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The Long Dark Night of the Democrats

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Message Gerald Scorse
When did the Democratic nightmare take hold? Why does it keep dragging on? Who or what caused it? Not that any of this really matters, but masochism must be served:

Was it the idiot design of the butterfly ballot? Was it philandering Bill, who handed W the only legitimate issue he had ("restore dignity to the White House," what a bitter laugh that brings now)? Was it Nader, who will forever deny, except in his heart, that he siphoned off more than enough votes to make the difference? Was it the professorial sigh of Al The Stiff, compared to whom smarmy George came off like a living, breathing human being? Was it the Supreme Court, which made the supremely political decision to overrule the majority of America's voters? Was it John of the Woeful Countenance, poor Swiftboated John, the elitist wind-surfer-turned photo-op duck hunter, a genuine war hero done in by AWOL George and five-deferment Dick (and maybe some shenanigans in Ohio)?

We'll never know for sure. All we really know for sure is that the Democrats have been stiffed not once not twice but thrice, that the hard right rules the roost, that the country is being governed (as a recent New York Times editorial elegantly put it) to "comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted."

What a sweet combination; somewhere Grover Norquist must be smiling.

And yet the worst thing that happened in the last six years isn't the presidency of George W. Bush. The worst thing that happened in the last six years is 9/11.

It was the worst thing, until W took a disaster that touched the soul of America and straight-up politicized it, turning it into a ginned-up war on terror, turning it into a litmus test of macho patriotism, killing tens of thousands of Iraqis, taking the lives of more than 2,500 American troops, physically and psychically wounding thousands of others, devastating a country, handing billions to war profiteers that could have been spent on the real needs of Americans, turning Iraq into the terrorist boot camp that it wasn't before but has now become.

No other cheerleader in the history of Yale has accomplished so much. As a direct result of these accomplishments (and plenty of others too, though none as tragic), the so-called mainstream media has been prognosticating for months that the long dark night of the Democrats may be ending: the House can be pried from the cold, dead hands of the GOP come November, and with a little more luck the Senate as well.

Would that it were so, but the Democrats are nonpareil at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Against historical odds, they managed to lose seats in the last midterm election; in the middle of an unpopular war, holding to positions that most American voters disapproved of, embarrassed in all three Presidential debates, Bush nonetheless outpolled the doleful Kerry in 2004. Can the Democrats pull off an encore, and once again make Karl Rove look like a genius?

You bet they can, for any number of reasons.

To start with, all the levers of power are in the hands of the GOP. The White House. The Senate. The House. The chairmanships of each and every Congressional committee. So that Republicans, day in and day out, exercise total control of the controllable political agenda. No legislation can even be considered unless Republicans allow it to be considered. No legislation has the remotest chance of passing without GOP support. For all intents and purposes, every Democrat in the Congress wakes up powerless every day.

So the Congress deals not with substance but with ideology. It deals with a marriage amendment that could become the first in the history of the republic to write discrimination into the Constitution. It deals with a flag-burning ban that would betray the First Amendment. It deals, shades of 2004, with anything and everything that might provide red meat for the ravening, ruling Republican right. It deals with anything that would comfort the comfortable (extend the capital gains and dividend tax reductions, repeal the estate tax) and afflict the afflicted (deny, deny, a thousand times deny any increase in the Federal minimum wage). For shamelessness, for greed, for bigotry and hypocrisy, for tinhorn patriotism, the Republican right rises to new lows each day the co*k crows.

The Democrats, out of power, hands tied, can only constantly react or constantly oppose. Neither of these are enviable political positions, and there are plenty of others just as unenviable.

For one, consider the no-win dilemma that Iraq presents for Democrats. As loyal Americans, as decent human beings, recognizing the hugeness of the stakes, Democrats have to hope as fervently as anyone else for an end to sectarian violence and the restoration of stability in the country. And if these good and desirable results come to be, who stands to gain politically? It gives new meaning to the phrase "between a rock and a hard place".

Next up, who speaks for the Democrats? Is it the defeated candidates Gore and Kerry, the former reborn and the latter a reborn wannabe? Is it lightning-rod Hillary, whose nomination would split this country like nothing since the Civil War? Is it Murtha, the latest war hero to have his patriotism impugned by flag-waving chicken hawks? Is it the rising star Obama, or Warner or Richardson or Bayh or Biden?

The hard truth is that nobody speaks for the Democrats: there is no acknowledged party leader, no person to whom deference must be paid, no person around whom Democrats can be counted upon to rally.

So the Democratic position on just about every major issue of the day is both nowhere and everywhere. Not a good place to be politically. And the party is no more unified on the inside than it is on the issues. There's a huge battle going on between those who, like DNC Chairman Howard Dean, want to spend money building up the party in all 50 states, and those who, like the House up-and-comer Rahm Emanuel, argue instead for pouring all available resources into the races deemed winnable this November.

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Gerald E. Scorse has an M.B.A. from Baruch College. He is retired and lives in Manhattan.
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