Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Kennedy, Obama, Webb, Sebelius: The New Democrats

By Bernie Quigley for The Free Market News Network on 1/29/08

I began my journals here several years ago when the country was at the breach between generations. We were at that classic 60-year shift between the third and fourth post-war generation; a time, say historians William Strauss and Neil Howe, when the country falls apart and reformulates – saved by the bell by the fourth and last post-war generation which begins the world again. In this case, they are called Millennials.

In her excellent response to the President’s State of the Union speech last night, Kathleen Sebelius, Democratic Governor of Kansas, made reference to this new generation in the abstract. In the last historical period the saving generation was dubbed “the Greatest Generation” by Tom Brokaw who named a book that and who understands and has written well about the Strauss & Howe theory of generational breaks and politics. Sebelius referred to Brokaw’s “greatest generation” but made the case that the “greatest generation” is not behind us but ahead of us.

And we have seen it awaken these last few weeks.

I first made the claim here several years go that the new generation could form a new political party and/or one of the existing parties could split in half and eventually jettison its baggage and fully restructure, much as the Whigs dropped from view in the mid-1800s and found a replacement in the Republican Party.

Ron Paul offered such a direction and long term he still does. As the Republicans go home in tatters, they will look for an entirely new direction. The recent bonding of Ron Paul and Richard Viguerie of the Christian Coalition promises to incubate this embryo into a new formula. Viguerie built the Christian Coalition into a vastly influential political movement which has now fallen to ruin. He took his first cues from Ronald Reagan and a perceived vision of states rights which proved an illusion when the Reagan Republicans went Federalist and sent America into debt beyond the wildest imaginings of Alexander Hamiltonian. Paul offers Viguerie a better fit and a new direction; one based on Jefferson and the organic Southern traditions rather than Hamilton.

Mike Bloomberg, Mayor of New York, did and still does offer a path; one of straight-ahead management, excellence and competence. But it hinges on events immediately before us. If Romney wins today in Florida and if Hillary wins Tuesday, Bloomberg, with a brilliant cast of “post partisan” operatives including the California Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, will offer a better option than both parties and could well find success in a country sick of war and fully disgusted now with the Clintons.

Another path opened up when Mark Warner, Governor of Virginia, considered briefly running for President several years ago. Warner offered a fork in the road for the Democrats.

Warner, Yankee-reared and Harvard Law School-educated, ran successfully in the Old Dominion by ignoring and condemning the polarization that had occurred in small-town Appalachia since the 1960s dividing people by class and religion.

We [Democrats] can’t take a pass on region or religion, said Warner.

“We’ve never believed that some people count and some people don’t,” he said. “So we need to stop acting that way. That’s not who we are, and we’ve got to make that clear.”

Warner and Sebelius were voted by Wall St. groups as two of the five best Governors in the country. Warner pioneered what he began to call “across the isle” politics, working with Republicans, working with Democrats, working with everyone willing to work. It was a new idea for the Democrats: Democrats with advanced management abilities and without ideology. My Governor here in New Hampshire, John Lynch, brought the same approach to New Hampshire with great success and was reelected in a landslide.

These Governors were joined by a new wave of Democrats in ’06, including Iraq veterans called Fighting Dems. Some, like Carol Shea-Porter of NH and Joe Sestak of PA, entered Congress in ’06. Jim Webb, the fierce new Senator from Virginia, was in the avant garde of this new movement. As Sebelius said last night, this new group in Congress has brought a new spirit of cooperation to Congress. Her speech last night brought the “across the isle” spirit of the New Democrats pioneered by Warner and Lynch to the mainstream. And in sequence with Jim Webb who did the post-State of the Union speech task last year, a theme begins to develop. No doubt Obama, who claims the mantle of “post partisanship,” will be looking to Sebelius when he is thinking of a Vice President.

Warner was also the first to breach the generational divide. He had a great appeal to a younger generation just rising to politics; Sebelius’s “greatest generation” just ahead. Jim Webb, novelist, warrior and former Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan, brought almost avatar qualities to the new generation. Political blogs like Daily Kos were given some large responsibility for his successful victory against big odds in Virginia.

But ‘twas ever thus: The old generation refused to move out of the way.

Markos Moulitsas, founder of the Daily Kos, who coined the phrase Fighting Dems, suggested in an op-ed article in The Washington Post in May of 2006 that there were now two Democratic parties; old Democrats, and he mentioned Senator Clinton, and new Democrats, and he mentioned Russ Feingold, Senator from Wisconsin and Mark Warner, who had recently scored one and two in his monthly survey of readers. (Hillary hovered around zero.) In ’06 Moulitsas actively promoted the new wing of the Democratic Party, featuring a new Fighting Dem every week.

“Hillary Clinton has a few problems if she wants to secure the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination,” wrote Moulitsas in the Post article. “She is a leader who fails to lead.” She does not appear "electable." But most of all, he wrote, Hillary has a Bill Clinton problem: The New York senator is part of a failed Democratic party establishment -- led by her husband -- that enabled the George W. Bush Presidency and the Republican majorities, and all the havoc they have wreaked at home and abroad.

Moulitsas was right then and he is right today. The Clintons, who claim to have offered a “bridge to the 21st century” now offer a bridge back to the 20th century. In fact, the ’08 race is rapidly becoming a farce because of the Clintons. For anyone who cared to look, it was then and is now always about Bill as has became crystal clear these past few weeks.

Peggy Noonan of The Wall St. Journal writes that John McCain makes the mocking, red-faced Bill Clinton “look old.” The former President race-baiting Obama, is an embarrassment to the country. He could very well have lost the whole absurd drama for his wife (and himself) this past week.

The older Democrats are rapidly coming out of "Clinton Denial.” This week The Nation and key writers for The New Republic have turned against the Clintons, using phrases like, “maybe the conservatives were right about Bill all along.” So have virtually every important Democrat - Ted Kennedy, John Kerry and most important of all, Carolina Kennedy.

This week brought the major turning point for the Democrats. Ted Kennedy has found his status as venerable senior statesman. He was right about the war on Iraq from the beginning and now the fourth post-war generation is beginning to look at him as their Gray Champion; the senior statesman who stood up to Billary and a corrupt political machine and sent them to marginalia. This week endorsements for Barack Obama came in from every major newspaper in the country except The New York Times which endorsed Hillary but was trumped by Caroline Kennedy endorsing Senator Obama in the Sunday edition.

For people of the age which heard of the death of JFK over the loudspeaker in high school, nothing goes deeper than Caroline Kennedy. It goes to the beginning. We saw her and her brother as children in the White House at the time of our first awakening; the First Family was our family and the first children were our American family. And time is a savage: when C Span and The Jim Lehrer Newshour cut between the thin elegance and grace of Caroline Kennedy on the stage at American University with Uncle Ted, it held a dreary contrast to the Senator from New York, prowling the stage cornered and alone like a predator cougar, as aggressive as Big Nurse, a commissar or party aparatchik, threatening and demanding her entitlement, and virtually trying to steal Florida in defiance of party rules.

The contours of the New Democrats are now coming clear through a glass darkly: Ted Kennedy, Barack Obama, Jim Webb and Kathleen Sebelius. A new party is awakening with a new generation. The old party is the Clintons and a couple of party-bound Kennedys, secondary family members whose names we can’t quite place.

The Democrats could finally push Elvis from the building and begin again with a fresh slate. The question now: Is there time before Super Tuesday?

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