THE BLOG
09/10/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Are Democrats Determined to Become What They Most Despised About Bush?

I don't get it. Why do Democratic leaders need to use the term "un-American" to characterize their political opponents in an op-ed about health care?

Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American. Drowning out the facts is how we failed at this task for decades.

Un-American?

Yes, insurance companies and well-funded conservative groups are bankrolling protests at town halls. Yes, these town hall disrupters are intentionally hindering reasoned debate. And yes, some of the anti-Obama rhetoric has a race-based component that is beyond despicable.

But throwing around the term "un-American" in the pages of a major paper? Do we really need to use the kind of language that Bush's supporters hurled at Iraq war protesters?

Of course we don't. It's wrong.

And importantly for the health care debate, it's politically tone deaf. [Media Matters is already documenting how the term is being used by the right to discredit Pelosi and Hoyer's argument.]

This is part of an endemic problem, namely, the inexplicable adoption by Democrats of Bush-era policies and political tactics.

It begins with the White House's precedent-setting reaffirmation of Bush's policies on secrecy, detainee treatment, civil liberties, etc, encapsulated in this Glenn Greenwald post:

What is, in my view, most noteworthy about all of this is how it gives the lie to the collective national claim that we learned our lesson and are now regretful about the Bush/Cheney approach to Terrorism. Republicans are right about the fact that while it was Bush officials who led the way in implementing these radical and lawless policies, most of the country's institutions -- particularly the Democratic Party leadership and the media -- acquiesced to it, endorsed it, and enabled it. And they still do.

It's manifested in the gleeful mockery of political opponents, the kind of viciousness that is entirely unnecessary for the party in power and that was one of the worst traits of Bush's supporters when Democrats were in the wilderness.

It continues with the utterly deplorable silence on the part of most Democratic leaders as unimaginably wealthy bankers rake in billions in bonuses on the backs of American taxpayers.

Democrats: wasn't the whole point of regaining power to undo the worst of Bush's excesses? Wasn't Obama's election a total refutation of the Bush presidency? Didn't we want to lead by example?

It doesn't seem that way.

The fact that Democrats are floundering on health reform and Obama's poll numbers are dropping is no coincidence. It's a giant turn-off to voters for Democrats to have spent eight long years railing against Bush, then turning around and copying some of his worst traits.

I broke with my peers when I said that Sarah Palin should be treated like a human being no matter how wrong-headed her beliefs and no matter how incoherent her pronouncements. I did the same when I questioned the strategy of elevating Rush Limbaugh's status. And I did it when I criticized the president's Cairo speech for being tepid on women's rights.

But I did it because I have big expectations of my party, and those expectations don't involve wishy-washy policies in the name of 'bipartisanship', the trashing of opponents, strong-arm tactics, backroom deals, secret meetings with big-moneyed interests, one-upsmanship with Drudge and Limbaugh, the incessant courting of Beltway pundits, and the wholesale repudiation of Constitutional protections and principles in the name of national security.

What I want my party to do is to lay out solid goals based on core progressive values; govern with confidence but not overconfidence; confront opponents with strength but also with decency; make fairness and justice indomitable pillars of policy.

Sure it's idealistic. But as I've said repeatedly: it's good politics, too.