Monday, January 11, 2010

Schizoid Dems

People like to talk about the two Republican parties: the populist conservative wing characterized by outraged protesters who won't tolerate dilution of their principles and the big tent centrists who would rather compromise than lose. This apparent schism in the GOP delights those on the Left, of course. The war between the centrists and the conservatives led to a victory for Democrat Bill Owens in New York's 23rd Congressional District last November. It's expected to cause problems for Republicans in the coming year as well, with conservatives challenging so-called "establishment" Republicans in Florida, Texas, California, and other states. Will the Republican realignment yield more victories for the Left?

Only if Democrats can overcome their own internal battles. On every major piece of legislation penned in 2009, from last spring's stimulus bill to summer's Waxman-Markey energy bill to this fall's pair of health care bills, not only was every bill unable to entice Republican support, but they all drew a fair amount of Democratic criticism. In Speaker Nancy Pelosi's and Senator Harry Reid's efforts to gain bipartisan support for their legislation, they could hardly fail to notice the bipartisan opposition.

2006 and 2008 were good years for Democrats, but not as good as they or anyone else may have believed. Many of the seats won by the Left in those years went to conservative, or Bue Dog, Democrats, and most were in districts with heavily conservative leanings. My own Representative in Congress, Democrat Glenn Nye, has been about fifty-fifty when it comes to Democratic initiatives. Even with President Obama in the White House, this country is still center-right, with more conservatives than either liberals or moderates. Governing and legislating as liberals has not gone as well as the president and Congressional leadership had hoped.

And it has proved remarkably helpful to the Right. Alabama Representative Parker Griffith recently defected from the Democrats to the Republicans. Others, like Griffith's fellow Representative Bobby Bright, are staying with the Democrats but voting with Republicans. Cases like theirs could easily be attributed to the fact that they live in a Red State. It wouldn't explain, however, the victories of Republican gubernatorial candidates Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie in Virginia and New Jersey, states that President Obama won with heavy margins just a year earlier.

It also wouldn't explain the fortunes of U.S. Senate candidate Scott Brown, a Republican running surprisingly well in Massachusetts, one of the most liberal states in the country. His race against Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate, for the late Edward Kennedy's seat, has already created more rifts in the Democratic party. When the Massachusetts Secretary of State recently stated that he would delay certifying Scott Brown, even if the election result isn't contested, the moderate Democratic blog HillBuzz.org immediately pushed back, saying they would "MARCH UPON WASHINGTON to setup an office for UNITED STATES SENATOR SCOTT BROWN on our own. On the steps of the Capitol if we have to."

Electoral woes are the least of Democrats' problems at the moment. The jobs crisis in this country is something our current leaders have spent almost a year combatting. Things have gone from bad to worse, as they say. Just this past weekend, Tim Kaine, the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, complained that last year's economic stimulus bill had to be passed without Republican support. A strange complaint, since the bill itself has done practically nothing to arrest the swell of unemployment in this country. I agree with Chairman Kaine that the bill would have done a better job with Republican input; however, it was the Democratic leadership in Congress that rejected and at times refused even to hear Republican ideas. It's no wonder, especially in hindsight, that almost no Republican voted for the legislation.

Democrats' legislative efforts continue to founder. As I indicated before, their signature legislations, health care and energy reform, are in serious jeopardy; at least, in their current forms. When it comes to health care, Senate and House Democrats have competing visions, which even the president may not be able to mediate.

Which brings me to President Obama. Numerous acts by our president have angered his liberal base. He continues to increase troop levels in the Middle East; members of his administration are barred from testifying on Capitol Hill; the health care bill reconciliation, which he repeatedly promised would be aired for all to see, is now being held behind closed doors (which mimics his flip-flop on the promise that all legislation he signs would be posted online for public scrutiny before he signs anything); and, of course, his handling of the war on terror has pleased almost no one. The Left is experiencing significant buyer's remorse in this case.

A year ago, very few could have predicted that the Democratic brand would appear as damaged now as the Republican brand was during the 2008 election cycle. More could have foreseen that Democrats were just as prone to infighting as they accuse Republicans of being. When Senator Arlen Specter defected from the GOP to join the Democratic majority, the mainstream media took it as evidence that the Right was incapable of welcoming those with "different points of view". However, it was just a few years earlier when Senator Joe Lieberman, once the Democrats' vice presidential candidate, was drummed out of the party for his support of the Iraq War. A lifelong Democrat, Lieberman refused to defect, but merely ran as an independent (and won). His party again tried to punish him for his support of John McCain in the 2008 presidential election, even though they were more than happy to have Republican senators like Chuck Hagel support Barack Obama. Apparently, reaching across the aisle is only acceptable if it's being done from the other side.

Those who've read my earlier posts know that I don't care for political parties at all. Merely joining one warps not only your own identity, but also your perception of others. Democrats for the past decade have led, campaigned and legislated on the idea that Republicans have been doing it all wrong and they can do a better job. I was more than happy to give them that opportunity, voting not only for Jim Webb and Tim Kaine here in Virginia, but even John Kerry in the 2004 race. Since then, though, I've seen almost nothing from the current leadership to suggest that they're any less partisan (or petty) than their Republican counterparts. This isn't a game to me; whoever's holding the most cards isn't always the best, and whoever's sitting in the driver's seat doesn't always call the shots.

It's time to stop looking at things from a "them versus us" perspective; in fact, it's well past time. We're starting a new election cycle this year; incumbents, challengers, and all other candidates will be looking for your vote. Tell them if they want it, then they need to stop fighting with each other and start doing their jobs. In Virginia, we just had an election that was free of the normal negative campaign tactics; at least, on the side of the candidate who ultimately won. Our Governor-elect Bob McDonnell, who will be sworn in this coming weekend, ran a positive, issues-based campaign, outlining his vision for Virginia's future and his solutions for our problems. Virginians didn't always agree with his position on the issues, but we did respond well to his positive message and lack of partisan attacks, as opposed to Creigh Deeds' unrelenting negativism.

I'd urge anyone who seeks public office to follow McDonnell's example; and I'd urge the voters to go with the candidates who have the best ideas, and not the letter that happens to match your own. We have a number of problems here in America: health care reform, education, national security, the economy, energy reform, war in the Middle East, and many more. Let's not add political scorekeeping to the list.

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