The BBC reported yesterday that in the Indian state of Jharkhand, villagers fled their homes to escape a rampaging herd of grief-stricken elephants. "They say the animals are agitated because one of their herd disappeared. Officials say the missing animal became disoriented, and fell into a ditch and drowned over the weekend."
There was no mention in the BBC report whether or not the village jackasses were braying with delight at the sight of the distressed elephants.
Of course the Indian people are always disturbed when their elephants run amuck, because, since time immemorial they have relied on the strong, intelligent and friendly elephants to do their heavy lifting for them. The donkeys simply do not have the mental or physical capacity to substitute for the prized elephants.
Meanwhile in Washington, former congressman Foley is still missing, the Democrats are still blowing raspberries from the sidelines, while the Republicans are returning to their usual orderly habits. But the public, according to the polls, are nervous about the state of the Republicans, wondering whether they can still be relied on to do the nation’s heavy lifting.
It is a fair question. But, as so often, guidance can be found in the advice of the master of deductive reasoning, Sherlock Holmes, who once explained to Dr. Watson: "It is of the highest importance in the art of detection to be able to recognize out of a number of facts which are incidental and which are vital."
And for the American voters today, the first vital fact is the nature and state of the opposition party that aspires to replace the existing majority. Rarely in the annals of American politics has an opposition party been less well prepared for governance than today’s congressional Democratic Party. They have not used their decade in the wilderness constructively.
Instead of going through a period of self-assessment, reappraisal, re-organization and thoughtful reconsideration of their views on the great issues of our time (as the congressional Republicans did in the decade prior to their re-taking the House and Senate in 1994), the congressional Democratic Party has indulged in a decade of power envy, scandal mongering and vicious internecine fighting and name calling.
The first responsibility of an opposition party seeking governance is to be reasonably well organized and led. But no credible leaders have emerged amongst the congressional Democrats. There remains a vicious struggle between Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer. Indeed, it is widely believed that she put up the aging John Murtha to run against Hoyer for the second leadership spot next January.
The divisions between Pelosi and Hoyer — and the factions that follow each — are both personal and substantive. They cannot find any reasonable agreement on the central issues of our time — the war on terror (including their views of civil liberties for terrorists) and the Iraq War. They cannot agree on tax policy, border policy or the issues that Democrats might call identity politics and social justice. They differ fundamentally on their view of whether business and the free market are good or bad for America. Rather than attempt to resolve their differences in preparation for governance, they have — if anything — been widening their breach over the last year.
Meanwhile, publicly visible fighting has broken out between DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel and DNC Chair Howard Dean over both issues and the political organization of their party. There are accounts of them actually screaming at each other in more or less public.
These failures stand in vivid contrast not only with the Gingrich-led Republicans’ preparation for majority, but also with the Tony Blair-led British Labour Party’s preparation after Margaret Thatcher drove them into the wilderness for a long decade. Blair emerged from the ranks and forced his disgruntled, resentful and antiquated Labour Party to face the challenges of the future. Whether one agrees with all his policies or not, such preparation permitted his party to satisfy the public expectations to the extent that they have won three consecutive elections.
Similarly, Newt Gingrich’s Republicans (of which I was a proud lieutenant) went to the public in 1994 with a unified leadership, a deeply substantive agenda — including not just slogans but 10 major pieces of legislation fully drafted so the public could judge where the Republicans were planning to lead. As a result, the Republicans of 1994 eventually passed, inter alia, major reforms of welfare, agricultural subsidies and telecommunications, as well as gained a balanced budget even in the face of an opposition president.
By contrast, I would point out that, according to the Washington Post, the Democrats have gone through seven different slogans so far this year in their attempt just to find a campaign theme. This abysmal failure of the congressional Democrats to even partially prepare themselves for responsible government should be a warning to American voters — both conservatives and moderates, both Republicans and Independents — that as the Democrats have not yet even healed themselves, they are surely not yet prepared to help heal the country.
In future columns I plan to follow Sherlock Holmes’ advice and separate other vital from incidental facts regarding the upcoming election.