WASHINGTON — ‘Tis the end of 2005 and time to look back. In politics what do I see? Well, I see the Republican Party struggling against high seas. In the media the party is depicted as being in danger of losing to the Democrats in the off-year elections next fall. That probably will be the case, unless the Republicans have to run against the Democrats. Against the Democrats they could win with Warren Harding in the White House.
The reason for this is that the Democratic leadership is fractured and dominated by people who are hysterical, abusive, and oblivious. The things they have called George W. Bush this past year are as excessive as anything Joe McCarthy ever called his opponents, but without the charm or for that matter the factual basis. Not only that, but they are feeding on their own. They have now made Senator Joe Lieberman controversial and among the Democrats’ left-wingers, objectionable.
His transgression is to treat a war as a serious matter and demur from criticizing the government in a way that might encourage our enemies. He is also consistent. As a Democrat he has stood by the principles outlined by Harry Truman in the Truman Doctrine. In sum: “I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” President Truman enunciated that principle before a joint session of Congress on March 12, 1947, after which he defied the last of America’s isolationists and sought appropriations to take up the position of faltering Great Britain in Greece and Turkey.
When Truman announced this policy there were opponents in the Republican Party who rolled out a critique that was complex, as analytical as the critiques of the present policy excogitated by the Democratic leadership, and as wrong. The Republican isolationists were a vanishing breed, and the more I read about them the more I am reminded of the present Democratic leadership. They have the same abusive style and the same obliviousness. Dr. Howard Dean, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and the delightful Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid sound like partisans who have never met anyone who was not just like them. When Senator Reid was hooted at for bragging “We killed the Patriot Act,” I wonder if he was surprised. Doubtless he did not even hear his critics, or if he did he dismissed them as being hellish Republicans.
The death this year of the long-time Democratic activist Penn Kemble reminds me that among Democrats there is an alternative to these provincials. Kemble, who died of cancer at age 64, began his political life as a civil rights demonstrator. On his deathbed I saw him listening to a tape of Negro spirituals being sung by Bayard Rustin, a black civil rights leader who like Penn, who was white, never lost his faith in America or in its essential goodness. Kemble was an ardent believer in the labor movement, but from all I could tell was open to technological developments that might increase the productivity of workers. Convinced of the imperative of America’s Democratic values, Kemble favored the use of American strength in the world. Where he might have disagreed with the President he was always measured and restrained. And there were limits to his partisanship. In the three decades that I socialized with him and played handball, I am sure that we disagreed on things but we never had an argument. I walked away from his presence understanding his position and he walked away understanding mine. We never doubted each other’s good motives. I can tell you this sort of comity is very rare on Capitol Hill. The last time I was there I frankly was amazed by the lack of trust and respect on both sides.
I think what is at the heart of the Democratic leadership’s rants and partisanship is a refusal to admit the opposition’s good motives. Second there is a refusal to understand the opposition’s policies. As the Republicans’ policies, both domestic and in foreign policy, are adaptions to the way the world is, that leaves the Democratic leadership in denial of the way the world is. It is this denial that will ensure the party’s continued decline. The Democrats do have an alternative. Joe Lieberman is from the same wing of the party as Penn Kemble, and he is equally civilized. My guess is that the Democratic rank and file will in the years ahead side with Lieberman. That is the intelligent future for the party and there are still plenty of intelligent Democrats. It is just that they are not numbered with the likes of Harry Reid.
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