Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Fighting Dems: The New Face of the Democratic Party

- from The Free Market News Network, March 22, 2006

by Bernie Quigley

“ . . . I went out searching . . . looking for one good man . . . a spirit who would not bend or break who would sit at his father’s right hand . . .” Johnny Cash/U2

The Democratic Party was once the party of the real people of this country. The people who grew soybean and cotton, the people who gathered for barbecue at the Legion Hall, who went to church, listened to Johnny Cash, and served without rumination or discussion when they were called to duty.

Here in Boston, New York and New England, Democrats changed our world, turning Irish, Polish, Jewish, German and other immigrants into full-blown Americans, proud, hard-working and unpretentious. They were people like my father who bought the Boston tabloid every evening on the way home from the factory for the single purpose of checking the Treasury balance – not that they were heavily invested in T bills, but because every day each factory worker would bet on the last three numbers in a factory pool. They sent their champion to Washington in 1961. The very last of these public figures from my old neighborhood, Massachusetts representative Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neil and Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Mary McGrory, have slipped into history’s shadow lands.

But they were perhaps the most important generation in American history. A generation of common men and women made up of every strand of mankind from Africa and Ireland and from the Polish ghetto and the Liverpool docks, which brought a level of civilization and economic prosperity to this country that made America a Beacon of Hope to all the world. Almost all in this generation had served in warfare and were bound together by duty. Almost all of them had families and extended families and were bound together by love.

Then something else happened.

I think it was around the time that coffee changed almost overnight from something that cost about 22 cents and came in honest blue paper cups with Greek gods dancing around them to something else, which cost up to four bucks a pop and somehow brought with it the most astonishing pretensions of ending world hunger and saving the Rain Forest. With a cup of coffee like that you were no longer son or daughter of the American everyman, a Fall River factory worker or Alabama tenant farmer, whose life and destiny was changed inextricably when he was called upon to slog through the mud of Italy in the Hitler war. With a cup of coffee like that came a more upscale cultural environment. You were Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir at Les Deux Magots – much less smoky since Malraux and the others had gone off to fight with the Marquis – and as the world descended around you into burning hell and Nazi occupation, you passed the time while awaiting the revolution by knocking off a one-act play against fascism or a treatise on racism. Right there at the mall in Centerville. A nice place to raise your kids up.

When liberalism went double latte, regular folk left as if in a diaspora. Prior to that one’s political party was like a religion – the Boston Irish were all Catholic and Democrat. Appalachia was all Baptist and Democrat. But Democrats had become effete. “Nattering nabobs of negativism,” said Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, in a famous phrase written by William Safire.

Perhaps he was right. In 1981 I saw my Irish aunties start to leave the church. They started to vote for Ronald Reagan. In 1985, it was a fait accompli. 49 states full of Southern Baptists and Jewish and Catholic ethnic groups from the urban regions above, all of whom had voted Democratic before, this time voted for a Republican in a time of peace and prosperity. My voting precinct in North Carolina’s foothills where I had come to work was characteristic. All had been born there Baptist and Democrat. 80% had changed their party affiliation to Republican.

But now, in the 60th year since European fascism yielded to American optimism, something else is happening again. The real people of the Legion Hall, the barn dance, the NASCAR track, the Bingo Hall and the church basement supper are again looking around. And a new breed of Democratic politician is coming forth to represent them once again.

Enter The Fighting Dems, men and women of the military and the Legion hall who are challenging Republican incumbents across the country.

As the Denver Post reports, more than 30 Iraq and Persian Gulf War veterans have entered congressional races across the country as Democrats, hoping to capitalize on their military experience to topple the incumbent Republican majority. In December, over 35 Democratic veterans running for Congress got together at a strategy session in Washington, D.C. The veterans voted on a name for their emerging caucus-like campaign coalition: Veterans for a Secure America. They also agreed that their military backgrounds should be promoted as credentials for leadership across the full spectrum of public policy, said Jay Fawcett of Colorado, an Air Force veteran of the 1991 Gulf War.

It is interesting and perhaps significant that the reports on this growing phenomenon are largely from outside the Beltway as most of these candidates are. The Chicago Tribune calls them “Macho Democrats.” But this is a grass roots movement and it should be noted that it is first effect was on the Internet.

This week, Tammy Duckworth, a former army major who had both legs shot off while piloting a Blackhawk helicopter in Iraq, won the Democratic primary in Illinois' pivitol race for retiring rep Henry Hyde's seat in Congress. It is a beginning milestone for the Fighting Dems.

I first read about this new movement on Wesley Clark’s web site, WesPAC in August, last year, when Clark called for support of Paul Hackett for Congress.

“Paul Hackett is exactly the kind of strong leader we need in these challenging times,” wrote Clark. “He is a former Marine and a veteran of the Fallujah campaign in Iraq. He understands what it will take to fight -- and win -- the war on terror and keep America safe.”

Clark offered his full endorsement and encouraged readers to volunteer and to donate to Hackett’s campaign.

“Paul offers the kind of fresh, pragmatic leadership that we desperately need in Washington. For all of their bravado, the Bush administration and Republicans in Congress seem fresh out of ideas about how to win the war in Iraq and bring our troops home,” he said.

Also helping to build this movement is The Daily Kos, which has teamed up with Majority Report Radio to feature a Fighting Dem every Tuesday on its site.

Kos reports: “This country craves leadership, and these guys are providing it unbidden. They are self-organizing, taking the initiative, and taking the fight to the enemy. These guys are rock stars. So we've got dozens of Iraq and Persian Gulf vets challenging Republicans for public office. How many do Republicans have? One.”

As trends build, this is significant. Kos himself is a kind of rising star in politics and opinion. He is someone who is at the beginning of things which will change the way the world looks at itself. Policy wogs, political staffers and concerned citizens increasingly look to Kos and a few other political bloggers and independent on-line journals like this one [Free Market News Network] as they once upon a time looked to The New Republic, The National Review and The Nation. Political journals have been losing readership in recent years, much of it going to Kos. There is new energy to his site and it has the spark of new ideas. He and the majority of his readers can’t be but 20, 25 years old. He and his readers represent the generation which will come to importance and responsibility first in the new century. (According to The Washington Monthly: Kos's site, which has existed for only around three and a half years, now has 3.7 million readers each week. That's more than the 10 opinion magazines - of both left and right - combines, more readers than any political publication has had, ever, in the history of the world.)

Recently both Kos and WesPAC featured Andrew Horne of Kentucky who is challenging Republican Anne Northup in Kentucky’s 3rd Congressional District. Lt. Col. Horne served as a Marine in both the Gulf War and the Iraq War.

“Andrew Horne never sought to be a politician. In fact, the Marine Reserve lieutenant colonel didn't consider it until his latest deployment to Iraq. There, he saw such blatant leadership failures by President Bush and his administration -- failures with life-or-death consequences -- that by the time he came back home, Andrew knew he must act,” writes Clark.

Paul Hackett supports his candidacy, and these men and women support one another.

John Lapp, executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which seeks to help new Democrats, has coined the term, “Macho Democrats,” says a report in The Chicago Tribune. “Few have any political experience, let alone a fundraising or grass-roots network,” it says. “But with voters unhappy with Bush and Congress, the Democratic strategy is to attack the GOP as an entrenched, corrupt majority, and these candidates say they represent change. More broadly, their resumes might help to dispel voters’ long-held image of Democrats as soft on national security.”

“I think I have fresh ideas and energy I’m bringing to the table,” said Patrick Murphy, a Fighting Dem from Pennsylvania who quotes John F. Kennedy on his web site (“Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.”) “I’m running as a Democrat, and I served my country, but my mother is a Republican,” the 32-year-old told the Chicago Tribune.

As the Fighting Dems phenomenon continues to grow, Kos’s web site sounds a warning. “All ‘Fightin’ Dems’ are not created equal with some being the exact opposite of the popular projection,” writes Kos, not suggesting any particular candidate. He warns against promoting any Democrat in uniform with no regard for the actual issues, the primary process or the local districts themselves bulldozing over more-qualified candidates. It is a fair warning, but also a tribute to the momentum this movement is picking up.

All in all, this is a very auspicious turn for the Democrats. The Big Media, which increasingly speaks with one voice and can hear no other voice, hasn’t quite picked up on it yet. Perhaps because they are all holding their breaths and Waiting for Hillary and right now they can’t think of anything else.

Politics is not a matrix into which you can inject some arbitrary culture or special agenda and make it grow history like hair on a Chi-Chi Pet, as the neocons thought they could grow a new American century in the Middle East. History is an ancient river like the Mekong or the Nile, which unpredictably overflows its banks on occasion and is sure to do so again and again when least expected. We are in such a period now. Recently political philosopher Francis Fukuyama has dubbed the neocon agenda which has gripped our republic as the work of “Jacksonian Republicans.” It is a reference to the mid 1800s when Western populism during Andrew Jackson’s presidency badgered and intimidated the northern liberals, pushing each apart into opposing binary forces. Like the Northern Whigs who were pushed aside by the Jacksonian populists, the Democrats today have been pushed into deeper and deeper eccentricity and irrelevance.

It is important for the Democrats to remember that the Whigs did not survive the struggle with the Jacksonians and were replaced by a healthy, vibrant party which dominated the era and still holds the tiller today. And the most important question today in political life is the destiny of the Democratic Party. Recently, the eminent federal reservist Alan Greenspan stated unambiguously that he felt a third party challenge for the presidency would occur in either the upcoming election in 2008 or later in 2012, as both parties today have pushed themselves to their polar extremes, leaving the moderate middle wide open. In Republican convention last week the Republicans committed themselves to their extreme, the great majority giving support to Bill Frist, the senator from Tennessee. So the middle remains wide open. The Democrats likewise are hell-bent on perdition, pouring untold millions from the rank and file into the coffers of the alienating and entirely unelectable senator from New York. Maybe these two parties are like Ford and General Motors; unable to change, unable to adapt and meet the times and destined to ride into the sun until the tank comes up empty.

I see only two options: The Democrats can reform and take the center, or a third party (perhaps even with Greenspan’s blessing) will take the day. Third party is risky business, even if such a party came with the blessings of someone with such high public regard as Greenspan. The Fighting Dems can reform the existing party. They offer a better option.