By Allison Kilkenny
February 24, 2008
The Democrats like to cast blame for why they continually lose elections. Karl Rove's dream of a permanent Republican majority, while eventually thwarted because of Bush fatigue, was only possible because the Democrats failed to form a compelling ideology for a globalized economy.
Definition through negation works in some preliminary stump speeches, but eventually voters want answers. It's not enough to be Not-Republicans. How, exactly, are Democrats different than Republicans? Spouting tired rhetoric about the New Deal and social welfare worked for a country teetering on the brink of Socialism during FDR's reign, but what now? How are the Fat Cats in the Democratic party different than the Fat Cats in the Republican wing?
And Universal health care hardly seems like revolutionary thinking when the very insurance companies who have been exploiting sick Americans are invited to the negotiation table. Well, to be fair, they paid for their seats at the table, since they have donated millions to the presidential candidates.
The fact that it is 2008 and we're still debating if all people should be given health care, fair trials, shelter (even if they accepted outrageous mortgage loans from predatory banks,) and if we should or shouldn't parade around the globe like some kind of colonizing juggernaut should alert readers to the state of the union.
Democrats are in trouble. They're so in trouble that the Democratic party -- the liberal voice of reason -- would be unrecognizable to the lefties of yesterday. Why are issues of nuclear disarmament, alternative sources of fuel, a department of peace, immediate Iraqi troop withdrawal, and media diversification constantly forced into the margins of debate?
Instead, politicians wade through a swamp of semantics, where they bicker over 30 or 60 or 90 day moratoriums on home foreclosures, negotiating with the banks instead of defending the American citizens. They talk about building permanent military bases in Iraq and a gradual withdrawal of troops, as if our continued presence in that land will bring anything expect death and destruction for more Iraqis and U.S. troops -- as if a multilateral peace-keeping mission could be worse than the corruption and ineptitude that has already leveled the country.
Yet, many are quick to crucify Ralph Nader when he speaks for real change. Many Americans blame him for Al Gore's defeat in 2000. Though, curiously, no Republican ever accuses Pat Buchanan of stealing votes from Bush in Florida, though Pat did take many votes from the then Governor. Pat even took some of Bush's votes in Iowa, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wisconsin, but because Bush squeaked ahead in the polls, individuals fail to reflect upon that.
Bush won (historically, not technically,) and so the Republicans don't obsessively analyze Florida's hanging chads like Democrats do. Democrats see themselves as a repressed minority, and so they wander around the political landscape like poor Midwesterners after a tornado tears through their trailer park. They just keep looking around, going, "What HAPPENED?!"
We live in a Democracy, which operates under the theory that ANYONE can run for president. Unfortunately, that usually means anyone who is rich, but if a candidate can raise enough cash, then he or she can join the party. Otherwise, if we don't have competition in politics, if we attach exceptions to the rule of democracy, then we might as well live under a monarchy, plutocracy, or totalitarian system of government.
Thankfully, this is America, and we like diversity in politics rather than an endless cycle of Anglo-Saxon descendants of wealthy plantation owners. Anyone can run for president, even the most unpredictable beast of the animal kingdom -- an environmentalist.
It's easy to blame Ralph because, well, he possesses the stubbornness of the last sane man in a world of screaming lunatics. He has spent his life working to protect the repressed and exploited, even though they never thank him. In fact, they frequently mock him like dumb bullies do to the smart kid in the class, who always raises his hand when he knows the answer instead of remaining mute so people will like him.
It's harder to blame Al Gore for Al Gore's defeat. It's difficult to examine the party as a whole and realize the Democrat's have yet to offer the American people a compelling argument for the next decade, and maybe that's why Al couldn't sway more independents to his side and lower the hammer in Florida.
The election wouldn't have come down to a few hundred votes if Al had blown through the rest of the states with a compelling mission statement, if he had wowed voters with exciting ideologies to carry us into a world with a globalized marketplace. Or perhaps a shiny new business model for how the United States can compete with a country supporting itself on slave labor, like China. Better yet, what of a humanitarian coalition of the willing, where all countries are asked to pay fair wages, not just out of altruistic duty for our fellow human beings, but so that Americans can play on a level market field so that their jobs aren't shipped overseas?
Al didn't deal with specifics. He simply bet that voters could see that he was smarter and more experienced than Bush. Well, we know how that worked out.
None of this is Ralph's fault. He's always had specific plans, and his vision never falters. People hate Ralph because, much like that asshole teacher in eighth grade who wouldn't let you skate by, he challenges us. He pushes the country left when the pendulum forever presses right. In a world of free trade and winner-take-all attitudes, Ralph fights for the environment, workers, and victims everywhere.
And yes, he will get votes, but he steals nothing from politicians who don't willingly surrender their campaigns to mediocrity, or voters who cast ballots true to their consciences. A truly compelling Democratic nominee will win blue votes, and some reds and independents. However, if the Democratic nominee offers Americans more of the same centrist-right rhetoric brought to us during the Clinton years, if they cater to Big Business and Wall Street, then we may see a repeat of the 2000 election.
And it won't be Ralph's fault. It will be our own.