Thomas Nephew at newsrack blog was disappointed with the FISA vote and asked, pleaded almost, for a discussion about what it means. He has great commenters, including the talking dog and eRobin, so it’s been an intelligent and collegial debate – or was until I came along. I lambasted the Dems with the same charge I made in yesterday’s post and Thomas replied with a perfectly legitimate question: Which Dems?
In the spirit of discussion: which Dems? All of them? The 42 who voted with the GOP in the House and the 16 in the Senate? Plus Pelosi and Hoyer and Reid? The Schumer-Emanuel duumvirate? (None of this is meant “snarkily”, it’s all just shorthand.) Is it camouflage or a sincere vote that all of those named above voted “Nay”? I assume you assume it’s camouflage. There’s also a 6-month sunset on this, right? So do we gear up for then, or do we give up right now?
Parenthetically, don’t you love “duumvirate” (“dumbvirate”, as I call it)? I’m not even sure it’s a real word but it looks great and just rolls off the tongue. One of many reason I like Thomas is, you run into things like that all the time there. He’s so damn literate, and he loves to play with language as only someone who really knows it can.
But to the point.
My initial response was that as long as the party leaders – Pelosi, Hoyer, Reid, Emanuel, Hillary, et al – were on board, it made little difference who wasn’t. They run the show and the little guys swallow their principles and do what they’re told. We’ve been seeing that dynamic play out since November, the two most egregious votes to my mind being the way they caved over FISA and the midnight, back-room meetings at the White House between Bush and the Dem leadership on the trade deal that resulted in Pelosi and Reid selling workers and the environment down the river. Thomas, you can’t blame that one on the Dem fear of being labeled soft on national security.
But on reflection the answer is actually much simpler.
Yes, Thomas. All of them.
If that seems like I’m painting with a broad brush, not taking into account individual differences, well, I am. But the reasons for a wide stroke are fundamental and we’ve all been talking about them for years.
1. The DLC
The Democratic Leadership Council seized control of the party after Dukakis’ humiliating defeat in ’88 with a plan to “move the party to the center” by stealing Republican issues like welfare reform and authoritarian-style anti-crime legislation, incorporating them into the Democratic party platform and running on them. Now, though the Right continues to insist that the DLC is the “center” of the party, what they actually are is the corporate right wing.
Their power came first through successful corporate fund-raising, during which they promised corporate CEO’s and lobbyists that the “New” Democrats would be business-friendly, and from Bill Clinton’s victory over Poppy Bush in ’92. Those two successes gave then a stranglehold on the party organization and, more importantly, on the party platform and strategies. Frum, Shrum & Co virtually dictated the make-up and goals of the Democratic party all through the 90’s, changing its old-time focus away from the working man and the disadvantaged – who often don’t, after all, vote – and toward the perceived strength of the Republican base. The idea was to do to the Pubs what Reagan did to the Dems in the 80’s and pull the swing voters who were uncomfortable with Bush I’s disconnection to reality (it runs in the family) into the Democratic camp. Instead of the Reagan Democrats, we’d have the Clinton Republicans.
It wasn’t much of a strategy but Clinton’s personal charisma made it work and he won two terms. That’s not as important, though, as the effect that having the right-wing DLC in control for all that time had on the party’s direction. It cemented the DLC’s conservative, pro-business agenda. It was the DLC who insisted that Democrats who ran against Republican positions on crime, poverty, trade and national security would lose. It was the DLC, working behind the scenes with its powerful Blue Dogs, who got the Democratic leadership to support Bush’s invasion of Iraq, the PATRIOT Act, and the MCA. In fact, for the first 5 years of the Emperor’s reign, the only area in which the Dems pretty successfully and consistently blocked Bushian wishes was in the appointment of wingnut federal judges. In that one area alone, they acted like a true opposition party and kept the worst of Bush’s fruitcake tools off our Federal benches, forcing him to make recess appointments of some and dump others altogether.
Which means we know they can be competent and effective when they want to be. So why aren’t they just as effective in other areas?
Because they can’t afford it. In the words of William Goldman, “Follow the money.”
2. Campaign Financing
The utter destruction of the McCain-Feingold campaign financing reform bill by Republicans and the death blow from the SCOTUS when they decided that money = free speech and that corporations were “people” for purposes of campaign contributions and bankrolling political ads, turned our election system into a corporate-centered begathon. Candidates had to have money – LOTS of money – to run for office, and since the Republicans continued to block any movement toward public financing of elections, the place everyone had to go was to the people who had it – corporations and the rich.
Well, as anyone with 2 active brain cells doesn’t need to be told, neither corporations nor the filthy rich give their money away. They trade it for something that will help them make even more $$$. As far as they were concerned, they were buying influence which would help them get laws passed that were favorable to their interests, tax breaks, significant corporate welfare (which, after welfare “reform” was passed, outstripped welfare to the poor by a factor of 2 or 3 to 1), lax oversight of their operations, and so on.
The dependence on corporate funding for campaigns hopelessly skewed the electoral process to the right. Everyone knew – and the DLC made the most of that knowledge – that if the corporatocracy didn’t achieve a sizable chunk of its agenda, the corporate $$$ would dry up. Grover “TheToad” Norquist put it baldly during most of the Emperor’s reign: corporations who wanted the goodies better support Republicans or he would shut off their access to the WH. Which was no idle threat, and they knew it.
Caught in the teeth of the money-vise, Democrats, badgered by the DLC, gradually sold out both their principles and their natural constituencies to keep the corporate money flowing (thus that disaster of a secret trade deal).
None of this is news to anyone on the left. It’s worried us for years and we’ve all talked about it and wondered what to do about it. The only new thing I’m saying – and it isn’t really all that new; Ralph Nader has been saying it since Clinton was elected in ’92 – is that the Old Dems are gone and the New Dems are so deep in the corporate funding bag that their so-called “incompetence” is a sham, a cover to placate their base while they protect the corporate bucks that keep them alive.
I’m also suggesting that the need for money and the decade-long (at least) DLC recruitment drive of moderate right-wing candidates has succeeded in turning the Democratic party into the Republican-Lite monstrosity many of us have been calling it for years now, and further that there’s nothing inept or accidental about the consistent caving in of the party leadership to the right-wing forces Bush represents.
Again, the secret trade deal is a dead giveaway. (Read David Sirota’s round-up summary here, and look for the links to his entire series on the subject.) The Democratic leadership, perfectly aware that the proposed deal was going to betray two of its most vital and dependable constituencies, nevertheless met Bush in secret and gave away the trade store. Since there were significant electoral risks and they did it anyway, it had to be a deliberate decision to appease corporate funders. Had to. What other possible explanation is there?
So, to finally answer your last question, Thomas: Keep up the pressure on the Dems, by all means. Pressure brings concessions and we’re going to need whatever concessions we manage to squeeze out of them to keep even the concept of freedom alive. But treat them as untrustworthy enemies, not wayward friends. Demand guarantees. Threaten retribution at the polls. Refuse to work for or contribute to or vote for Dem candidates who voted for the FISA bill. Attack the leadership, not as incompetents, but as Pubs in Dem-ish clothing, beholden to corporate interests. Make it clear the game is up and they’d better realize it or they’ll pay the consequences. Be prepared – jesus, I hate to say this – to let Republicans beat them. I know it’s hard, but you need to understand that there’s no real difference between the parties except the degree to which they’ll kick the sleeping dog. You won’t be risking nearly as much as you think.
The Democrats are most likely lost to us, possibly forever. We don’t have that much to gain by supporting them as they presently exist. We have to start thinking and talking about alternatives, and we have to stop treating them as if they’re innocent dupes or incompetent fools. They’re neither.
They’re the enemy now as much as the Pubs.
Update: Digby’s catching on. Not, I hasten to add, because she reads me. She doesn’t.
When it comes to the encroaching police state, the politicians of both parties have shown their true colors and their shirts are a disturbing shade of coffee.
The idea that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi supposedly “allowed” themselves to be punk’d again on a constitutional atrocity with scare stories and slick legislative strategy is indefensible and at some point you have to assume that it isn’t just political malpractice or even spinelessness. When you see this legislation, on the heels of the passage of the Military Commissions atrocity last fall, you cannot escape the conclusion that the Democrats agree with the administration that the government must have unfettered authoritarian power to “keep the country safe.”
Sure, a good many of them voted against it. But the Democrats control the agenda now and no legislation passes without the leadership’s approval in this congress. They approved it.