Jewish World Review June 10, 2003 / 10 Sivan, 5763
Lewis A. Fein
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Every president has both a positive and negative narrative, a story of unflinching heroism or crass stupidity and total corruption. Thus, Ronald Reagan is either a sign of tremendous optimism or dangerous senility; Bill Clinton a forceful and charismatic leader, or a rapacious (both politically and physically) cynic. But President George W. Bush's story - the fable about a stolen election and immoral war, about fabricated weapons and convenient tyrants - is a tale of such hatred, such absolute blindness and political deafness, that it threatens to permanently redefine the Democratic Party downward.
Yet, the Democratic Party firmly believes - its partisans eagerly recite and its financiers encouragingly echo - a campaign slogan without a genuine message: "George W. Bush is an idiot!" If Democrats widely accept this message, have their presidential candidates imbibe it and their congressional members absorb it, then the party will reduce itself to hatred and defeat -- to a pitiful adaptation of the drunkard's lament and the loser's refrain, "The fools don't deserve us. They'll regret their decision, and we'll ignore their pleas for forgiveness."
This destructive attitude also has its own mistaken strategy, an offering before an idol known as intellectualism. For it is the shrine of intelligence, not the altar of wisdom or the pulpit of life experience, that now drives the Democratic Party toward a destination that is as doomed as it is preordained: presidential oblivion. The party still seeks an articulate but excessively liberal savior, Adlai Stevenson with hair and soft money. Instead, the party will nominate (and delegates will cheer) the candidate of perfect diction - of Al Sharpton's ghetto verse, John Kerry's Brahmin words or Howard Dean's bitter choice - and no direction. The nominee will condemn the president, mock Bush's intelligence and belittle the commander-in-chief's judgment; and Democrats will applaud mightily, loudly and, yes, stupidly.
True power begins with solemnity or modesty, victory imbued with purpose and decision. How can a party govern - to whom shall the mantle of leadership fall - when the agenda of a previously great organization (of Jackson and Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy) reduces itself to a choice between an ashamed aristocrat from Yale (Kerry) and a mad doctor from Vermont (Dean)? The real journey must first be an acknowledgment, one delivered amidst protests and jeers: that making President Bush an enemy may elicit applause, but it will neither defeat him politically nor strengthen the Democratic Party morally. Hate the president's policies, perhaps; loathe the man personally, never.
But Democrats choose to supplant policy with personality, with the misguided notion - not unlike the opposition's attitude during the Clinton years - that character alone, full knowledge of the incumbent's ignorance or duplicity, will vanquish the current White House occupant. This approach is maximum folly, an epitaph for the true believer and the easily entranced: "He died for the cause." What cause? That IQ trumps common sense, that voters prefer political combat over reasoned choice? That the question itself exists - that this war between civility and debased flagellation against President Bush continues - leaves all democrats (small "d") poorer.
The real challenge for Democrats is to reclaim the job of responsibility and opportunity. The summons to power, if not greatness, begins first with respect -- toward this nation, for its people and of its leaders. Anything short of respect (never mind admiration) will leave Democrats bewildered and jealous, a permanent minority party. The journey ahead is clear, the conclusion obvious. The only mystery is whether Democrats will even begin this arduous trip.