When I was in High School it seemed as though the Democrats had all of the good ideas. They were for racial equality (at least most of the Northern ones…the only Southern one seemed to be Lyndon Johnson), they were for fair wages (the words “union” and “Democrat” were synonymous), they were against the war (although the Senate, House and White House were controlled by Democrats and the war in Vietnam was escalating), and they had a vision of “Camelot,” a nation without poverty, without injustice, a nation of peace in a peaceful world.
There was idealism…..but it was idealism that somehow reflected the best hopes and dreams of the people of America.
When JFK, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated the dream, somehow, began to deflate. When Nixon resigned in disgrace, the idealism and dream were somehow replaced with anger, cynicism, bitterness and disillusionment.
It was not until the 1980s that the dream, the vision was rekindled. But this time it was not a Democrat, but the Republican Ronald Reagan, who articulated the image of a “shining light on the hill.”
Ordinary Americans, optimistic by nature, embraced this vision and celebrated it. Slowly, ever so slowly, they also came to embrace the party that carried the “can-do” spirit that would lead us into a brighter and more prosperous future.
Bill Clinton, a Democrat, was elected not because of the Democratic Party he represented (after all, the Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives during his administration) but because he personally reflected that spirit of hope (remember “a town called ‘Hope?’”) and optimism that Americans have such a hunger for.
With Bill Clinton the exception to the rule, the rest of the Democratic Party has become a cliche of something that is against everything but has nothing to offer in its place.
There is no readily discernible vision of hope to be found among the Al Gores, the John Kerrys or the Harry Reids and the American people have come to see that clearly.
South Dakota Democratic Senator Tom Daschle, one of the most powerful men in the U.S. Senate, was defeated and replaced by a Republican in the last election largely because he was seen as being “against” everything that the Republicans supported (especially Federal Judiciary appointments) yet having nothing “positive” to offer in their place.
In some ways little has changed with the rhetoric of the Democratic Party over the last 30-40 years.
They are still for “racial equality” (which now means the right of racial minorities to be treated as though they were “different” and “separate” from everyone else).
They are still for “fair wages” (which now means to “pay entry-level jobs wages large enough to live on” and to protect and preserve and enlarge union wages and benefits that are already so large that they are bankrupting the companies whose workers they represent).
And they are still “anti-war” (a war which they voted “for” before they voted “against” it).
But today the words ring empty. Somehow these words and slogans that once inspired me now sound stale and stuffed with straw like the hollow men in T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Waste Land.” There is no “there” there. The word “is” means so many things that it now means nothing. And the “anger, cynicism, bitterness and disillusionment” that surrounds these words like an aura has reduced what was once a moral “bang” into a mere “whimper.” (“This is the way the world ends…….”)
President George W. Bush haltingly, but convincingly, carried the American vision of hope and optimism into his disputed first term of office. He re-articulated that “can-do” hope following the terrorist attacks of “9-11″, reinforcing that vision with a strong and unbending will to resist, respond and rebuild.
When the “nay-saying” “nattering nabobs of negativism” had made it clear that they had taken over the Democratic Party in 2004, the American people, although uncertain about the Bush policy in Iraq, could not bring themselves to embrace empty rhetoric, no matter how high and mighty it sounded.
They chose, instead, to hold on to the vestige of hope that they recalled seeing in the heart and soul of George Bush. They trusted and prayed that this good heart of someone they believed was a good man still beat to the same spirit of optimism and confidence that had once been reflected so clearly in his attitude and words.
Since their crushing defeat (again) last year, the Democratic Party has continued to descend into irrelevancy. Howard Dean, as the Head of the Democratic Party, slanders Republicans as being “White” and “Christian.” Cindy Sheehan performs meaningless stunts to gain publicity for a request of President Bush that she has already been granted months before. And now Senator Harry Reid has closed down the Senate for a meaningless discussion on a subject that has already been fully open to the public and a process that has already received the negotiated support of both parties.
Where have all the Democrats gone? Joe Lieberman, where are you? Part of the “Gang of 14?” I suppose that’s a start. At least it sets you apart from the rest as someone who is open to dialogue.
Forget “Joe DiMaggio;” Where are the visionaries, the dreamers, the new kids with new ideas rising to new positions of leadership and influence in the Democratic Party?
I hope and pray that they are there….lurking somewhere in the shadows of the likes of Ted Kennedy….waiting for their turn to rise and shine and restore some semblance of luster to the Democratic Party.
I am frequently critical of the national leaders of the Democratic Party. This does not mean that I support everything or everyone in the Republican Party. I am not “anti-Democrat” by any means. I began my life as a Democrat not because “Clean Gene” McCarthy made a whit of practical sense, but because he communicated a vision and a hope that no one else was offering back in 1968.
I will sincerely consider supporting anyone of any party that not only believes in a vision of hope, but communicates it clearly and who offers a coherent pro-active plan to bring that vision into reality!
How sweet it would be if America were to be blessed with two political parties offering competing approaches to this same vision.
Then we could be “for” one or the other rather than today where we are forced to be either “for” the Republicans or “against” the Republicans (but rarely, if ever, “for” or “against” the Democrats at all). Sadly they have become the “hollow men, signifying anger and defeatism instead of that which might represent “the better angels of (their) nature.”
For this I grieve.