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I DESPAIR

By       Message Gene Altshuler     Permalink
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When I cannot understand why I cannot understand something, it bothers me. It starts as an itch and evolves into a low level headache. I do not understand rap music, hip hop culture and internet social networking, but I write this off to age. I also accept that there are many things I will never understand; How can the religious wrong be so sure, when even Heisenberg was so uncertain? Why do gasoline costs differ so much, often with the stations within a few miles of each other? Why can't they make better movies? But there are things that I feel I should understand and when I don't that bothers me.

Well, I have had this low level headache for months now. The problem I ponder is why the Democratic Party cannot get its act together. Some look at me quizzically as they cannot understand my preoccupation with this problem.


The simple answer is that - I want my country back! And as I look at the unfolding of the midterm elections, I despair. Not the fainting, hand to forehead swoon of Miss Scarlet, but a real, gut wrenching turmoil. It boils down to this I hear what we are against, but nothing of real worth about what we are for. Yeah, yeah, the war. But even there we are as divided as the Balkans with the We can't Leave Now crowd on the right, the Partial Pullout group in the middle and the We Must Set A Deadline proponents on the left.


To say that the Democratic Party lacks a coherent vision is to restate the obvious. A lack of ideological coherence, as Peter Beinart puts it. Psychologist Leon Festinger would have called it Cognitive Dissonance, the simultaneous holding of two or more incompatible views. But it would be a touch too easy, and disingenuous as well, to attribute the drift, the inability to focus, of the Democratic Party to this alone.


After considerable thought I have arrived at what I believe are the three chief factors that have led to the current malady; timidity, lack of a strategic vision and absence of leadership.


The democrats are not alone in having been politically intimidated by 9/11. The republicans have made the war on terrorism into a mighty big drum. However, there are many republicans who regret not having been more forceful in having asked probing questions soon after the World Trade Center attack. The 9/11 Commission and the Senate Select Intelligence Committee reports, clearly refute the administrations war rational. Even President Bush admitted that Sadam Hussein had nothing to do with the World Trade Center bombing. Responsible liberal media organizations underwent a public mea culpa in the aftermath. Witness the New York Times hair pulling, hairshirt wearing behavior.


But we are many years down the road, and the passage of time has provided a good measure of clarity and perspective. Sure the GOP continues to beat the drum and will continue to do so until sufficient masses do not marshal in the public square when they hear the beat. The GOP still believes it has traction on this issue and has continued to distill their marching song for this November to terrorism and turnout.


Collectively we know what is wrong, but having the cojones to say so is not worth much unless, and until, we have something to say that will resonate. It's the economy stupid! Tippecanoe and Tyler too, A chicken in every pot, The Cross of Gold. These rallying cries resonated so well in their time that the entire country vibrated.
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Today, in poll after focus group, the vast majority of respondents say that they have no clear idea what the Democratic Party stands for, but they can articulate the GOP vision of smaller government and lower taxes.


In my years as an advisor to major corporations and organizations, it was always painfully obvious when a clear and compelling strategic vision was lacking. The complacency, counter productive behavior and, often times, lack of a moral compass smacked you right in the face. CEOs waving puffed up mission statements (created at some golf retreat) notwithstanding, as management guru John Naisbitt said No Strategic Vision, No Strategic Plan.


From its founding the Democratic Party had a vision, a raison d'etre. Historically, liberalism was not a pejorative but a response to social injustice, horrendous social conditions, racial oppression, and institutionalized corruption. The Democratic Party championed Civil Rights, because it was the right thing to do, when doing so almost ripped our country apart. The Democratic Party championed the worker, alienating forever the corporations and the rich, hence the longstanding alignment with the labor movement. A fact currently lost on some labor organizations. Today, memories of a middle-class republic have almost faded. In short even many party loyalists have forgotten what it means to be a Democrat.


To regain our former enlightened position and provide relevance today, we must again begin talking and believing in class issues. We should embrace what the republican spin machine has characterized as Class Warfare. We must not shy away from pitting ourselves against the Haves and the Have-mores. We fixed it under Clinton. Well it broke again, and we have to fix it once more.


Which brings me to the leadership issue. As Peter Beinart noted recently, the party's grassroots base has atrophied and Democratic politicians have grown complacent, unresponsive and sometimes downright corrupt. Is Obama a Roosevelt, a Kennedy, a Clinton?. His style of leadership is essentially passive. However, how many times can one turn the other cheek? He one must step forward, pick up the standard, rally the troops and restore the values we justly hanker for. If this does not happen I despair, not just of party dominance, but also for our great nation.

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Retired as a Partner in Charge of Advanced Information Technology from KPMG Peat Marwick. Serves as Finance Chair of the El Dorado County Central Committee in northern California and a delegate to the California Democratic Party.

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