Suppose you had a political party you were trying to get rid of. How would you do it?
Would you give it some cement shoes and toss it into the bay? Would you roll it up in a carpet and drag it into the trunk of your car in the middle of the night? Would you put out a contract on it?
If the latter sounds appealing, no need to get your hands dirty messing with any nasty mob guys from Jersey. I know some very upstanding establishment folks who've perfected a killer formula (pun intended) for particide. They're called Democrats, and they know how to get the job done right.
In fact, they've demonstrated it again for the umpteenth time just as I'm writing these words. Yesterday, that tough guy Harry Reid laid down the law for congressional Republicans thinking he wouldn't play hardball on the much-needed economic stimulus package now working its way through Congress. He told them: "Well, I think that if they think this is a bluff, wait until we have this vote and they'll find out if it's a bluff. I'm not much of a bluffer." Then, today, he completely caved into their pressure on the bill, proving - though perhaps not quite in the manner he intended - that he is in fact not much of a bluffer, after all, even if he is from Nevada. Nor, as it turns out, is he much of a negotiator either.
Yep, ladies and gentlemen, if it's particide you're after, Reid and his fellow Democrats would be happy to show you how it's done. It's pretty simple, really. There are just six easy steps that you need to follow to take out a political party that's grown a bit, shall we say, inconvenient.
First of all, make sure it does nothing. If you're looking for a good way to anger voters, here's the best. Have them send you to Congress to address a host of their urgent concerns. Let them invest their full faith in you to rescue them from all the effects of a country gone completely off the rails. Let them believe and let them hope. Then do nothing. Crush their pedestrian little dreams in your blood-soaked hands by protecting corporate interests instead. Spend two years racking up not a single notable legislative accomplishment, and then go before the voters asking for another term. They'll remember your name.
A second excellent technique is to fail to block the worst tendencies of the worst president ever, the very mission you were most entrusted with by the voters. If they hate this president's stinking war, make sure you give him the money for it every time he asks. Send all his reactionary nominees to the Supreme Court after they mock you in bullshit hearings. Yeah, go ahead. Allow a supporter of torture and Constitution-shredding to become the highest law enforcement officer in the land. Etc., etc. Get it? Sure, you can go through the motions of opposition, but at the end of the day, be sure to bungle it so badly that you leave everybody scratching their heads and wondering which party actually controls Congress.
Next, while you're at it, don't do anything to make this hated president and his administration accountable for their manifold crimes of the century. Treat them as though they've got pictures of you in some airport men's room somewhere that they're threatening to release if you dare do anything remotely resembling oversight (or patriotism). Let these guys absolutely run rampant thrashing the republic in every imaginable way, while you sit on top of your congressional majority abdicating any responsibility for protecting the people who sent you there to protect them. Show the public how tough you can be by investigating the use of steroids in baseball, while lies about war and illegal phone-tapping and torture and suspension of habeas corpus go ignored. Keep your priorities straight and you're guaranteed to score points with the voters, for sure.
Of course, not only must you fail to oppose an insane kleptocratic dictator, but it's crucial that you also have absolutely no program or ideas of your own to offer. I mean, who can't never not get no excitement going about nothing? Er, something like that... Anyhow, the point is that a political party without ideas is like a car without wheels. And it will go just about as far, too. If you want to get rid of your party, be sure to be about nothing whatsoever.
And yet, even while trying to be the Seinfeld of political parties, you will no doubt sometimes accidentally advance some sort of popular idea or another, despite yourself. You know, like a million monkeys at a keyboard... When these inadvertently beneficial bills are immediately destroyed by the obstructionist minority party - who continually overuse and abuse parliamentary tactics you (of course) never dreamed of all those years when you were in the minority - make sure that nobody in the voting public knows about it. You could run around screaming about them continually blocking you from doing the people's business, but that would only increase public sympathy for you. And since you're trying to kill your party, you surely won't want to do that. No, like a good Democrat, you want to make sure the other guys never have to pay for their crimes.
Finally, one of the very best things you can do to destroy a political party is to avoid at all costs articulating an alternative narrative. Play ball on their turf! Let the other guys define the issues, frame the discussion, and paint you in the worst possible light - as deviants, traitors, cowards and haters of your own country! Now you're talkin', my friend. You want your house robbed right? Hand the door key to the thieves! You want your car crashed properly? Park it on railroad tracks! You want your party rubbed out completely? Let the other guys make the rules, fool! Heck, if you really want to make sure of your party's demise, you can even encourage them steal elections you've actually won! It worked in Florida and Ohio!
If these six steps seem like a ridiculously reliable way to destroy a political party, that's because they are. Still, they may not be entirely infallible. This year will be the acid test.
The good folks running the Democratic Party have assiduously followed the above formula to the letter, carefully dotting every 'i' and crossing every 't'. But damned if the recalcitrant right isn't failing to play ball! What's up with that? Have Republicans become so intractable nowadays that they're even blocking the Democrats' own self-induced demise? Is destruction obstruction the latest GOP game?
Or are Republicans just following their own particide formula, which - needless to say, like everything they do - is more disciplined and effective than even this fine blueprint belonging to Dumb Dems'? It kinda looks like it, after all. Consider their prescription: Take the biggest surplus in the history of the federal government and turn it into the biggest deficit. Fight a hugely unpopular war. Get caught lying about the rationale for it. Block efforts to save the planet from a looming environmental crisis, while pretending it isn't real. Allow religious crazies to deny effective medical treatment to suffering humans in order to protect about-to-be-destroyed blastocysts. Get caught in all manner of corruption and sexual 'deviancy' while interminably preaching your own holier-than-thou sanctimonious purity. Shred the Constitution in every way imaginable. Load the government up with every incompetent low-wattage political hack you can find stuck behind a church pew somewhere. Make the whole world hate us. Use the federal government to prosecute people on the basis of their party affiliation. Stand by and watch one of the country's major cities drown. Destroy a foreign country. Destroy the middle class of your own country. Be asleep at the wheel (at best) when the country is attacked. Fail to come even close to winning a war against the people you blame for that attack. And so on...
Quite a litany, eh? Yet, for all their best efforts, Republicans still can't seem to get the Democrats to put the GOP out of its stinking misery. Still can't get them to investigate. Still can't get them to impeach. Still can't get them to win. So now Republicans have brought out the big guns, engineering what looks like a massive economic recession on top of everything else. And they're throwing people out of their homes in droves so that Wall Street can profit even more. Right before an election, too!
Yes, indeed. These guys aren't messing around. Democrats seeking to kill their party are going to have to work extra hard in 2008, that's for sure! Six steps may not be enough. If Democrats want to rub themselves out this year, they may need a seventh.
Get on their knees and beg the public not to vote for them? Nah. Too subtle.
Change their name to the Socialist Party? Nah. It might actually increase their share of votes.
Have their own sex scandals? Nah. Been there, done that.
Something else is going to be required to kill the party off for sure this year.
Oh, I know! They could nominate Hillary Clinton!
David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles (firstname.lastname@example.org), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net.