02/11/2007 04:23 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Hyping the Horse Race Instead of Feeding the Horses

With the encouragement of a voracious media, the Democrats are once again hyping their Presidential horse race instead of figuring out how (and what) to feed the horses. Bereft of serious new ideas about how to deal with the Middle East, the costs of a retiring baby boomer generation, globalization, the trade deficit, illegal immigration, and the brute realities of global
interdependence, the Dems are featuring the Obama-Clinton standoff (is race more important than gender? is Obama black?), the Biden-Barack debacle (if Barack is the first "clean" black politician, what does that make Jesse and Sharpton and Rangel?), the 'where's Al Gore, is he ever coming back?' soap
opera, and the 'there are so many candidates in the race we already can't
count them' cliche. The only candidate in the race to have posed serious
ideas is Congressman Dennis Kucinich, which is of course only one more
reason the press have for ignoring him.

But since the election is still 600 days away, and there are a half dozen
live policy mines floating around any one of which could send the good ship
USA sinking beneath the waves (including the very real waves likely to come
with the rise of sea levels associated with global warming), shouldn't the
Democratic Party be spending a least a little time and a few dollars
figuring out what it believes, and how it intends to deal with the global
world the Republicans have so screwed up?

"Who is YOUR candidate?" everyone asks me, not "what should the Party stand
for?" But jockeying for position in primary races almost two years away
while the sky's falling in on today's world is more than irresponsible. It
suggests an immunity to realism almost as frightening as Bush's.

From Jacob Hacker to Robert Kuttner, from Harry Boyte to Bruce Ackerman (if
you don't know who they are, there's the problem right there!), there are
plenty of voices addressing deep issues of democracy in a progressive
language Democrats ought to understand - and I don't mean "reframing" or
"renaming" things, which has taken the place of serious thinking among too
many Democratic reformers.

If we insist on turning politics into a spectator sport and sitting back and
watching the horse race, letting Democratic voters choose between hubristic
adventurism in the name of democracy, or frightened isolationism and
protectionism in the name of American jobs and welfare, it may turn out that
who wins doesn't really matter. What's needed is a new menu of choices - not
the same old equally bad choices among tired old alternatives - but new ways
of thinking about globalization that don't demand being for it or against
it. This, however, is hard work, whereas the horse race is fun.

Maybe that's the lesson of the noble horse Barbaro: you can kill yourself
running the race, and never achieve real victory - which for human beings in
the political race will be measured by the quality of ideas the victors
bring to the finish line rathen than the pace at which they run the race.