Thursday, February 02, 2006

Democrats are Letting Themselves be Defined as Inert and Insane

There’s a basic rule in politics: don’t let your opponents define you. But it seems that’s what the Democrats keep doing—letting Republicans define them

Case in point are two essays today from two of the most rabidly pro-Republican columnists out there, Tony Blankley of the Washington Times and Peggy Noonan of The Wall Street Journal. Both take the occasion of President Bush’s State of the Union to comment on how the Democrats reacted during the speech. Not surprisingly, the Democrats were rather lacking in enthusiasm. But look how Noonan spins the Democrats lack of applause:

It seemed a metaphor for the Democratic Party: We don't know where to stand or what to stand for, and in fact we're not good at standing for anything anyway, but at least we know we can't stand Republicans.

Blankley hits even harder, using the Democrats applause over the failure of Bush’s Social Security plan to claim Democrats are:

…the party of reactionary inertia -- as the party that not only doesn't have any solutions to today's dangers and problems but denies that such problems exist.
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Noonan and Blankley seem to think the Democrats should have been cheering the proposals of their opponents. That’s a ridiculous notion. And yet their attacks still hit the mark—because the “Democrats don’t have any ideas” theme is well-established and believed even by many in the Democratic party itself.

The Democrats have become defined by their opponents. Noonan and Blankley can write essays that are blatantly untrue on the service because they are still true (or at least still perceived to be true) in their essence.

The Democrats only way out is to strongly combat the idea that they have no new ideas. Some Democrats are doing that, but the party leadership isn’t. In fact, the Howard Dean/Nancy Pelosi/Harry Reid/John Kerry quartet have increasingly looked to the hard left base for support rather than trying to win new converts from the center.

The problem is, most of us see the hard left as, well, crazy. Noonan directly mentions the powerful hard left Democrat blog Daily Kos and writes:

Republicans have crazies. All parties do. But in the case of the Democrats--the leader of their party, after all, is the unhinged Howard Dean--the lunatics seem increasingly to be taking over the long-term health-care facility. Great parties die this way, or show that they are dying.

Blankley also takes the opportunity to tie the Democrats tight to their small but increasingly powerful hard left base:
Somehow the Democratic Party -- for 180 years the most electorally successful political party on the planet -- has now almost completely mutated into a party too loathsome to be seen in public, and too nihilistic to be trusted with control of even a single branch of government.

Again, Noonan and Blankley are wrong. The Daily Kos type liberals have not taken over the party and do not represent most or even many Democrats. But they are listened to and increasingly pandered to by top-ranking Democrats. But the more they are allowed in, the easier it is for Republicans to call the Democrats crazy. And if that sticks like the “Democrats have no new ideas” theme stuck, the Democrats are in serious trouble.

The Democrats are making it easy for the Republicans to define them. The elections this year and in 2008 will be a crucial period for the party. Can it climb from its slump with bold, positive leadership, or will it collapse completely under the combined weight of inertia and hard left lunacy? It’ll come down to how hard the traditional left and center left want to fight the hard left for control of the party.

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