I just read with sadness the recent
USA Today article on Democrats running for the Senate in the west and
south who hold views indistinguishable from Republicans.
These folks don’t think they can win with a message that is distinct,
so they are converging on the Republican message and hoping for the
This reminds me of the alcoholic wag who said, “I have lost my wife and
family, my job, my health–and my memory is getting poor. Of
course I drink! What the hell would you do?”
Here is the same line from the DLC: “The Democratic Party has
lost the Senate, the House, and the Presidency. People see us as
unprincipled and without vision. Of course we need to run like
Republicans! What the hell would you do?”
There is a rather precise definition of addiction, in cybernetic terms:
(1) A signal indicates that a problem has been encountered that requires the system to make
a change in its behavior. For example, losing one’s health might
be a signal to an alcoholic to stop drinking and seek recovery with the
support of Alcoholics Anonymous.
(2) The operator of the system turns off the signal, or turns off
awareness of the signal. This action is generally called a
“palliative”–i.e., it makes you feel better, but does not cure the
true problem. In the case of the alcoholic, further drinking
turns off anxiety, guilt, shame, depression–at least temporarily.
(3) Because the underlying problem has not been addressed, the condition of the system continues to decline.
(4) [Return to #1, and loop the program again.]
This is what is besetting the Democratic Party. A powerful
institution with many important resources is not addressing its own
lack of creativity and boldness in tackling the real problems of the
world. The Democratic Party is absent on the field. The
only voices advocating thoughtful new positions are the 527s,
and–watch–Republicans are working hard to silence them.
As a result of the lack of vision, leadership vacuum and general
submissiveness of Democrats, people turn to Republicans. Many of
us think that Republicans are wrong, wrong-headed, and motivated by
private interests–but Republicans cannot be faulted for lacking vision
and boldness. Redrawing the political boundaries of the Middle
East may have been a poor idea, a poorly-time idea, and a poorly
excuted idea. It was, however, bold.
Democrats don’t use their resources to generate new solutions, to bring
to the public new voices and new ideas,. They put their resources
behind messages that reinforce the Republican view of the world.
Essentially, Democrats help fund the educational and cognitive framing
campaign of the Republicans.
What is lost to the nation is the potential contribution of one of the
two major platforms for education, for action, and for political
Most Americans are tired of right and left–tired, frankly of
Republicans as well as Democrats. Look, please, at the polls on
non-voting and the expansion in numbers of independent voters. Most
Americans would like a newspectrum entirely, a new
perspective. Americans would–I believe–reward a party that
creatively reframed our fundamental challenges.
Finally, there is the personality dimension to politics–and failure on
this level is linked to addiction to the center. Consider this:
Americans tend to vote for people they like, and they tend to like
those who seem authentic. When Democrats run as Republicans, they
inauthentic. People suspect that such Democrats are be closet
liberals dressing up like conservatives. Or people wonder
why such a nice conservative fellow would be a member of that
despicable Democratic Party. Either way, as the old adage goes,
people will generally vote first for the real Republican. Among
things, the real Republican often seems more authentic and more
comfortable with him or herself.
I close: Why is John McCain a most interesting major political
player? Because people believe he is authentic.
Authenticity, people believe in their guts, is the only firm basis for
the political creativity that our nation so needs. The Democratic
Party systematically killed off the authentic voices that surfaced in its own
primary–and is now left with the result.
Democrats may well win this fall. If they do, it will be mainly
the Republican administration collapsed, and to some extent because the
Democrats ran a tight, well-funded machine aimed at tactically
exploiting the Republican failure. A Democratic
victory, however wide, will not be a victory of ideas, but of
tactics. It will not have advanced political thought in our
country, it will have further demeaned it.
We will not be on the road to recovery, we will be one loop deeper into
addiction. And as a nation, the process of this campaign is likely to leave us more misinformed, less
effectively led, and more turned off.
I hope that whoever wins this election wakes up and smells the
coffee–and is able to find a way to bring our nation back to our
senses, back to our selves. The American presidency–even
tactically won–provides a tremendous platform for action. One of
John Kerry’s chief finance persons said to me earlier this summer,
“Jim, campaigns are not where you make policy–they are where you
win. After you win, then you focus on what really needs to
get done” Perhaps. I hope so. Time will tell.
Unfortunately Democrats may have a hell of a hangover from the
campaign–having spent millions of dollars promoting a Republican point