Saturday | August 03, 2002
In a quest for ideological purity, the Republican Party has methodically purged its rank and file of its more liberal members. While the liberal Republican lives on in New England -- barely, the Midwest variety seems to be in mortal danger (keep an eye on the spectacular collapse of the Illinois GOP). The California experiment ended with Riordian's loss to wingnut Simon.
We'll see in November how this purge has affected GOP electoral chances, but all indications are that not only will the GOP get slapped around, but it will lose races it could've easily won with more centrist candidates.
I kept that in mind as I read this article in today's Washington Post. To summarize, the Arkansas senate race (considered the best chance for a Dem pickup) is being defined by religious and family values themes. In one ad, Dem candidate Mark Prior, saying grace with his family at the dinner table, holds up his Bible and says, "The most important lessons in life are in this book right here."
Prior, like many Southern Democrats, is a populist -- strongly pro-union and pro-consumer (Prior has been a popular state attorney general who, amongst other accomplishments, won battles on behalf of Arkansas residents against obnoxious telemarketers). He is also a strong supporter of the Dem health care agenda, such as prescription drugs for seniors and the protection of social security. But unlike mainstream Democrats, Prior follows the family values script straight out of the Christian Coalition (except for abortion, where he is wishy washy).
When ideologue Republicans face a centrist candidate, they label him a RINO (Republican In Name Only) -- an effective kiss of death in many GOP primaries. While the notion of DINOs is starting to creep into leftist circles, it hasn't gained traction. I hope it never does.
Prior, like GA Sen. Miller and LA Sen. Landrieu, can sometimes seem worlds apart from the more traditional Democrat (e.g. Gephardt). If the left sought ideological purity, those democrats would have a more receptive home in the GOP. (As is conversely the case with the shrinking cadre of northeastern Republicans.)
And the issues that define southern democrats are often anathema to the Democratic Party's rank and file -- things like abortion, and gun control, and the role of religion in government. Instinctively, many on the left want to make pariahs of these southern Democrats (Buzzflash and Democratic Underground, though I love them dearly, often fall into this trap).
However, while the Republican Party talks about being the "Big Tent" party, the reality is quite the opposite. The Democratic Party is the party of the people, thus it abounds with a mass of conflicting agendas. Democrats can never be as united as the GOP. Their stated agenda is simple: lower taxes, smaller government, a public role for religion and religious ethics, and less business regulation. That's pretty much it.
Democrats have labor and the environment (not always compatible as the battle over ANWR demonstrates), gun control and blue collar workers (again, often contradictory), blue collar workers and immigrants ("they're taking our jobs!"), African Americans and American Jews (not always a harmonious relationship), etc. That's not even counting the general "undesirable" elements of society that make the Democratic Party their home, like homosexuals and atheists -- who are easily demonized by society in general (though I suppose the GOP has David Duke racists and Pat Buchanan).
Point is, it is difficult to square the agendas of the myriad and competing interests in the Democratic Party base. It is far more difficult to campaign or legislate as a Democrat than a Republican.
But therein lies the strength of our party. Just as we preach diversity, we practice it. Sen. Miller, who votes with Bush 3/4 of the time, may make our skin crawl, but he represents a valid and valuable point of view. Ultimately, he stands with Democrats in some of the most important issues, if only when he cast his leadership vote for Daschle. He and other southern Democrats may be subversives, but they are our subversives.
Thus Prior can flash his Bible all he wants. Miller can keep gazing lovingly at Bush. Landrieu can vote to drill in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge. I will disagree with them on these and many other points, but politics is about compromise, and this is one that we should all be willing to make.Posted August 03, 2002 11:18 AM | Comments (7)