A Confused Party

January 19, 2006

Though Republicans undeniably face difficulties, Democrats are ill positioned to capitalize on them because of their own problems, which amount to a veritable identity crisis.

The New York Times reports that while just a year ago senators of both parties said a Supreme Court nominee “who disagreed openly with the major abortion rights precedents” would face nearly insurmountable confirmation hurdles, the Alito hearings “cast doubt on such assumptions.”

Why? Because “the handful of Democrats from socially conservative states were reluctant to be perceived as voting against him on those grounds.”

Yet, according to a separate Times story, the apparently tone deaf Senate Democratic leaders “urged their members Tuesday to vote against (Alito) in an effort to lay the groundwork for making a campaign issue of his decisions on the court.”

So which is it? Is the Democrats’ stance on abortion a net plus or minus for them? Do they have a clue anymore?

Democratic strategists James Carville and Paul Begala don’t seem to think so. In a book they’ve co-authored, they reportedly argue that Democrats are in disarray and need to rethink their positions on various issues. According to Newsmax.com, “both authors argue the party needs to change its dogmatic thinking on abortion rights, gun control and environmental concerns.”

Indeed, in the very process of trying to paint Judge Alito as “outside the mainstream,” Democratic leaders showed how out of touch they are. What Carville and Begala know, but their party leaders, with the exception of Hillary, seem not to have discovered, is that the only time Democrats have won the presidency in the last three decades is when their candidate — Bill Clinton — masqueraded as a moderate.

On the other hand, there is some evidence that Democratic leaders have begun to realize their worldview doesn’t play as well nationally. Why else would they be reluctant to give us the unvarnished version of what they believe? Why else do they spend all their time demonizing President Bush instead of articulating their own policy agenda?

Their strategy is fraught with problems. While they are trying to expand their smear of Bush to encompass the entire GOP — “a culture of corruption” — most of their ammunition since 2000 has been aimed at Bush personally, and neither he nor his vice president will be running again.

Plus, most of their attacks, even if inflicting some damage on Republicans, might do more to weaken their own standing with the electorate. Every time they bring up their tired mantra that Bush lied about WMD, they reveal their own dishonesty and hypocrisy and advertise their irrelevance. Every time they try to cast isolated incidents involving abuse of terrorist detainees as systematic torture authorized by the administration, they exhibit their disingenuousness — and, worse, their sympathy for the devil. Every time they cast President Bush as a power-mad dictator spying on innocent American citizens, they further alienate themselves from a public appreciative that intercepted Al Qaeda phone calls have actually prevented further terrorist attacks.

But you have to give the Democratic leaders credit for ingenuity. Whereas they seemed to be mired in the aimless project of tainting the president with scandal after isolated scandal, they are now trying to attach some cohesiveness to their charges. They want to show these “scandals” are born not only of personal corruption but a flawed ideology — a corrupt theory of government.

If their only weapon is scandal mongering, they give the public no reason to vote for them other than to throw the other bums out. But if in the process they can prove the scandals are the inevitable outgrowth of a dangerous ideology, they can sell themselves, by negative implication, as possessors of an alternative, superior ideology.

So when you hear them shifting gears in criticizing Judge Alito, from the subject of abortion to his “expansive views of executive authority,” understand they are trying to tie together most of the formless slanders they’ve hurled at the president over the last five years.

The theme is that conservatives are freedom-loathing, war-hungry tyrants who can’t be trusted with the presidency: They “stole” the election in 2000, denying voters their elective freedom. They “unilaterally” attacked Iraq by tricking congressional Democrats. They are “spying” on innocent Americans. They are stifling dissent in the “plantations” of Congress. President Bush is a stubborn, close-minded autocrat, unwilling to admit his “mistakes.” He is surrounding himself with judges who will enable his “executive excesses” and slap down any congressional checks on his power.

Democrats deserve an A for effort, but their strategy isn’t likely to succeed. In addition to the flagrant untruthfulness of their allegations, they still aren’t presenting an alternative policy agenda. They don’t dare come all the way out of the closet with it, or they’ll suffer even worse at the polls.