality, which is that the Democratic Party is a very diverse group of people. Some supported the war, some were opposed. Some are culturally conservative, some are very liberal. There is not any one orthodoxy in the Democratic Party, and the reality is that since Bill Clinton exited the White House we have not found the person who can unite the Party. But I would not then let the Party off the hook. I think that there are broad themes that we can all agree upon and that should form the basis of our message to the American people. And, on that account, our party leaders have failed.
But that, my friends, does not mean that Congressional Democrats are Bush Lite. And, if people truly see no difference between Bush and Kerry, Gephardt, Lieberman or Edwards, then they have a serious problem with their faculty for rational thought. Of course, the one theme that is apparent in that last line is that all of these Democratic candidates for president voted for the war. So, if you really think that the Iraq War is the only vote that matters, then you suffer from an acute case of tunnel vision. Further, if that is your line of distinction (the war), and your fellow Americans also accept that as the litmus test, then I see no way your candidate can win, given that the majority of Americans support(ed) the war.


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