Democrats Are a Party in the 'No'

A sure way to inspire correspondence from one of my dedicated readers — we’ll call her Jane — is to intimate by phrase or nuance that anything is amiss with the Democratic Party. Pending word of her abduction by space aliens, I anticipate an explosion from the general direction of Jane’s domicile. Washington, D.C., Democrats are demonstrating what Jane might call heroic indomitability. I suggest a likelier phrase: mulish intractability. We are at one of those phases in our national affairs where, if George W. Bush sauntered outside and commented on the blueness of the sky, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid would call a press conference and score the president’s appalling sense of color. As if any idiot couldn’t tell the sky was light purple! A sense of frustration settles over the White House, no doubt, but also over the country. We can’t get anything done. The likelihood of Democrats working constructively with the president equates with Jennifer Wilbanks’ prospects for a golden wedding anniversary with John Mason. I need to acknowledge for Jane’s sake, and that of Jane’s co-believers, that no impasse is ever the complete fault of one person or party. To adduce some lost era of bipartisan amity would be just plain nutty. The essence of partisan politics is competition for the power that comes with winning the most votes; that is why parties aren’t ever, shall we say, unduly nice to each other. The Democrats and John Kerry thought they deserved to beat the Republicans and Bush last year. They didn’t and they don’t like it. How much don’t they like it? So much that they:

  • have stalled and possibly killed Social Security reform for the foreseeable future,
  • decided the president doesn’t get to name the judges he wants to name,
  • decided the president doesn’t get to name the United Nations envoy he wants to name, and
  • blocked a number of other cabinet appointments for purposes it is hard to characterize as other than partisan (e.g., they won’t let Lester Crawford become Food and Drug Administration commissioner until the FDA decides on making the morning-after pill available).

Capitol Hill Democrats protest that each of these issues is a matter of principle. No doubt they are right: The principle is that George W. Bush gets nothing out of this session of Congress. On Social Security, all we know about what the Democrats want is that they don’t want what Bush wants, namely, “privatization.” The president last week tried to meet them halfway. He said benefits could be reduced for wealthier recipients, commensurate with a plan fashioned by a Democratic financier (and Kerry contributor) Robert Pozen. The Democratic response to date: Now you’re beating up on the middle class! You can’t win. Not if you live in the Bush White House. Significantly, the Democrats have declined to put their own reform plan on the table. Turning a catfight into a mere discussion would make it harder to slam Bush. On nominations, Democratic silliness shades into dangerous obstruction. Why are the papers filled with news about U.N. ambassador designate John Bolton‘s “rudeness” toward subordinates? Because, on issues of competence, knowledge, background, patriotism — things like that — Bolton is unassailable. His foes go after him on personality issues. Gee, the idea of a diplomat who occasionally sacrifices manners to philosophy! Did you ever? Then there’s the whole Democratic campaign to prevent up/down votes on the Bush judicial picks — the Democrats having to all appearances decided that any Bush Supreme Court nominee is in for the vilification of the century, young century though it is. It’s interesting to speculate on what tone of civility and patriotism might now prevail had Kerry and the Democrats swept last year’s election. Would Republicans be misbehaving now as the Kerry Democrats are misbehaving, posturing, storming around and acting out their post-election rage? Possibly. But they’re not. And that, friend Jane, is my piece for today. As John Kerry would say: Bring it on!