The traditional strength of American politics is that the two-party system encourages moderation by effectively marginalizing lunatics on both ends of the ideological spectrum. Republicans don’t need to court twitchy backwoods militia types hankering for a return to legalized segregation, and Democrats don’t need to get in bed with fist-pumping café revolutionaries who insist that every black man behind bars in the United States is a political prisoner.
But that tradition is now in jeopardy. For in its desperation to elect John Kerry president this November, the Democratic hierarchy is busy cobbling together what the Bush campaign recently, and accurately, dubbed Kerry’s Coalition of the Wild-Eyed. Rather than putting forward a coherent platform of policy objectives, the Democrats have cast a net of free-floating political rage in the hopes of scooping up every amateur conspiracy theorist with a grudge against the status quo.
Their litany of counterfactual charges is by now familiar: the Republicans impeached President Clinton for committing adultery; the Republicans stole the 2000 presidential election; President Bush had sufficient warnings to prevent the attacks of September 11th; Bush’s business ties with the Saudi royal family dictated his decision-making after September 11; Bush used the September 11th attacks as an excuse to invade Iraq, which he’d had in mind from day one, in order to line the pockets of his oil industry cronies; Bush sent off predominantly dark-skinned soldiers to die protecting predominantly white men’s interests.
Senator Kerry knows each of these beliefs is false, demonstrably false, yet he cannot afford to disown any of them because he’s made the paranoid fringe a key constituency. The problem runs deeper than the political reality that he cannot distance himself from mainstream-figures-turned-partisan-flamethrowers like Al Gore, Ted Kennedy, Howard Dean and the entirety of the Congressional Black Caucus; Kerry cannot even dismiss Michael Moore’s loopy suggestion in his new film that the war in Afghanistan wasn’t about overthrowing the Taliban government, which harbored al Qaeda terrorists, but about allowing the Unocal Corporation to build a natural gas pipeline through the country. Kerry cannot, in short, speak the truth without alienating his reflexively wary base.
These are perilous times — and not only because loosely-knit fraternities of jihadists are dreaming up new suicidal schemes designed to kill thousands of Americans. For generations, the decision to vote Democratic or Republican has hinged on the relatively benign question of whether you favor bigger government or smaller government. But that choice no longer works for the Democrats — who just can’t win elections anymore by proposing big government solutions. Their fallback strategy now seems to consist of appealing to voters’ worst emotions, tapping into their delusions, their fears, their passions and prejudices, accusing their Republican opposition not merely of being wrong on the issues but of thwarting democracy and engaging in genocide for profit.
No tactic could be more cynical. Or more dangerous to the future of political discourse.