Monday, September 04, 2006

The New Democrats

I’ve been searching . . . looking for one good man; a spirit who would not bend of break who would sit at his father’s right hand . . . - Johnny Cash/U2

I’ve got to go back to work tomorrow on my autumn job and wanted to leave a brief outline of my thoughts from November last until now and my predictions of what is ahead. In a word, all points come from something Alan Greenspan suggested in his outgoing book. He said a third party could well enter in either 2008 or 2012 as both political parties are polarized. That would be NY’s Senator Senator Clinton on the one end and Virginia’s George Allen on the other. A Presidential race like this in 2008 would almost insure someone like Mike Bloomberg, Mayor of NY, entering as an Independent and taking the middle (80% the electorate, according to Unity08).

But that “third party” can just as easily be a new Democratic Party or a new (or “New West” Republican Party). The current parties are dying of their own negative energy. But both have excellent managers among them, Mitt Romney and Arnold Schwarzenegger among the Republicans, for example, and Kathleen Sebelius, Governor of Kansas, and Ed Rendell, Governor of Pennsylvania, among the Democrats. Yet all we seem to hear about are candidates like Senator Clinton and Senator Barack Obama, who has barely taken office – retro candidates; candidates who bring a remembrance of things past.

As I proposed in my radio interview this last weekend, in the 60th post-war year competence is plagued by the institutional compulsion to look back rather than forward. The Republicans look back to WW II, the Democrats to the Clinton Presidency and to the Sixties. (Can you imagine Eisenhower, a Texas, looking to Nathan Bedford Forrest for strategy and culture in 1941?) The situation is getting caricatured to the point of both parties looking like Political Reenactors. Had you seen the anti-Iraq war event I attended in Montpelier, VT, shortly after the onset of hostilities you would know what I’m talking about. It was virtually a Sixties Reenactment by Sixties Reenactors.

Right now, all hinges on Senator Clinton’s apparently overwhelming ambition to be President (and Elvis’s refusal to leave the building). Most likely opposition will be Senator McCain. This would bring the Republicans their fourth unanimous victory in the post-war period (Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan). Such an race could well spell the end of the Democratic Party. A McCain Presidency with Romney as VP and Arnold as Secretary of State, would create a “New West” Republican Party which would send the “Old South” Republicans into remission and confirm the new Republicans as the party of American destiny, giving them control for the next 20 years.

If the Democrats cannot come out of the past and pull themselves away from blinding generational influences (which always attempt to lock upcoming generations out of play) I believe they will be finished, and political contention will go forward in the new century between the new Republicans and a new party, perhaps a combination of Independents, Libertarians and “Old South” Republicans. But on three critical occations this last year, the first step forward has been taken by General Wesley Clark, a key voice of the New Democrats, so there is indication that the party is finding a new path.

The war in Iraq will have a psychological effect on 2008. In one scenario, things could turn out as they did in the Mexican War about which Ulysses S. Grant said that it was a war simply of the strong against the weak, but nevertheless, anyone who did not take part in it would not take part in the dramatic events just ahead. In this the Republicans have the advantage. However, they conducted this war with complete incompetence and the crisis – linked with the Katrina storm – revealed layer upon layer of incompetence in federal government.

The voting public may turn instead to the Democrats simply to turn the page. People have tired of war. But of this I am certain: they will not turn to an “anti-war” Democrat to lead them even if that Democrat voted in favor of the war at the beginning. This is a tendency now with some Democratic candidates and also of the press; both are “retro” analyses and approaches which try to understand the future as they understood their own personal and generational history – largely irrelevant to the issues ahead.

I believe at this second that the Democrats have however the near advantage and it could well turn into the long advantage. Almost certainly they will take the House back in 2006 and probably the Senate. Since last November there has been emerging what I’ve been calling New Democrats. They are not in opposition to the old necessarily. They have been here all along. They simply have ideas which are now relevant to government and necessary for the rebuilding of our country political identity and character.

This new party is growing generationally. I talk about generationality in my radio interview below. It is the engine of time. The fourth post-war generation is beginning to awaken and this last year it has begun to reveal its features. Marcos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos and his four million regulars (20 million a month) is first across the line in this new generation. Those who follow will form events in the next 25 years. These are the first to take the generation initiative and they are forming a New Democratic party.

I’ve been writing these last 10 months about key individuals and features of the New Democrats: Mark Warner, former Governor of Virginia, brings a new face to the Democrats, a face not unlike my mythical countryman up here in the Green and White Mountains, Longfellow Deeds of Frank Capra's classic, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town; a happy and positive everyman whose life-force awakens in the darkest hour. He also brings a new idea to the Democrats; “a Democratic Team with Management Values.” Wesley Clark brings a uniform sense of honor, dignity, intelligence and duty to the country and to the party. At a Warner event two weeks back up here a woman said, “ . . . but I think he (General Clark) is too good for us.” He’s not too good for us. He is us. He is perhaps one of the best among us and if he finds his way to our center, he will bring us to our best and will bring a higher sense of leadership to our country.

The Fighting Dems bring a new theme of duty and character to the New Democrats, featuring Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Eric Massa of New York. Perhaps they will form the backbone of our new century. All veterans should consider translating the sense of duty which compelled them to serve in the military into service in public office. New Democrats are doing so. The black POW/MIA flag flying beneath the American flag in my town and in every other in our country is a Shadow; it is a sign of desperation – it is a call to our country from veterans, on whom our life blood depends, who have been ignored, despised and forgotten. Democrats share in this contemptible situation perhaps more than Republicans. They should reverse this trend and the Fighting Dems have begun to do so.

Jim Webb, Vietnam veteran and Sec. of the Navy under Ronald Reagan, candidate for Senate in Virginia, also begins to reverse this trend. At first it was supposed that Jim would do well in the distant west of Virginia where he is from, and not so well in the “urban professional” enclaves, like those of Alexandria, Virginia. In the primary, it worked out just the opposite. Jim beat his Democratic opponent almost two-to-one in Alexandria. This is very auspicious for the Democrats. It indicates that they are leaving retro politics behind and taking the challenge of the future. Jim’s race against George Allen presents the paradigm; how it goes in 2006 in Virginia, so it will go in 2008. In both, the Republicans are a spent force if they bring Allen as their representative figure. Allen is now in the national light and can be seen for what he is; a dinosaur of the Ideological Right bereft of ability and character. Allen has made a fool of himself and embarrassed the Republicans.

When Howard Dean was running for President up here he made a statement that he wanted to bring the Democratic Party to the South to “ . . . guys in pick up trucks with Confederate flags on them.” It was absurdly amplified by the press which had by then descended in a spiral of incompetence as deep as the Administration’s. We know what he had in mind and what he really was saying. I noticed yesterday at the store a pickup truck with a NASCAR decal on it, like those which feature The Intimidator, #3. The center of the sticker read NEXTEL; the car phone company founded by Mark Warner which sponsors NASCAR stock car races. Dean was correct in what the party should do. Mark Warner has been doing it for years. Warner sought out the voters left behind by the Democrats. He pointed out that most regional people in Virginia were born Democrats and have been abandoned. He campaigned at NASCAR stock car races and at “big top” Virginia churches.

We associate Democrats today with Nantucket, the mythical New England land of the richest of the rich. Bill Clinton and his wife vacation there every year. John Kerry owns half the island. If the Democrats continue in this vein they will be finished and will deserve to be finished. All candidates today should make pit stops at NASCAR events as they used to stop at Pat’s Steaks in South Philly and at an Irish pub in South Boston. They should stop as well at the new Assembly of God churches throughout the South and the Midwest. If they feel they don’t belong there they should leave politics. If they feel they would be laughed off the stage at places like that, then they should leave politics. And may I propose that Democratic candidates drop that horrible, egregious and crappy music like AC/DC that they always use to fire up the crowds and try Johnny Cash instead? And did somebody say The Dixie Chicks? Even better.

New Hampshire is a bellwether state. Our last governor featured a gimmicky Republican with trendy management ideas. He came at the end of a trend and was replaced by a responsible Democrat who works with both parties without prejudice, John Lynch. He is very much like Mark Warner, a skilled manager and a focused, detail-oriented politician. As Warner says, “ . . . 97% of my job is management.” Warner also replaced a gimmicky, novelty governor and one who’s poor management almost destroyed the state; George Allen. These Democratic governors, Lynch and Warner, represent the avante garde of the Democratic Party and both replace an old Republican movement bereft of ideas which events have passed by. Had we gone forward with the tradition of New Hampshire holding first primary, I believe Warner and Wes Clark would have done very well in the next set of primaries.

But the front-loading of primaries presents new territory. It favors orthodoxy rather than innovation; it favors tradition rather than new thinking. This will not change the flow of events. The New Democrats will continue to grow. Perhaps it will be better in the long run. But for now it may have taken the Democratic nomination away from Warner or Clark and given it instead to one of the three party regulars; Clinton, Kerry or John Edwards. Right now, John Edwards is 4% points ahead in Iowa and likely to win in South Carolina, which falls a week after New Hampshire. He is the frontrunner.

John Edwards is a New Democrat, and among the three frontrunners, only he is a New Democrat. He could well get the nomination now. If so, he would have the opportunity and the responsibility to form a New Democratic party; a new “third party” replacing the old Democratic Party and which would return America to itself and away from ideologs.

Here are the waves of the New Democrats: Edwards, Sebelius, Warner, Clark, Lynch, Webb, Fighting Dems – Duckworth, Massa, the dKos generation and Johnny Cash to return the Democrats to their roots (“If you don’t like Johnny Cash you can . . . .”). Edwards can nurture this group and bring in more like-minded. My first, second, third and fourth choices for Vice President on a John Edwards Presidential ticket would be Kathleen Sebelius, Governor of Kansas. She, with Warner, was identified as governor of “one of the five best governed states . . .” She personifies everything that needs to be said about New Democrats, which I would capture with Warner’s phrase, “ . . . a Democratic team with management values.”

Here is a proposal for Edwards: Compare the U.S. Government with any major corporate structure or national or global network. In rating managers and their existing network it would find last place. Our vision of federalism is built on ideas of Alexander Hamilton well suited to a frontier society of 1776. Today it is structurally bereft, which is why the failure of Katrina took place. Consider new ideas, like Regional Circles of influence in places which have cultural coherence (like New England, like the Pacific Northwest, like the three Gulf States injured by Katrina). Try to imagine a national or global corporation or organization without regional management and you have only the U.S. Government.

Key Republicans have begun to adopt my phrase “one-size fits all federalism” to identify the failures of the U.S. Government. Consider a complete reconceptualization of government with more efficient and more up-to-date management models. Visualize as External Affairs and Internal Affairs, with both being equal "psychological spaces." We are at the moment an “outward-looking country.” The Cabinet person with the most status is Secretary of State. We have no management matrix for “looking inward” and have a random, eclectic and wasteful variety of cabinet posts with no cohesive organization of duties, which only intensified the tragedy and human suffering of Katrina. Below President/VP (Edwards/Sebelius) management should descend equally in two directions, Exterior/Interior (in this scenario, General Wesley Clark would represent us as we “look outward.” Mark Warner would represent us as we “look inward”). Consolidate and restructure the current internal bureaus - shattered, compartmentalized and lobbied to death - to one management vision. The unification and reawakening of the Katrina region as a healthy, prosperous and crime-free way of life with a positive, unique and indigenous American spirit should be first priority. It would be the perfect workshop for a new management model.

I’ve got to get back to work. I’ve had extensive discussions about these last issues with John Parker of Raleigh, NC, who runs Good Work, linked on right. Anyone interested might get in touch with him. Cheers, Quigley

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