The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Wednesday, November 06, 2002  

I’ll Play That

If this were a time to assign blame, if I thought assigning blame would do any good, and if I were the type to do so -- Aw, what the hell, everyone who knows me knows I am exactly that type, so why not join in? I blame the fiasco known as Election Day 2002 on: the Democratic Party leadership; unprincipled Democratic lawmakers at the federal, state, and local levels; the Democratic rank-and-file nationwide; dishonest Republican politicians; dishonest Republican voters; and the media, particularly the punditocracy, our useless chattering class, our nattering nabobs of narcissism.

Within the Democratic leadership, Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) have proved, beyond any doubt whatsoever, that they are unfit to lead the party. This was not only a failure of election campaigns, but a failure of political leadership, even political will, during the past two years. If these two men do not have the decency to resign their leadership positions they should be forced to prove why they should continue to hold them. If their colleagues cannot or will not field capable challengers, then it is time to start taking names.

And it is high time for those same colleagues -- who must not be held blameless -- to stop playing their childish “me-too” games, time to stop caving in to the juvenile taunts of the right-wing media and crazed interest groups, time to stop living in fear of confrontation, and time to start taking stands, speaking out and voting against absurd “compromise” legislation, and time to start defending, with vigor and conviction, the core values of the party.

For their part, our part, rank-and-file Democrats must take a more active role in politics, both within the party and in their communities. Running for office, grassroots activity, local party politics, city hall, the town board, the school board, voter-registration drives, petitions: these things matter. It’s been years since I joined an organization of any kind, or at least played an active role in one, and I doubt I am alone in that regard. Maybe yesterday’s fiasco will be the spark that promotes participation from all of those smart-aleck know-it-alls carping from the sidelines. And yes, I’m talking about myself, too.

It also is time to start taking the Republicans seriously. Yes, the Republican Party long ago was hijacked by representatives of the lunatic fringe and the vested aristocracy, groups that have succeeded in making their extremist agendas the standards with which all else is compared. Contempt for the right-wing party and its ideas or policies can be strangely satisfying on an intellectual level, but it is dangerous when it veers into hubris and it easily renders itself useless in politics.

When we fail to understand that Republicans and conservatives actually believe the words they say, believe them to be the truth, and intend to take action upon them, we yield the advantage to the other side. Lamenting the devastating effects talk radio and the talk radio culture have had upon our political discourse -- and now on our polity as a whole -- does little if anything to advance our cause. Millions of people are listening to talk radio every day and Democrats have not only failed to refute the lies and defamation it spreads, they seem incapable of even pretending to be able to speak the pidgin language of the medium.

Taking Republicans seriously does not mean giving credence to their morally and fiscally bankrupt platforms and policies. It means listening to their arguments, determining the messages they are sending, finding the reason voters respond, and then attacking them, vigorously and mercilessly, and exposing their lies, relentlessly and repeatedly, in a way that speaks to the real needs and interests of the American people.

A large portion of the population believes Democrats are habitual liars. One of the right wing’s most vocal crackpots even peddled her little tome based on this slander to the top of the best-sellers list, an accomplishment that reinforced the grip the ideologically insane have upon our political culture. This farce must end.

I cannot let today pass without rebuking two groups that long have raised my ire: the so-called socially liberal fiscal conservatives and the self-styled libertarians. Such as these, when they vote for right-wing Republicans, are truly contemptible. These people are either fools or liars. Their much-vaunted self-interest rarely leaves their wallets, even when their purses are being snatched by the very same lawmakers they rally around. The right wing of the Republican Party, and that’s the only wing remaining, is no friend of libertarian principles. If these fools and liars have not yet realized this elemental fact, they should soon enough, as that oh-so-reliable bastion of civil rights and civil liberties, the Supreme Court, yesterday was handed over to extremists with dangerous and decidedly un-libertarian agendas.

And enough with this ridiculous spineless creature we accept as our media. It isn’t enough that the loudest mouths with the most bizarre claims and loopiest one-liners hold the microphones the longest, it’s been that way for years. But the inability or unwillingness of so-called journalists to raise difficult questions, to expose dishonesty, criminality, and culpability, to reject spoon-fed rationalizations for demented policy choices is not only an affront to our intelligence, it represents a grave danger to our democracy.

Rush Limbaugh on national broadcast television on election night, as if he were a thoughtful, wise, and experienced political analyst! Imagine: “This is Edward R. Morrow with radio talk-show host Father Coughlin bringing you the latest election results . . .” The political scene has changed drastically, my Democratic friends. Now let’s get with the damn program!

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