Fans of the 1980s sitcom, “Family Ties,” will recall the characters of Steven and Elise Keaton, liberal former sixties activists raising their three children, including son Alex, whose “rebellion” against his parents’ liberalism manifested itself in staunch Reagan conservatism.
In one particularly poignant episode, Elise and Steven, who have settled into an idealistic but decidedly middle-class lifestyle, reconnect with a radical former comrade from their college days. Their old friend has not changed a bit, and when he proposes starting an “underground” newspaper like the one on which they worked together in college, Steven, desiring to relive their glory days, readily agrees. However, when he submits to his friend an article about the Democrats’ chances of recapturing the White House in 1984, he is scorned for having “sold out” to the establishment. The friend protests that Steven no longer is calling for the destruction of the entire political system.
“You sound like a member of the PTA,” the friend observes, to which Steven Keaton sheepishly replies: “I am a member of the PTA.”
I thought of that episode when I saw antiwar protester Cindy Sheehan disrupting the press conference of U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill, chairman of the House Democratic caucus and one of the chief architects of the Democrat takeover of Congress. Emanuel was outlining his party’s plans for lobbying reform, but Sheehan and her followers had only one thing on their minds as they chanted, “De-escalate, investigate, troops home now!” Unfortunately for the Democrats, a whole lot of those people comprise the activists of their party.
Cindy Sheehan and her activist followers are likely to be terribly disappointed by the leadership of the 110th Congress. There will be individual members, particularly in the House, who will try to fulfill the heart’s desire of the deeply liberal base of the Democratic Party, but the leadership knows better than to try to do everything at once. And that won’t be enough for the Cindy Sheehans of the world.
In fact, they may find themselves even more frustrated with the new crop of Dems than many conservatives were with the last twelve years of Republican rule. Cindy and her friends are about to be kicked to the curb by the Democrats in much the same way that many GOP leaders abandoned those of us who expected great things from them, beginning back in 1994. Just as passionate pro-lifers, believers in traditional marriage and advocates of enforcing America’s immigration laws became disenchanted with many Republican leaders, the base of the Democratic Party is about to become very frustrated with those they have just voted into power.
Perhaps this is inevitable, and we will always be frustrated with the people we elect to represent us, since political survival in Washington, DC, is by compromise with those who don’t share ones views, and political survival usually trumps statesmanship.
Congressional Democrats, like the Republicans before them, will no doubt be more interested in holding power than in blazing new trails, and the conventional wisdom in Washington is that holding power means compromise.
As for me, I would prefer that political parties be defined not by the compromise that taints the deliberations of their practitioners, but rather by the ideology that sets them apart from each other.
Give me the ideas of committed citizens who gather voluntarily at county, state and national conventions every four years to hammer out platforms that stand for something.
Give me the passion of the hotheaded liberal and the firebrand conservative, doing battle in the political arena, following the dictates of their respective consciences, over the milquetoast and pabulum of today’s compromisers and betrayers of those who sent them to office.
Then Cindy Sheehan and I would both have representation.