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Richard (RJ) Eskow Headshot

Thanks, Jane, But I'm Staying On the Democrats

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Jane Smiley has posted an eloquent and well-written piece in response to one of mine entitled "Democrats: Losers or Victims?" In it, she suggests we not concentrate on the Democrats, but on the venality of the GOP, the "winners and perpetrators."

Jane summarizes the lawless and immoral state of the Republican Party well - but, then what? Who's going to defeat them and take their place? There's no effective and meaningful opposition party. We may agree on who the villains are, but there's no hero in sight. And that means we know how the story's going to end.

I try to define an objective for each post I write - not because I think I'm a world-shaking influence leader, but because somebody's going to read it. So I stop and think - am I trying to cheer up the discouraged, suggest a new perspective on an old issue, encourage the growth of another writer's "meme" that I consider important, or hector progressives and Democrats into more effective and meaningful opposition? I'd put the "Losers or Victims" piece in that last category.

Nothing aggravates bloggers more, it seems, than the notion that the Internet can be an "echo chamber" where the like-minded reinforce each other constantly without influencing the world at large. Nevertheless, I see a lot of truth in the idea. Yes, we know that the Republicans are venal, and corrupt, and un-American, and immoral. Like Jane, I've singled out the so-called "moderates" like John McCain and observed that there is no "moderation" where criminality and unconstitutional behavior are involved.

But I'll say it again - then what? As the theme song for "Ghostbusters" says, "Who ya gonna call?" Rahm Emanuel, who says that the Democrats will articulate a position on the Iraq War "when the time is right"? Hillary Clinton, who continues to oscillate on the major issues of the day so frequently and rapidly, and in such tiny movements, that she becomes virtually invisible (which is probably the goal)? She resembles a hummingbird's wing more than she does a leader.

Republicans are stealing the country, robbing the national coffers, and letting people continue to die in a false war. Meanwhile the "opposition's" leaders are equivocating, dancing around the subject, and busying themselves with flag-burning amendments and criticism of video games. When they're not doing that, they're whining about what was "stolen" without thinking clearly about how to get it back. We're trapped in a drama that has an antagonist but no protagonist.

No matter how many times I repeat the incantation, "the Republican leadership is evil," John McCain and others are not going to agree with me. They should, but they won't. More importantly, neither are those heartland voters who are disillusioned with Republican corruption and the Iraq War. They don't see the Democrats as a meaningful alternative, which reduces the possibility of turning political corruption into political change.

My training tells me to concentrate on what I can do differently, since I can't change the other guy. What I, and others like me, can do differently is to demand that the Democratic Party stand for something meaningful - and that it do a much better job as the party of opposition. Failing that, I can do something else: I can try to force a change in that party's leadership, or take my support elsewhere.

I admire the way Jane was able to crystallize the issues with key lines like "the Republican Party is a criminal enterprise." I hope someday there's a Democratic politician willing to steal some of her language, or hire her as a speechwriter. (She's a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, but who knows? Maybe she'd do it as a public service.)

As I said in my original piece, Democrats can be the victims of a crime and still be losers - because they failed to run smart campaigns, articulate a clear vision for the nation, or win decisively. In short, Democrats haven't been leading. Republicans may be "perpetrators," but it's still incumbent on the Democrats to turn themselves into "winners" - for the country's sake. That includes speaking up loudly and clearly about Republican crimes, which Democrats have been strangely diffident about doing (with a few notable exceptions, like Rep. Conyers and recently Sen. Reid).

For too long now, the Democrats have been unwilling to hold themselves to a higher standard. Until that changes, the rest of us will have to do it for them.

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