April 23, 2006
Whither the Democrats?

What should the Democrats do about the elections this fall? Basically it looks like there are two schools of thought.

Perhaps counterintuitively for the Democratic party, there are some areas of agreement across the spectrum of the party. Everyone agrees, for example, that George W. Bush sucks strategically, operationally, and tactically. That Rove deserves to spend some time in jail after all the tricks he’s pulled, not just dirty but clearly illegal, the style eerily reminiscent of Nixonian thuggery, but on a vast scale.

But Democrats, and potential Democrats like me, don’t agree on issues that many of us see as fundamental, such as the war in Iraq, progressive taxes, immigration, and health care.

The Issue of War

Two major issues stand between me and current Democratic party doctrine.

The historical truth, as far as I can tell, is that Democrats and Republicans have been more or less equally likely to use military force to accomplish their objectives. Methods and objectives vary about as much from person to person as from party to party.

Woodrow Wilson got the US into the First World War. FDR created the conditions that goosed us into the Second. Truman started the Korean War to keep the economy going. Oh, and to contain the international communist threat. Johnson nurtured the Vietnam situation he received, creating a full-blown debacle. True, the Republicans can pull a war out of a hat as quickly as the next party. But they generally haven’t been risk-takers, ready to gamble everything on one spin.

Until we arrive at the current occupant of the White House. As an active/negative President, Bush is the nominal head of a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (if you think I’m exaggerating, read Mark Crispin Miller’s Fooled Again). These people were far-sighted enough to realize that the course they intended to pursue was likely to involve acts that would probably be construed as illegal by a reasonable observer. Therefore they prepared legal pre-justifications, which we now call the torture memos.

This leaves us in a difficult position. I mean, look at the most recent Republican Presidents, from Nixon and Ford through Reagan, Bush, and Bush. There’s not an honest, intelligent person among them; and the only hard-core political operator was Nixon. (The Democrats, on the other hand, have one honest, intelligent person in Carter, and one peerless operator in Johnson.)

Nixon lied for years about his policies in Vietnam. Reagan attacked helpless Grenada to cover for problems with his Middle East policy. Bush I enticed Saddam into Kuwait and focus-grouped reasons for war until he found one that people fell for. Bush II promoted charges he knew were false to sell a war he was determined to wage before he was elected.

Present-day Democrats are cut from similar cloth. Kerry voted for the war and still won’t admit that he was wrong. Dean was for the first Gulf War. The DLC is for every war. Hillary’s positioning herself on the far right of the party, somewhere near liberal hawk Biden.

The Issue of Health Care

And it’s not just the war. Some Democrats are hailing the Massachusetts plan requiring that all citizens buy health insurance, and providing assistance when that would cause hardship.

This seems to me to be like driving from New York to Toronto through Cincinnati: it would work, but it wouldn’t make much sense. I don’t need insurance against needing health care. I need health care.

Auto insurance is a way of spreading the risk that you’ll have an accident over a long period (and combining the risks of a pool of drivers). This is important in part because the costs of an accident can be very high, and in part because the chances of having one are fairly low. The insurance company manages the risk, and takes a cut of the action in return.

With health insurance, you still have the issue of large bills that might need to be covered. But the whole risk equation is quite different. Nearly everyone needs medical care, if only late in life. Insuring people against getting sick is like insuring them against getting hungry. It’s not a good bet.

So what role should insurance play in health care? I would argue, none.

Insurance gobbles up about eleven cents of every health-care dollar the US spends. Of course drug costs are unconscionable and out of control, and the government should use its purchasing power to affect that. But at least drugs can do some good. And doctors and nurses have tough jobs; paying them well is probably smart.

Insurance, on the other hand, adds nothing but paperwork. Patients see doctors, who send forms to insurance companies, who have a financial incentive to deny coverage. Governments are nearly always inefficient, even inept; but they don’t profit by refusing to pay your claim.

A Different Strategy

Anyway, it seems to me that the Democrats need to make some significant changes. It’s easy to ridicule the superficial reorganization the White House has recently undertaken; it’s harder to reorganize yourself. Especially when what you’re trying to organize is the Democratic Party.

…as powerful as that sentiment for change may be across the country, many Democrats see it as only one component of a winning campaign strategy. In their estimation, the message “Had enough?” is not enough to guarantee the kind of success in November that they believe is possible.

“I don’t think we can coast through this election year by pointing out the shortcomings, which are multiple and gargantuan, of the Bush administration,” said former DNC chairman Donald L. Fowler. “I don’t think we can do that.”

I don’t think so either. In fact, I think we need to follow a path quite different from those the party has recently favored.

When Los Angeles teacher Marcy Winograd saw her Democratic representative in Congress making excuses for George W. Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program on NBC’s Meet the Press in February, she decided that someone had to challenge Jane Harman’s acquiescence in Bush’s reckless agenda. So Winograd, a veteran activist who had been instrumental in getting the California Democratic Party to take a firm stand against the war in Iraq, leapt into the June 6 primary. She quickly found that others shared her frustration with Harman; Winograd’s been endorsed by Progressive Democrats of America, Southern California Americans for Democratic Action, the Western Region of the United Auto Workers union and a half-dozen presidents of local Democratic clubs. Recently her supporters blocked an early Harman endorsement by the state party after Winograd told a caucus: “When elected, I will have the courage to cut funding for the war in Iraq, to say no when the imperial George Bush wants to wiretap your home without a warrant and to immediately sign on to legislation for universal single-payer national healthcare.”

That’s the kind of platform I could sign up for. You think that’s getting much support from the party? Me either.


Posted by Chuck Dupree at April 23, 2006 06:30 AM
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The only Democrat with a shot at the presidency, with excellent stands on the war, and most other issues, is Al Gore. If he continues to speak his mind with passion and conviction, he will stand out in the field. However, if the GOP were to nominate McCain, they could win again--even over Gore. It would be a shame. So far the Democrats are rightly perceived as weak and slippery.

Bill Doolittle

Posted by: bill Doolittle on April 23, 2006 11:38 AM

Bill, do you think Feingold doesn't have a shot? I think his stand on the war is a pretty good one, but maybe I'm missing something.

Posted by: Carl Manaster on April 23, 2006 12:11 PM

My opinion is that Feingold might win the election, which is why the Democrats won't nominate him. He'd change the party into what it used to be, and the DLC folks would be trashcanned.

The Democrats would rather lose the election than change the party leadership.

Posted by: Chuck Dupree (Belisarius) on April 23, 2006 7:00 PM

Go Gore!!!

Posted by: t on April 23, 2006 7:34 PM

The use of insurance companies to manage medicare is an outrage and should be repealed. Direct provision of health care funds has been shown to a much more efficient process. Years ago, I would have said that this need to use the so called private sector to manage government services was ideological. The Republicans have shown, however, that it is merely a function of out of control lobbying, corruption, and massive campaign funds from the insurance industry.

Do you think the Democrats can't get behind overturning the medicare prescription bill. Not a chance. If national health care entails simply adding additional waste on top of what we already have, forget about it. First, return medicare to its roots, then expand it to include everyone.

I don't believe in government health care because I am a socialist; I believe in it because it is clearly more efficient. Who will stand up against the health care companies? Where is Hillary? Where is Kerry? No where, that's where.

Posted by: tom on April 24, 2006 9:55 AM


Posted by: V on April 24, 2006 12:30 PM

They've done a good job so far, but I hope the Republican House, Republican Senate, Republican Judiciary, Republican Executive branches keep running this country straight into the ground. I hope they complete their mission of robbing average Americans of the American Dream. The real median income continues to fall. Way to go, boys. Real average weekly earnings dropped again this year. Health care costs, college tuition, and gas prices continue to rise. Perfect! A few more years and they'll be done...mission accomplished. What was it that Nero did while Rome burned....?

Posted by: Dsatco on April 29, 2006 11:09 AM
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