Wednesday, June 15, 2005

June 14, 2005

The Moderate Trap

It’s not just generals who fight the last war; politicians make the same mistake, with the same results. Democrats, after losing the last three wars in a row, are gearing up to fight the same enemy again. The only trouble is, it won’t be the same enemy.

Nope. By the time the ’08 general election rolls around the sun will have set on the Neocon revolution. The damage their policies caused, domestic and international, will be abundantly clear. Voters will have had “right up to here” with swagger unaccompanied by tangible results. The already rich will have become conspicuously, filthily wealthy while working Americans increasingly become their servers in America’s new service-based economy.

All that, and more, will put Neocons back where they belong, in straightjackets, locked in the tower of the Hoover Institute at Sanford.

So, you Democrats won’t have very many Neocons to kick around in ’08. Instead they will face moderate-sounding Republican candidates. Gone will be the bombast, the swagger, and the robber baron-apologists. In their place will be candidates putting forth policies that may actually make sense.

Example De Jour: Arrrrrrrrnold.

Forget for a moment the caricature – of the muscle-bound, Sgt Schultz sounding actor/action hero turned politician who can’t even pronounce the name of the state (“Cal-eee-fornia") over which he rules. Democrats would love it if that was all voters focused on, a fact that Arnold is only too aware of. Which is why he called this special election where he can make issues, the issue. He is going to force voters to focus on the policies he advocates, which include several Democratic Party mainstay issues, such as a woman’s right to choose and environmental protections.

Notice too the GOP’s newfound populism.

“Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democratic and labor forces that oppose him switched into full campaign mode after the governor made official what he has threatened for months — a special election to change the way state government does business…. Schwarzenegger announced Monday that he had signed a proclamation calling a special election for Nov. 8, only the fifth special election in California since 1910. He wants voters to consider measures that would cap state spending, strip lawmakers of their power to draw legislative boundaries and increase the amount of time it takes public school teachers to get tenure.” (Full Story)

Smart – very smart. The issues he will elevate during this special election will resonate with average voters. No tax breaks for big business or wealthy contributors in this package. Nope. This time the issues are the stuff of morning counter-chatter at any diner in California on any day of the workweek. For example;

- He is proposing an increase from two to five the number of years a California schoolteacher must work before being granted tenure. That sounds pretty reasonable, especially to average working folk who can’t even dream of job tenure. If Democrats come out swinging against it – and I just know they will – they will get hurt by it. After all, it’s not exactly like our school kids are kicking academic ass on the world stage right now.

- He wants to require that labor unions get written permission from its members before they use any portion of member dues for political contributions. Democrats REALLY hate this one. Getting money from labor has become a wholesale operation for Democrates. If this measure passes it will become a retail operation. They will have to woo individual workers. That means standing out in the rain greeting workers at plant gates instead of smoking cigars and sipping brandy with union bosses. But to the average Joe, this proposal too makes sense. Nevertheless, Democrats are already jumping in front of this train, arguing that the Governator’s proposal would be "too burdensome," since it would require unions get permission every year to use worker’s dues for political purposes. Ah, would this be the same unions that don’t find it "too burdensome" to bill workers for union dues? If Democrats waste political capital fighting this one it will hurt them. After all, how can politicians who call themselves “Democrats,” oppose democracy for unionized workers when it comes to how their own money is used for naked political purposes? Duh.

On the national scene Democrats will find themselves paired off against similar Republican candidates they won’t be able to easily portray as stereotypical evil Republican fat cats. Take Rudi Guliani, for example. Here’s a simple little test. Imagine for a moment that Al Gore had been born Rudolph Gore, or John Kerry been named Rudolph Kerry. Do you think for a second either man would have built his political carrier as a “Rudi?” Forget about it. They both would have run, win or lose, as Rudolph’s, never Rudi’s -- and that says it all.

Like Arnold, Rudi doesn't run from all things common, but embraces them. Imagine again Al Gore, John Kerry or Hillary Clinton in the cheap tickets seats at an Indy 500 race. Do you think they could engage the folks around them in anything but the most pedantic and condescending small conversaton? And how long do you think they’d stay? Answer: until the photographers left.

But voters can imagine Rudi and Arnold not only sitting through the whole race, but yukking it up with their fellow fans as well. Is that trait we need in our politicians? Depends. There have been just as many patrician demagogues as there have been populist demagogues. I am only saying that this is the way it is -- not that's such traits represent our national salvation.

This is the new GOP trap Democrats are blissfully jogging into. If Democrats do have candidates hidden away in the wings who can connect with average Americans, now would be the time to drag them out for an airing.

But alas, instead the party appears once again determined to present us with the same preppy, blow-dried, never-done-a-real-day’s-work-in-their-lives, professional candidates. A pack of self-described social reformers, whose children are raised by nannies, whose gardens are manicured by migrants, whose cars are driven for them, whose medical bills are paid by government health insurance, whose retirement plans are kept safely separate from everyone else’s, is secure and fully funded by the taxpayers.

Democrats. Where are they? I mean the real ones. If they still exist this would be a good time for them to stand up and be counted. Howard Dean has tried a couple of times, only to be knocked back down by members of his own party. (In Japan they have a saying taught to school children, "The nail that sticks up gets pounded down. What have seen is the "Japanese-ization" of the Democratic Party. Woe be the Democrat who sticks up for average Ameicans. Just ask Howie )

Well, there are Republicans emerging who are more than willing to stand out from their party's current leaders. And the Rudi’s and Arnolds of the GOP are going to eat Democrats lunch, again unless they wake up, and fast.

How did a party that built it’s brand on such worthy accomplishments as Social Security, Medicare and civil rights, lost touch in such a fundamental and shocking way?

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