A lot of folks wonder why the Democratic Party in Washington, D.C. seems to stand for nothing. Is it because the party is beholden to corporate interests? In many instances, yes. Is it because leaders in Washington of both parties are, by and large, wholly disconnected from the real world? That's a big part, too. But still, the lack of principles that wafts from the party in Washington is just too widespread for it to be some random, organic phenomenon. Put another way, there must be some organized, well-crafted strategy being implemented that keeps the Democrats' few voices of true opposition muted, and keeps the party as a whole stuck in the convictionless muck.
Now, I am no conspiracy theorist, and I tend to be suspicious of those who imply that a close-knit cabal of Democratic Party insiders in Washington have all sorts of secret plans. But if you look carefully at the public statements of many of the key players in this cabal, you don't need to be a conspiracy theorist to see that, in fact, gutting the party's conviction-based soul is a deliberate, calculated strategy emanating from the nation's capital.
Take, for instance, this excerpt from a January Businessweek story that cheered on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for its efforts to recruit corporate executives to run as candidates:
"Several business executives [are] joining the Democratic team for Election '06. Faced with daunting Republican financial advantages, Democratic leaders are betting that candidates with bottom-line experience can make their party competitive in a handful of districts that otherwise would lean Republican....Business Dems often can raise big bucks...Democratic bigwigs relish that crossover appeal - even if some recruits stray from party orthodoxy. 'There's no checklist that you have to run on,' says Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.)...Backers don't always realize these candidates are Democrats."
That's really telling. To be a Democrat, Emanuel says, means not having to actually support any platform of basic, kitchen-table issues at all. Just call yourself a Democrat no matter what your positions are on any core issue - even health care, jobs, trade, the environment - and presto - you are welcomed into the fold by the Washington cabal.
A few weeks later, this was followed up by uber-Democratic "strategist" Paul Begala. He appeared on Meet the Press telling Tim Russert that Democrats "problem is not ideological, it is anatomical. We need a spine." Certainly, he's partly right - there needs to be more backbone from Democrats. But the crux of his message is that Democrats' real problem has nothing to do with their lack of convictions or their lack of "ideology" (a term bragged about on the right, but sadly made into a bad word by Democratic operatives and "strategists" for the left) - they just need to scream louder.
Examples like this go on and on, both in the meta sense, and when you get down to specific issues like health care, energy, trade - you name it. Hell, just last week, the Democrats unveiled a national security strategy that went out of its way to make sure not to take a position that contrasts with President Bush's stay-the-course nonsense in Iraq. Add to this the penchant of many high-profile Washington Democrats to dishonestly attack their own party from the right, and what's clear is that yes, in fact, Democratic leaders are very deliberately trying to prevent the party from standing for anything. It is, in short, a conspiracy of the soulless.
Oh yes, you can be sure they say they are doing this as a way to win the next election. They will also claim this is the way to win in red states and red districts, despite concrete proof that the way to win in these areas is to run on populist convictions - not away from them.
But, then, the fact that these D.C. "strategists" and operatives can even utter such sentiments with a straight face is proof that those running the show are either brain dead, or pathological liars who need serious medical attention. That's the only possible explanation for people claiming that the way to win elections is to pursue the same convictionless strategy that has failed to win a congressional majority in election (1994) after election (1996) after election (1998) after election (2000) after election (2002) after election (2004).
For years, I have been telling myself that at some point, after the next devastating election loss, this will all change. The party operatives in Washington are going to wise up, or better yet - be fired for political malpractice. But now I realize that's not going to happen on its own - it's only going to happen when these people are forced out by grassoots power. But rest assured - that time is coming. Everywhere you look, the grassroots of the Democratic Party - that is, the actual human beings who make up the Democratic Party - are getting more powerful. And sometime in the not-so-distant future, that's going to mean real change - not just lip service.
David Sirota is a writer and veteran political strategist. He just completed a book for Random House's Crown Publishers entitled "Hostile Takeover." Sirota is currently the co-chairperson of the Progressive Legislative Action Network (PLAN)- a position he took after finishing a two-year stint at the Center for American Progress. Sirota is currently a Senior Editor at In These Times magazine, and a regular contributor to The Nation magazine. He is also a twice-weekly guest on the Al Franken Show.
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