The packet arrives in my mailbox one day like a bolt from the blue. I turn it over in my hands a few times before tearing it open, wondering what use Howard Dean might have for an apparatchik of the vast right-wing conspiracy such as myself. As one of the handful of reporters at the first few New Hampshire Dean for America events back in 2003, I have an up close and personal familiarity with the man’s combative patrician nature.
This note, however, was different. Dean wrote mournfully of “sitting here at my desk looking at a long list of presidential campaign needs,” and deciding, no, he was not going to surrender to the sexist misappropriation of social mores that somehow deems it unmanly to ask for help. (I myself hope one day to cry at the end of Jerry Maguire) And, so, the Democratic National Committee chairman requested, not without urgency, that I share my opinion on several pressing issues. “With so much riding on your survey response,” Dean wrote in his best Princess Leia to my Obi-Wan, “I need you to reply within 72 hours.”
I wondered for a long moment whether this heartfelt missive might not be a mistake. Perhaps the DNC simply assumes every resident of the Upper West Side is a Democrat. After all, this is a neighborhood where anyone right-wing enough to oppose a war crimes trial at The Hague for Dick Cheney is liable to be labeled a reactionary. Still, Dean continued: “I’m counting on you to come through for our Party and I’ll be watching the mail closely for your reply.”
The image of Dean alone at his desk, aaaarrrghhh-ing every time he sifted through his mail without finding my survey, angry and hurt over being rebuffed in his attempt to reach across the ideological spectrum, haunted me. Finally, I resolved to fight my cynicism like it was Hamas. I’d give the DNC Chairman the piece of my mind he so humbly sought on the morrow.
NOT TO BE OUTDONE, THE VERY next day a similar “Dear Shawn” letter arrived from Tom Cole on behalf of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Sigh. I suppose I should be happy both major parties are looking to me to help elevate the debate, but with Tax Freedom Day a few weeks away yet my mood toward elected officials is not quite magnanimous. Plus, I’m busy. What’s next? Lunch with Chelsea Clinton?
The large envelope from Cole announces I’ve been selected as a delegate-at-large to aid “in the vital task of drawing up and ratifying the 2008 Republican Platform.” It’s mostly an honorary position, I gather. In exchange for checking a series of boxes labeled Yes, No, and Undecided below a series of (mostly stupid, frequently condescending) questions, I am granted the privilege of writing a check for at least $25 to the NRCC, purportedly to help “expose the flawed and reckless agenda of the ultra-liberal Democrats and their special interest benefactors.” How noble!
If I turn down my delegate-at-large appointment, on the other hand, the NRCC asks that I send along at least $15 “to help defray the costs of processing this form.” It would be interesting from a sociological perspective to learn how many people check that second box, thereby paying to have their opinion not count. It’s a statistic that would be a better indicator of what desperate straits our country is in than any election.
I placed Dean and Cole’s surveys side by side on my desk. It has long been an article of faith among liberals that they have suffered at the polls primarily because their ideas don’t fit on bumper stickers. These Proud Progressives eagerly awaiting Bush’s Last Day as they ponder Am I Liberal Or Just Well Educated? are too smart for such a stupid country.
Yet the DNC survey asks a mere 15 questions, none of which require rank-and-file Democrats to explore any kind of philosophical quandary or delve into the minutiae of one policy proposal or another. Perhaps they already know what a brilliant core the Party has and there is no need to waste time proving it again to one another. It nevertheless seemed to me that most of the large print four-page survey could have been collapsed into a single query: Do you believe the hearts of Republicans are black as night, kept warm only by the burning of paperwork from foreclosed sub-prime mortgages, beating only to deny health care and middle-class amenities to the working poor?
Which is to say, while the RCCC is asking questions about North Korea, Iran, Iraq, immigration policy and the Fairness Doctrine, the DNC is mostly worried about the dangers posed by…Republicans. It’s mostly about votes, Dean’s beloved 50 State Strategy and political tactics, not policy. Hence, we are queried as to how “concerned” we may be that “Republican voter suppression schemes will disenfranchise Democrats.” The inaccurate smear that McCain has “pledged” to keep troops in Iraq for 100 years is invoked, just before we are asked how likely we believe it is that “John McCain and his Republican allies” — at least Dean doesn’t lump us all together! — “will launch a ‘Swift Boat’ style smear campaign.”
To these, I answered Not Concerned and Not Likely, respectively. For the good of my new friend Howard Dean I felt it was important the results of the DNC survey not wind up looking like a Saddam-era Iraqi election.
ALAS, AS FUN AS IT MAY BE to rib the DNC, one need not be a devotee of the Antle Principle of philosophy before partisanship — although I certainly am — to find the NRCC’s current outlook disturbing. “Every day, more and more voters are turning to us as a Party and asking, ‘What is our agenda? What are our goals? What do we stand for? What do we want to accomplish?’” Cole writes, adding, “These are fair questions. They are questions our Party must be able to answer directly, honestly and courageously.”
Lord, if the Republican Party was so confused about its philosophical underpinnings, perhaps it should have gotten in touch a bit sooner! Here are a few examples of what’s been boggling the minds of the Republican leadership these days:
Should Republicans work to have Congress rein in today’s ‘pork barrel’ spending that has grown out of control in recent years?
So let’s get this straight: Apparently the obscene orgy of Republican spending during the Bush years could have been averted if past delegates-at-large had simply checked No on NRCC surveys of yore? Somebody’s blaming the victim…