The Current Crisis

Our Fragmented Friends

Democrats need to learn to get along.

By 9.1.05

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WASHINGTON -- A news story is creeping into our major newspapers. From there it is making its way into the broadcast media. It is a story that bodes ill for the Democrats. Once a story spreads like this it takes on the nature of Truth to journalists, and they then repeat it or variations on it for a mercilessly long time. The headline is this: "Democrats Fragmented and in Disarray." The story has two aspects that must trouble those Democrats who understand media. The first aspect is that it is filled with dire portents. Journalists are attracted to dire portents whether the portents are true or palpably absurd. The second aspect that must trouble Democrats is that this news story happens to be true. The Democrats really are fragmented and in disarray.

We saw this late last month when their Joan of Arc, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, gave a perfectly sensible speech -- at least for her. The next day all hell broke loose, and it broke loose against her. Hillary has been the Democrats' leading presidential hope since roughly 2002. In normative politics that would be surprising because in 2001, right after the Clintons were both being blamed for the pedaling of presidential pardons, the trashing of the White House by the Clinton staff, and the pilfering of White House property by the Clintons themselves, Hillary's approval rating had plummeted to 38%. The New York Times was calling for congressional investigations. The New York Observer was calling on Senator Clinton to resign.

Of course "normative" has rarely applied to the Clintons. Within a year Madame Hillary began her weird ascent with amnesiac Democrats, and soon she was the most popular Democratic office holder in the country -- at least with Democrats. She has remained so. Today she is almost a shoo-in for the party's nomination. Still late last month she was the object of obloquy from what is being called her party's angry left. All that she had said, aside from her usual denunciations of the Republicans and of the diabolical George W. Bush, was that "It's high time for a ceasefire. It's time for all Democrats to work together....Let's start by uniting against the hard-right ideology."

The "hard-right ideology" is how she has persistently described the point of view that has governed America roughly since Ronald Reagan brought it into government in 1981. Even her husband entertained part of it starting about the time he said, "The era of big government is over." One would think Hillary's persistent diabolizing of Republicans would appease her angry left, but it has not. The next day the angry blogs and activist groups were at her neck. She had been speaking at a meeting of the moderately liberal Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). Her plea for a "ceasefire" enraged Democrats further to the left.

"There's been an activist resurgence in the Democratic Party in recent years," responded Roger Hickey, co-director of Campaign for America's Future -- a pretty angry future it appears. And he added, "Hillary risks ensuring that there's a candidate to her left appealing to those activists who don't much like the DLC." As the DLC was one of the instruments through which her husband fashioned two presidential victories, you can see that the Democrats have a big problem. Another way of putting it is they are "fragmented and in disarray."

The problem for the Democrats is that their so-called liberals have been for decades living in a fantasy of self-congratulations. They see themselves as responsible for all that is good in America and the hated Republicans for all that is bad. Anything that the Republicans have done right the liberals see as bad, for instance, cutting taxes and thus encouraging the economic growth that has revived the country since the mid-1980s. They are smug and ignorant, and now they are at each other's throats. What in terms of policy does the angry left offer, beyond abominating Republicans and the DLC? Well, they hate Halliburton and Wal-Mart. They love the environment and would improve the lives of whooping cranes and rare grasses in Nebraska.

What is the American liberal? I conceive the American liberal as a fat, florid-faced archbishop from some declining episcopacy in New England waiting around the buffet table late in the dinner hoping to scoop up a few extra desserts, another bon bon to put in his pocket or her purse, an extra glass of sauterne, and to burp when no one is within listening range. Hillary, these are your constituents. Treat them well, or Mr. Hickey will field a candidate to the left of you.

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About the Author
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson Inc. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; The Clinton Crack-Up; and After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery.