Sunday, December 23, 2007

Headline as Haiku

The headline summed it up so accurately it made my teeth hurt: "Republican Unity Trumps Democratic Momentum".

Robert Pear and Carl Hulse wrote the article that sums up Congressional Democrats’ 2007 accomplishments, or lack of them, in the New York Times, December 21. But whoever wrote that headline gets my vote for the Pulitzer. In fewer syllables than a classic haiku, he or she described perfectly the essence of American politics since the extreme right has held sway over the Republican Party.

The Democrats might have better ideas and public opinion on their side right now, but the Republicans--even when they’re in the minority—still run strategic circles around them.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)said she didn't foresee this would happen. Excuse me, but what sand has her idealistic head been buried in? And what a dumb thing to say even if you think it, power politics being what they are.

But at least she took some responsibility. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)simply blamed the Republicans. Perhaps it’s not surprising that public opinion now ranks Congress even lower than the President.

The conservative right is effective because they stick together and mass their strengths; those on the progressive left not only lack the discipline to stick together, they so distrust power that they sully their own opportunities to advance measures they sincerely believe will make people's lives better—in other words, the very things they were elected to do.

These missed opportunities occur not just because the minority is more highly motivated than a majority to exercise discipline; we’ve seen the Republican majority steamroller brazenly over the Democrats too many times to exonerate the Democrats and their leadership from responsibility for becoming rolees of their own volition. The most obvious example is the continuing flow of money to the Iraq war even after it became clear the Bush administration had lied through its teeth to justify a war that has benefited their Halliburton cronies more than anyone else.

But from the first day George W. Bush took office in 2001, well before 9/11 gave him a free pass, he started to ramrod extreme right wing judicial nominees through the Senate. Democrats, led by wimpy minority leader Tom Daschle, never let the courage of their convictions take precedence over crass vote counting.

Even after the Senate’s breathtaking switch from Republican to Democratic hands when Vermont’s moderate Republican Senator Jim Jeffords switched to Independent and began to caucus with the Democrats in May of 2001, Democratic leaders were still unwilling to seize the opportunity to oppose Bush’s nominees until a large coalition of women’s and civil rights groups poured starch into the senators' spines and perhaps a little fear of reprisal into their hearts.

In one such hearing, Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) looked straight at me and a few other heads of women’s organizations who were observing the committee hearing and angrily accused us of being the problem, rather than Bush’s nominees whose track records guaranteed that they were eminently prepared to eviscerate civil and reproductive rights that are core principles of the Democratic Party.

True, conservatives on occasion fail because they are so heartless in their pursuit of power that the vast silent middle of citizens finally rises up in outrage. The Terry Schiavo
case comes to mind. “Compassionate Conservatism” has been clearly demonstrated during the current Bush administration to be at best an oxymoron and at worst a cruel hoax. And every once in a wonderful while, their rigid acceptance of hierarchy backfires, and the likes of Tom DeLay finally get their due. But most of the time, their discipline to fight out their differences in their party’s caucus and then work the legislative floor together in lockstep allows them to leverage their effectiveness far beyond their numbers.

The Republicans are power mad. The Democrats are power averse.

So what did Pelosi and Reid expect when they took their majority leadership positions last January? Will they learn from their defeats and come out with agendas blazing and party unity next January in order to set a more favorable context for their party in next November’s elections?

Hope springs eternal.

© Gloria Feldt 2007

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