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Where Have All the Democrats Gone?

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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.

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About Bird of Paradise

  • steve

    and I take it you are a “progressive” Wallace? Wild Bill was in the right time when the economy boomed. Im glad he is gone! Americans were taxed absurdly while he was in office! Thank god he is gone. Let’s just hope the wifey doesnt ever get into office…

    if Al Gore were in office while we were attacked…he would have been pulling his pud with one hand; his thumb up his ass with the other. we would have been repeatedly attacked. Dubyah saved the day! Think of it…while clinton was in office…how many times were we attacked versus how many times weve been attacked while bush has been in office?

  • 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.
    Horseshit. What is readily discernible is a take-no-prisoners if-I-don’t-get-caught-it-isn’t-illegal republican party who rolled into power on an economy CLinton helped build and were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time when the WTC imploded. Since the Republicans have made a career out of fear-mongering when it comes to foreign policy, it was only a matter of time before someone came along and filled the bill. The Democrats are busy falling all over themselves trying to sound warlike, and it comes off weak. Their problem? They don’t attack the Republicans enough, not nearly as often as the Republicans attack them, and the average American is fool enough to see that as weakness.

  • Nancy, I almost included Barack Obama in my post as an example of what the future of the Democratic Party might look like. He is from Hawaii, where I now live, and from all I have seen and heard, has maintained a civil and respectful attitude that not only well-represents the “aloha spirit” of Hawaii, but also bodes well for the Democrats should other “rising stars” follow his example.

    G. Oren. Thanks for your thoughtful walk down memory lane alongside me. Your “southern” perspective compements my “western, California” experience. Funny how we wound up seeing things and understanding them in almost the same, identical way.

  • G. Oren

    Great post Bird.

    Some of my earliest memories are of attending democratic party functions in our conservative Texas county. All the way with LBJ and HHH buttons in 64 and 68. In those days, and for many years afterward, folks like my parents were conservative democrats in Texas who championed personal responsibility and responsible government. They were stalwarts in the democratic party. The vietnam war fractured the consensus of the dem party – those tough on defense found they had no home there after the anti-war new left took over the party by 72. Watergate provided the dems with the illusion that americans wanted their brand of expansive government and appeasment of the Soviets. The only dems elected president since 64 – Carter and Clinton – were moderate southerners, able to put a commonsense face on their party, and put the liberal fringe into the background. When the dems go far an unabashed liberal, they inevitably lose the rest of the country – Mondale, Dukakis, even Kerry. Gore is somewhat of a centrist but his message was suspect.

    Dean is a disaster as party chairman, but there are thoughtful democrats able to put aside some of the rhetoric of the party constituencies and go for a vision for all americans. Lieberman is a good example, Biden is another, John Edwards will be heard from again. But the dems need a solid southerner who is credible on the values issues – there are stirrings, at the New Republic, the Atlantic, and other left-center organs that give some hope to the dems. But the Kennedy’s, Pelosi’s and Dean’s need to be muzzled before a better consensus can emerge.

  • A lot of the democrats have gone into the Republican party. Those who are left behind are the less organized and politically successful elements.


  • MCH

    “The Dems don’t seem to stand for much anymore, other than higher taxes and huge entitlement programs.”
    – Bobby (RJ) Elliott

    And what do you stand for, Bobby? Besides your phoney military rhetoric and making fun of the size of Elizabeth Edward’s rear-end?

  • Want hope? Barack Obama. With next year being elections, Congress might just see a bit of turn around. Republicans are losing ground, if not seats.

  • RJ

    Great post.

    The Dems don’t seem to stand for much anymore, other than higher taxes and huge entitlement programs.