The much ballyhooed debate on "Meet the Press" between former Congressman Harold Ford Jr. and Markos Moulitsas, publisher of the liberal Daily Kos website, was instructive for what it revealed about both the divisions in the Democratic Party and the underlying disingenuousness of both factions.
Ford was defending the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), an organization that holds itself out as centrist, urges the Democratic Party to move in that direction, and proudly claims former President Bill Clinton as its most honored member. Moulitsas was there to represent the more leftist wing of the party, which has used his website to increase its influence.
Ford sounded reasonable on the surface, touting the successes of the Clinton record and attributing those to DLC ideas. But in the end, Ford’s message was garbled.
He said that to win national elections "you have to cross three hurdles." You must prove your "strength and trustworthiness on national security," that your values are in line with mainstream America and that you are trustworthy on "taxes, economic and fiscal policy."
So far so good. But how does that differ from the Republican platform? How does it square with what any national Democratic officeholders, save Sen. Joseph Lieberman, advocate?
Looking deeper into the issues, Democrats still lack credibility on national security given their obstruction and incoherence on the Iraq war and their opposition to most measures aimed at bolstering our security, including terrorist surveillance, terrorist financial tracking, tough interrogation techniques and refusing to negotiate with terrorists.
While liberals boast that their values more closely mirror those of mainstream Americans, they know better, which is why they’re always double-tongued in this area. They trash "values voters" with one tongue and court them with the other. They play word games, using "choice" and making abortion "safe, legal and rare" to conceal their real agenda.
There is also a disconnect on their tax policy. They say they’re for balanced budgets, but if they had their way legislatively — if President Clinton had had his way — they would spend us into oblivion. And their rigid prejudices won’t allow them to acknowledge that supply-side tax cuts have reduced the deficit and improved the economic condition of all income groups.
So while the DLC is less liberal than most influential Democrats, they aren’t as moderate as they would have us believe. They just want to sound more conservative to fool the electorate, which they believe, even if Moulitsas’ "netroots" (Internet grass roots) don’t, is center right.
Tellingly, Ford himself characterizes the DLC’s positions as "progressive," which we all know is a euphemism for "liberal." Regardless of whether Ford wants to pretend "progressive" means "conservative light," most of his fellow Democrats clearly understand it to mean "liberal," but without the negative connotations. Either way, we’re witnessing sophisticated obfuscation from the DLC.
Moulitsas’ message was equally odd, but for different reasons. He, too, started off sounding reasonable, criticizing milquetoast Democrats like those of the DLC for "blurring the distinctions" between the parties, not being "proud Democrats" and attacking fellow Democrats.
But after issuing these admonitions he proceeded to violate most of them himself. Though he decried the DLC for attacking Democrats, he has been relentless in attacking the main Democrat out there, Hillary Clinton, as well as Democrats in the DLC.
Moulitsas said the election "had nothing to do with being centrist or liberal or conservative." He even brushed back host David Gregory for trying to get him to talk about issues. Throwing in a dash of Perot populism, he said this wasn’t about him and what he thought about the issues, but the millions of netroots who have found a voice on his website. I wonder how long he’d stick to that nonsense if conservative netroots invaded his website and began advocating conservative causes. Plus, if it isn’t about issues, why does he trash the DLC for "blurring distinctions"?
Indeed, Moulitsas unwittingly acknowledged the silliness of his denial of interest in issues when he uttered the glaring non sequitur that the 2006 Democratic victory "had to do with standing tall for core progressive (read: liberal) principles." Translation: Moulitsas doesn’t care about liberalism or issues on the one hand, but they are all that really matter to him on the other. At least there’s one thing these Democratic factions have in common: their use of the "P" word to disguise their respective agendas.
The only discernible message from this so-called debate was that for all the Republicans’ political difficulties, Democrats are still divided and their various factions are all afraid to be honest about their core beliefs, except for their unifying disdain for President Bush and Republicans. Perhaps they can all feast for a while on Karl Rove’s resignation.