Governor Bill Richardson's endorsement of Barack Obama today is a big boost for the grassroots wing of the Democratic Party. I thought all along that Richardson was just running to be Hillary Clinton's vice presidential candidate, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that Richardson recognizes the historic direction Obama is trying to take the party. (Where is John Edwards?)
If Barack Obama can wrench the Democratic nomination from the cold, dead hand of Hillary Clinton, the score of the game goes back to 0 to 0 and overtime begins. He will have a clean slate against John McCain. The Democratic primary campaign has been a ridiculously lengthy and bruising affair but the minute it is over, the political earth will shift. The nation will be confronted with a choice of voting for another failed, cynical, myopic third term for George W. Bush embodied by John McCain, or something almost entirely new in recent political history: A Democratic candidate who knows how to fight unapologetically for his core beliefs.
In recent presidential elections the Democratic Party has nominated bloviators, hypocrites, weaklings and wimps, uncharismatic sorts who are overly verbose and pretentious sounding to most working-class Americans. They have shown neither guts nor courage, neither spunk nor vigor, and they got their butts handed to them.
The Republicans (with the help of their corporate media and talk radio allies) have successfully defined the last few Democratic presidential candidates in the most unflattering terms. They said Al Gore was "haughty" and a "know-it-all," and he sighed too much during his debates with Bush. They said John Kerry overused his stentorian tone in his speeches and that he "flip-flopped" and that he looked "French."
In 1992, the only reason why Bill Clinton squeaked in with a plurality of 43 percent was because Ross Perot stole votes away from Herbert Walker Bush and Clinton aped the Republicans whenever he could on free trade, deregulation, and welfare reform. And he was from the South. In 1996, Clinton won reelection because the Republicans nominated a very weak vanity candidate and that for four years he did more to further the Republican agenda than any president since Ronald Reagan.
Before that we had the spectacle of Michael Dukakis riding in a tank (an image I wish I could rip away from my optic nerves). Dukakis, the object of the infamous Willie Horton attack ad, was one of the most pathetic candidates the Democrats have chosen in the post-World War Two era. What were they thinking?
And of course who could forget the Walter Mondale-Geraldine Ferraro ticket that handed 49 states to Reagan in a miserable rout of the party that worsened its identity crisis. And before that there was the failed one-term presidency of Jimmy Carter, also a son of the South, who showed little interest in strengthening the Democratic Party when he shifted the party so far to the Right that he provoked Edward Kennedy to challenge him in the 1980 primaries. Carter has been a much better former president than he was a president.
In other words, what is worrying the corporate media and the Bush and Hillary-loving Establishment plutocrats and old-guard elites who have had their way with our country for the past 30 years is that Barack Obama just might succeed in remaking the Democratic Party into a viable institution again; a party that knows how to fight back for the interests of working people; a party that manages the federal machinery competently and governs successfully. That prospect scares the hell out of them.
The Establishment elites love the status quo of a one-and-a-half party system: A strong and vicious Republican Party beating up a timid and pusillanimous Democratic Party in perpetuity; picture in your mind a Republican boot smashing a Democratic face forever. That is Karl Rove's "vision" for America, a right-wing juggernaut puréeing its liberal opponents. Obama offers a glimmer of hope that we will have a two-party system again where Democrats quit serving the same corporate interests as the Republicans and actually do something for the majority of people in this country who earn $60,000 a year or less. Call it the "forgotten America" or the "silent majority."
When Dick Cheney tells ABC News that the fact that two thirds of the American people do not believe the Iraq war is worth fighting doesn't matter to him at all we no longer live in a democracy where our leaders respect the sentiments of the electorate even in matters of war and peace.
If Obama can turn the Democratic Party back to its roots as the party of FDR then we might have a democracy again.
Follow Joseph A. Palermo on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JosephPalermo1