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Last week on "The West Wing" we buried Leo McGary and the actor who played him, John Spencer. The writers did not overdo it, thankfully, as perhaps they did with the funeral of Mrs. Landingham as President Bartlet cursed at his god in Latin, pacing the transept of the Washington National Cathedral, butting a cigarette into the hallowed marble floor. No, instead the "Requiem" episode was devoted primarily to the politics of an election aftermath, and the stunning moment came during a quick interview with a senior Democratic member of the House of Representatives who believed himself primed and ready to take over the job of Speaker of the House, the third senior position in the federal government (at least as succession to the Presidency goes).

The Democrat with a four vote margin stood up to President Elect Matt Santos and said he would not support legislation to effect a complete stop to lobbying contributions to elected officials. He said that now was not the time ... with a majority of Democrats ... to be endangering their hopes for major funding (paraphrase). It was a moment in mass entertainment when Hollywood spoke for an essential truth.

As it happens I had just read a review article in the New York Review of Books (April 27, 2006 issue) by Bill McKibben on the effect of the internet on politics and was disheartened to learn that, in what turned out to be pivotal Iowa, John Kerry, Richard Gephardt, and Robert Torricelli (the disgraced former NJ senator) were the principal backers of a TV spot that, using the image of Osama Bin Laden, declared Howard Dean to be a political lightweight, incapable of conducting effective foreign affairs.

I am reminded here at home that one is a fictional and the other a non-fictional tragedy. I am reminded daily in the blogs and opinion outlets that the Democrats have no plan, no voice, no nothing. And, also last week I was not only reminded but urged by Doug Thompson of Capitol Hill Blue to dump my party affiliation and be independent from now on. Doug has subsequently apologized to the world for a series of wild statements in his daily rant. I understand that everyone has a bad week every so often, but Doug's preceding vehemence belies his mild apology. His "pox on both their houses" rant left stinging welts on my understanding of American politics.

A colleague reminded me of several cases where the powers within the Democratic Party are choosing their colleagues by undercutting Democratic rivals in local races. Illinois, Pennsylvania, and others are states where personality and connections are defeating principle and political vigor. To sum it up in a few words, it seems that not only is the Democratic Party a more closely held power structure than I ever wanted to believe, but that it is heir to various kinds of pecuniary and hubristic corruptions. The question then is what to do about it.

First, though, there are the Republicans. Every Republican in the House of Representatives has violated his or her oath of office to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitutions of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. If they had not we would have Articles of Impeachment delivered to the Senate months ago. I bring this up to show that party discipline can be strong indeed. Bush, Cheney, and Rove have convinced the Representatives, whose constituencies are small by comparison to the President's and Vice President's, that the Executive has make or break largesse to deliver to loyal party members or to take from disloyal ones. It apparently took not much convincing to reduce the Republican Legislative Branch to lackey status, since it is true that the Executive has huge discretion in spending through the various bureaucracies of government. But the point is that where pressure can be brought to bear, economically and politically, party politics is the art and craft of wielding power.

Second, the Republicans are not going to reform themselves. Their 15 minutes of fame as a reform party was squandered nicely by Gingrich and friends a decade ago with Tom DeLay then serving up notice that power absolutely corrupts. What we observe in today's Republican Party is a food fight for position in what most believe is an inevitable relapse into minority status, a consolidation of local political deals, a vendetta against a multitude of perceived enemies.

Moreover, the Republicans are not going to let the problems within the Democratic Party, the notorious internal dissent, the traditional bickering and back-stabbing happen without taking political advantage of it. Far from it; Republicans are the Party of party politics and are a far more disciplined group than are Democrats. If the Democrats break up into a Progressive Party and a Green Party and perhaps even other shards, the Republicans win. It is as simple as that.

We Liberals have two choices: break away decisively and permanently or work from within. Breaking away requires leadership and a campaign upon which to focus the break. The leadership has to be pure and unassailable; the campaign needs to have dollar and on-the-ground resources ... people in every state, people in every precinct, people willing to work off thirty pounds hanging door hangers and putting up signs. The campaign needs an honest communications broker and the present-day mass media are probably not it. Working from within, on the other hand, takes above all patience.

I assume that most disaffected Democrats know what bothers them most--their key issue (employment, health care, military spending, immigration, etc.) That gives each disaffected Democrat two things to talk about locally: the issue that bothers them most and Democratic corruption. I assume that the local disaffected Democrats know who and where their elected representatives are and that they have the opportunity to speak with them. If these two assumptions are true, then combine them and multiply them by the number of people any disaffected Democrat can talk to in an evening's local meeting.

If you agree with the mathematics here then the order of the day is to go down to the local Democratic headquarters and introduce yourself. Then say you would like to volunteer and (especially) to meet other Democrats. Go to a local meeting, talk, listen carefully. When the time is right with a person who seems to share your views tell them what is bothering you: your favorite issue and Democratic corruption. See how it goes with that person and the next. In a short time you will begin to call yourselves the reformers, then the reform movement. You will all seek out your representatives or candidates and tell them two things: one, the issue that bothers you most and then your feelings about Democratic corruption.

The rest of the arithmetic is simple. A representative or candidate will hear a variety of statements about key issues and glued to each such statement will be a statement about Democratic Corruption. They will notice that you all seem to have internal solidarity among you, and from precinct to precinct they will notice that the reformers seem to have a movement going. You will hear from the candidate soon enough. You will hear rhetoric about reform and easy-to-make statements. Politicians are good at this, so you will have to be organized to hold their feet to the fire.

The fire is this: demand legislation to end PAC and corporate lobbying contributions of any kind: this includes airplane rides, golf vacations, any and everything. If corporations and PAC want freedom of speech let them speak to the voters, not directly to the voters' representatives. If they speak directly to elected officials, you the voters have been cut out of the equation!

You have to demand strict campaign financing legislation, too. Both! There is no other way to get back even a vestige of control over the Party. Since you are now many, call the candidate and ask if they have spoken to other Democratic candidates about this, if not, why not? Let them know (each one of you ... even if it means a hundred calls a week from your precinct) that you are keeping track of them, their thoughts and activities. Demand that reforms become the highest order of business. There is nothing at stake but our democracy, for there is no question that Republicans are little interested in it.

James Richard Brett
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James R. Brett, Ph.D. taught Russian History before (and during) a long stint as an academic administrator in faculty research administration. His academic interests are the modern period of Russian History since Peter the Great, Chinese (more...)

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