First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
Where Do the Parties Go Now?
It was quite a spectacle, watching Nancy Pelosi responding on camera to Harold Ford's challenge for leadership of the Democrats in the House of Representatives.
We'd been hearing how even though Pelosi was a San Francisco liberal (i.e., to the left of Pol Pot), she would bring people together from every part of the Democratic Party.
But when Harold Ford of Tennessee put his own name into play, declaring that he thought the last thing the Democratic Party needed was to move farther left and alienate even more mainstream Americans, we saw what Nancy Pelosi really is.
Her on-camera statement was belligerent, aloof, sneering. Why was Ford even bothering? She had this locked up. The contempt in her voice was plain. It was as repellent a performance as I've seen.
I can guess how she "brings people together." It's called "party discipline." Vote with the party, or you get no reelection money next time. In fact, we'll fund a primary challenger so you won't even reach the ballot.
Here's a clue: Just because she's able to hold Democrats in line in Congress doesn't mean she'll be a good spokesman for the Democratic Party in the effort to win back control of Congress.
By contrast, Harold Ford was modest, speaking simply but plainly, without a trace of arrogance. In fact, he is precisely the kind of spokesman the Democrats could use right about now.
And not just when talking about his challenge to Pelosi. I saw him Sunday night on Fox, talking about the possibility of war in Iraq, and he was electrifying. A true leader. The kind of man who could rally people to the Democratic banner, instead of thrusting them away if they happen not to have all the correct opinions.
The Democrats just lost an election that they shouldn't have lost. The Republicans didn't win it, though -- the Democrats definitely lost it. They practically handed it to the Republicans on a plate.
Yet on election night, there was James Carville, the most charming snake since Eden (and I say this with admiration), already laying the groundwork for an absolutely crushing defeat -- a Goldwater-level defeat -- for the Democratic Party in 2004.
Over and over, Carville said (not in these exact words), "Our problem was we didn't make a clear distinction! We didn't run on our platform! We gave in too much to the Republicans! No more compromise! No more middle of the road!"
Now that seems to be the mantra of the Democratic Party, and it's absurd. If they had made clearer distinctions, if they had refused to vote for the tax cuts, if they had blocked the Iraq resolution, the Democrats wouldn't have enough survivors to carry the bodies off the field.
The only reason this election was even close was because the Democrats finally gave in on Iraq.
But we knew their hearts weren't in it.
And now they're choosing to be led in the House by Pelosi, the highest-ranking Democrat to vote against protecting the world from a madman with nukes and bioweapons and gas and missiles.
Sadly, Carville's and Pelosi's premise is flat wrong. If there's anything that the American people did get in this election, it was the Democratic position on everything. We get it drummed into our heads in every newscast and newspaper. Our kids get it pounded into them in every college in America.
What the American people said in this election was not, "Wow, the Democrats and Republicans are so close together and we don't even know what the Democrats stand for, so let's throw them out of office."
What the American people said was, "There's not a lot of difference between the parties, but when it comes to our safety from foreign and domestic violence, we think the Republicans are probably the safer bet."
And the Republicans are.
If the Democrats actually want to win the next election, now is the time to learn a lesson and try to open the door to Americans who really aren't comfortable voting for Republicans, but who have to vote for safety for their families before anything else.
Clinton may have been a liar, but at least he knew which lies to tell.
In fact, the current Democratic "strategy" of moving leftward and "clarifying" the difference between the parties is a complete repudiation of the Clinton strategy of reaching for the center to get the votes, and then, once you have power, governing as far to the left as you can.
So I have Nancy Pelosi's and James Carville's slogan for the 2004 election. It's a tried and true one:
"Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."
Yep. That's from Barry Goldwater's acceptance speech at the Republican convention in 1964.
Hey, Goldwater didn't do so badly -- at least he carried his own state.
It's worth remembering, though, that until 1964, the Republicans had been in a neck-and-neck, back-and-forth contest with the Democrats. Pretty evenly matched.
But the 1964 election changed all that. Goldwater, by moving too far to the right for the American people at that time, handed the great Center of American politics to the Democrats. The Republicans were decimated in Congress and did not begin to recover till 1980.
That is the clever strategy the leading Democrats are starting to adopt right now.
The Republicans can easily blow their temporary advantage, however. All they have to do is start to act as though the American people just gave them a mandate for the entire conservative agenda.
Not so, kids. We of the political Center want you to be active in pursuit of our dangerous foreign enemies, here and abroad. We may even want you to hang on to those tax cuts.
But we aren't asking you to adopt the ultra-free-market position on economic issues, or to roll back environmental protections, or hand America over to the gun lobby or the pharmaceutical companies.
We aren't asking you to make Social Security seem more risky, or labor unions weaker, and we certainly aren't asking you to move more of our jobs offshore.
In other words, O Republicans, don't get cocky. You can't count on the Democrats being stupid in every election. You need to be the party of the political Center, the party of responsible, moderate government -- not the party so far to the Right that you make extreme Leftist Democrats seem almost normal.
So ... what can we do, we Democrats who are sick of our party being a kidnap victim, held for ransom by the dogmas of the mind-numbingly stupid "intellectuals" of the Politically Correct Left?
We can start by letting every Democrat in the House know that we don't want Nancy Pelosi's version of leadership for our party -- we want Harold Ford. Even if the vote is already over, we can register our disgust with the decision to reject moderate leadership.
More important, however, it's time for North Carolina Democrats to take our own party back again.
It's absurd for us to be represented in the Senate, for instance, by John Edwards. Howard Coble does a better job of representing North Carolina Democrats than John Edwards does.
Let's have a serious in-party challenge to Edwards in the 2004 Senate race. Let's find a viable moderate candidate who can draw votes from independents, and from moderates and conservatives as well as liberals.
A candidate who believes that we need tough laws protecting our air and water, and a serious program to replace our dependence on foreign oil -- but who is moderate enough to allow an occasional dam to be built and well to be drilled so that civilization can continue.
A candidate who believes that government needs to be a watchdog over corporate mismanagement and keep the cheaters and monopolists under control, passing laws that keep management and stockholders from wrecking the lives of the common working people just to make a few quick bucks through mergers and arbitrary plant closings -- but who isn't in the pocket of unions to such an extent that he supports laws that make it so you can't fire an incompetent or dangerous government worker without three years of court struggles.
A candidate who believes that it's possible to protect religious rights without being hostile to religion; to protect some early abortions without allowing late-term infanticide; to protect legitimate academic freedom without allowing one ideology to enforce intellectual "purity" at our universities; to protect the rights of minorities and remove unfair obstacles, without stirring up racial hatred or keeping minorities in perpetual subservience.
A candidate who believes that there are weapons not worth making and wars not worth fighting, but who knows that there are also wars that must be fought and weapons that must be built in order to fight them.
A candidate who believes that rather than destroy the traditional family, we should nurture it and rely on it as the basis of a healthy civilization.
And, last of all, a candidate who wants to represent North Carolina in the Senate, and not spend all his time running for President.
Is there no one like this in the North Carolina Democratic Party? Was an ambitious prettyboy clintonian featherweight like John Edwards really the best that we could do?
Isn't there a Democrat in North Carolina as intelligent and effective as Harold Ford of Tennessee?
Just because the national Democratic Party has decided to self-destruct doesn't mean that the North Carolina Democratic Party has to do the same.
On the contrary -- we should take the lead in showing the national party how elections are won:
By choosing candidates who will govern from the political Center, care about the concerns of all the people and not just a few groups, and open the door of the party to independents and moderates as well as traditional liberals.
As for the extreme left wing of American politics -- they already have most of the media and most of the universities and colleges. It's OK for us to keep the actual business of government in the hands of grown-ups who are still in touch with the real world.
Copyright © 2002 by Orson Scott Card.
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