Wanted: Democrats with Spine

Where have they gone? I’ve looked everywhere for them but they are like hunting for that four leaf clover. Not that they are completely gone, but the ones with spine seem to be isolated to what some would call the lunatic fringe of the Democratic party. There is, for example, Al Sharpton, whom no one considers a serious presidential candidate. There is also Dennis Kucinich, another marginal Democratic presidential candidate with almost zero chance of winning even the primary in his own state. Lastly there is Vermont Governor Howard Dean whose spine is somewhat flexible because he has a serious plan to address the health care crisis but at best gives halfhearted criticism of our unwise war against Iraq.

Love them or hate them the Republicans have spine. They don’t wait for the ball to be served and if they do get the ball they wham it back at their opponents. Today’s Democrats mostly try to avoid hitting the ball back. They are always looking over their shoulders and checking their polling numbers, afraid to say something that will lose them any points and afraid to offer a clear and compelling vision to the current Republican madness.

Case in point: in the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They supposedly followed Bush into war against Iraq because they believed Bush when he said Iraq had these weapons and they could easily be targeted against the United States. Never mind that the evidence wasn’t there and the whole idea was preposterous. They were too intimidated to do much other than shut up and raise a limp hand when the war vote came up. But one would expect that after the fact when no weapons were found that they would be holding Bush accountable. But no. Weeks go by, months go by and a few brave Democrats say maybe we should hold a hearing or so but most blithely assume we’ll eventually find them. Could there be any doubt what would happen if the situation had been reversed? Suppose just for a moment Gore had gotten into office and had waged the same sort of war against Iraq on such flimsy pretenses. Is there any doubt that Republicans would be calling for special hearings, task forces and perhaps even special prosecutors to get to the bottom of what they would characterize as a scandal? Hell, there would be impeachment hearings.

But on the economy the Democrats have also been mostly silent and ineffective. The role of the Democratic Party seems to be mostly in staying together so that the latest obscene tax cut is merely in the troposphere instead of the stratosphere. $330B, as reported in today’s Salon, would have paid for health coverage for every uninsured person in America and for millions of teachers and child-care workers. This would have increased our productivity and put people back to work immediately. Instead the bulk of the money goes to the richest Americans. If this were the first time maybe it would be excusable, but this is tax cut #3 from Bush where the rich people are laughing all the way to the bank.

One would have hoped after the 2002 mid term elections that the Democrats would have gotten a clue. There was no reason why we could not have taken back control of the House and the Senate. Instead, we got a Republican congress. What have the Democrats done to hold its leaders accountable? Not a thing. The first to go should have been Terry McAuliffe, head of the DNC. Hey, he said he would bring us a Democratic Congress again. He didn’t. He should have been so out of there. Someone with more leadership should have taken his place. Bill Clinton would have been ideal for the job. Although it is unlikely he would have taken the job, he would know the right people who could do it. No changes in the DNC though. No changes in Senate leadership. Nancy Pelosi took over for Dick Gephardt as House Minority Leader when he decided to run for president. That was hopeful but yes there was Nancy saying how proud she was of our president on Iraq and how she supports our troops. Nancy of all people has become politically correct.

All this and polls suggest only one in four Americans believe that Bush’s tax cuts will do anything to stimulate the economy. A majority of Americans also believe we should get the hell out of Iraq and let the Iraqis solve their own problems. There are natural opportunities here to rally Americans around a Democratic base. But don’t hold your breath.

The good news is that Republicans are their own worst enemies and are, as usual, vastly overreaching. Their chickens are coming home to roost too: the economy sucks, the war was won quickly but the peace in Iraq is illusionary, Afghanistan is still a vast anarchy as is most of Iraq and the war on terrorism is going fitfully at best. Our foreign adventures will doubtless become quagmires. The federal government’s fiscal house is a mess. We’ve managed to piss off most of the international community.

The opportunities are everywhere. A centrist Democrat stressing compassion, moderation, fiscal responsibility and a realistic health care plan for all Americans should have every advantage in 2004. But they won’t do it running behind Bush. He or she must stand tall, be unafraid, and simply tell the people the obvious truth about Bush and his disastrous administration.

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