Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican.
- Ronald Reagan's "11th Commandment"
I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.
- Will Rogers
These are the characteristic quotes about the two major political parties. Last week I posted about how conservatives have betrayed the country by either remaining silent or trying to justify the Bush Administration's power grabs, and I believe when the history of this period is written the right will be considered more to blame than the left. I believe that until the 2006 elections Democrats (and the left in general) didn't have enough leverage to challenge unconstitutional claims and behavior by the executive. The trauma of 9/11 made Americans willing to bargain away a certain amount of their civil liberties for a sense of security against a barely known enemy. The drumbeat for war against Iraq (along with masterful political choreography) maneuvered the left into a corner where their choices before the public were either support the war or be considered unpatriotic. Once the war started it was "rally round the president" time and through the 2004 election their choices were understandable.
The next two years caused a seismic shift in public opinion and the liberals betrayal timeline starts with the 2006 elections. The earliest, primary and most baffling part has been the Congressional Democrats' response. On the face of it a party that wins by substantially larger-than-expected margins and regains control of both houses ought to feel pretty empowered. It would seem to be a call to action to repudiate the other party's policies and actions. Instead they've acted like they suffer from a political Stockholm syndrome. In Glenn Greenwald's words:
Since Democrats took over Congress in January, there have been three major attributes characterizing their conduct: (1) a failure to stop or restrict the war in Iraq; (2) a general failure/unwillingness to stop Bush on much of anything else of significance (FISA, a failure to reverse any of the excesses of the GOP Congress, such as the Military Commissions Act, lack of limits on his ability to attack Iran, etc.); and (3) numerous investigations, sometimes flashly but thus far inconsequential.
Just this week there has been open ridicule by Dana Milbank of the Senate leadership and Bruce Fein openly calling for Pelosi's ouster. Regular observers have largely concluded they are unworthy of their positions, and the longer it goes on they are even less worthy of their seats. Now, part of it goes back to Will Rogers - it seems to be in the Democratic party's DNA to tend towards fractiousness, and the election takeover happened in part because of a strategic decision to recruit more-conservative challengers in conservative areas. Fair enough. That doesn't mean the 110th Congress is destined to be Republican by proxy. Once the magnitude of dissatisfaction was clear they should have adjusted. Americans want them to confront the Bush administration. They should begin doing so and force any laggards into line; heaven knows they've had a close up look at how that's done these last few years. If they don't start doing what they were elected to do they deserve to be handed their opera glasses and sent back to the balcony.
Left wing activists are as much to blame by now because their activism has had no effect. There was an initial burst of anger and in typically liberal fashion it receded as other issues took center stage. Consider the recently defeated immigration bill as a contrast from conservatives. As Arthur Silber put it the right wing talk show hosts
told their listeners to call and email people in Congress, and to call and email various Republican organizations, including the Republican National Committee, and to take all these actions repeatedly. They provided phone numbers and email addresses, and they indicated the general message that should be conveyed. They didn't do this only once in one show: they did it throughout their shows, on every show....It was repeated over and over and over. You couldn't listen to one of the major conservative talk shows without hearing it within five minutes of tuning in. It went on all the time...they condemned those Republicans, including Bush, who supported the bill without mercy. They told people to inform the RNC and all the appropriate Congressmen and Senators that they would receive no further support of any kind, including financial support, unless the bill was defeated. In their view, support of the bill was a betrayal of core conservative principles. They therefore maintained that any such alleged "conservatives" did not deserve to be in office. As one, they said that these betrayers of the conservative faith should not hold power any longer -- and that the principles they believed were imperiled were more important than the continuation in power by the Republican party. As a result of all these shows hammering the identical theme without interruption, in every hour of every show on multiple shows for days at a time, Congress was inundated with calls and messages from deeply angry Republicans. And here is the point to take home: it worked.
Democrats appear to understand this difference. They seem to know that if they withstand the initial blast from the base it will abate and there will be no consequences. It is a comprehensive failure of leadership by progressive activists. Ask why they can't sustain pressure and unity of purpose and you'll likely hear a combination of denial, spin and condescension that goes something like "that's because we can simultaneously consider more than one thought." Unfortunately that's a reflex and not a response.
Progressives' susceptibility to being disorganized and flitting about from one issue to the next to the next means that even the most pressing and fundamental problems have to compete for attention with the flavor of the day. The fact that no actual change happens despite all their efforts is a scathing indictment and irrefutable proof of their impotence. The fact that they won't recognize their weaknesses and strive against them even in the midst of a Constitutional crisis is nothing less than a betrayal.