Wednesday, February 4, 2009

My Own Worst Enemy: No, Not A Cancelled TV Show... the Democratic Party

Andrew Taylor wrote today, for the AP and the Huffington Post, that the Democrats do not have the necessary votes to pass their economic package in the Senate. Before moving on to my real point, I will make passing mention of the sloppy journalism in this statement. The Democrats have the votes to pass the bill, what they lack are the majority of votes necessary to prevent a filibuster. While this is a small distinction, it is an important one. It changes the game from 'the Democrats are unable to pass legislation' to 'the Republicans are deliberately holding up needed economic reform because of the very same failed devotion to faith-based economic principles that caused the economic collapse in the first place.' As you can see, there is a notable difference between the tone of those two statements and they have a completely different effect on the reader.

That said, the villain of this piece is not a die-hard Republican conservative. Did we really expect them to vote for a spending bill? Of course not. Nor is it completely ridiculous to expect moderate Republicans who might be expected to vote for the bill to want a bit of political cover on some of the more 'liberal' elements.

No, the real villain of the current Capitol Hill drama is a Democrat: Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Rather than support his party and his president, Senator Nelson is essentially threatening to join a conservative filibuster unless the bill (already somewhat worked over in the House, where it was not necessary) is made more 'bipartisan' and more tax cuts are added and more spending removed. If he wished to display his bipartisanship by joining the conservatives in voting against the bill, as a symbol, I could understand. Helping to prevent the bill from coming to the floor without a thorough gutting, however, is not acceptable.

Conservative Democrats have always been the greatest foil of Democratic presidents, since Franklin Roosevelt made the Democratic Party the nation's liberal party permanently in the 1930s. From Robert Byrd (yes, that Robert Byrd) and Strom Thurmond (yes, my fellow Gen Xers, he was once a Dem, as hard as that is to believe now) taking on Harry Truman over integration of the military, to LBJ needing to rally support from Rockefeller Republicans to pass his legislation, to Sam Nunn taking on Bill Clinton over gays in the military and national health care policy, Democratic Senators have been the most dogged foes of liberal reform. Indeed, even 'liberal' Democrats in the Senate run to the center far too often.

This begs the question: how are we to achieve meaningful social progress? The major national party best equipped to champion a liberal agenda is unwilling to commit to a major political fight over the principles behind such an agenda. The major national political party that has shown itself willing to stick to its principles at all costs is wholly committed to the principles that prevent progress and reform. The minor parties are a ridiculous joke, the workouse orphans of our political system. They cry for gruel and no one listens.

Liberals need to make the kind of commitment to fight for the Democratic Party that conservatives made to fight for the Republican Party. When that fight is won, and it will be a hard fight, liberals will need to commit to another hard fight for their legitimate share of the national political podium.

I am pleasantly surprised by President Obama's commitment to fight for his own principles, but they are not wholly mine. All the same, when the choice is between progress and stasis, I support my president. Senator Nelson should do the same.

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