Monday, March 29, 2010

A Word on Democrats

In the aftermath of the health care reform vote, many people are invariably caught up in the cable news talking points about [insert your issue here],  and may have become oblivious to a looming question long subverted by the controversial nature of the health care debate: what does it say about the Democratic Party that they even had to have an actual discussion on whether they, the supermajority in Congress, could actually get themselves together in order to make a simple majority vote? 

On the surface, the first thing that comes to mind is inefficiency; the lack of ability to come together when it counts, especially for something as monumental as health care. Digging deeper than that, however, I think it speaks to something more fundamental about the diversity of thought that defines progressive ideology.  Conservative ideology, by contrast, lends itself a lot more readily to black and white definitions and check lists: no abortion, no entitlements, no hand-outs, no government spending (unless for Defense budget purposes, of course), no same-sex marriage, no affirmative action, pro-guns, pro-free market, and an absolute advocacy of national security even if it means disregarding the Constitution.  Indeed, some GOP leaders even went so far as to propose a 10 point check list requiring 8 out of 10 points in order to receive RNC funding.  The bottom line is that conservative ideology is such that it mandates that those who ascribe to it must have a tendency to see things from a certain point of view and a certain point of view only or else  risk denouncement as not being a "true believer." As a result of this uniformity in thought, conservatives and Republicans tend to be able to move as a unit whenever necessary in a way that liberals and Democrats cannot.  

"Progressive" or "liberal" ideology is antithetical to the notion of a single particular view point, thus progressives tend to be all over the map on any given issue.  They see things in terms of black and white but they also see the areas of gray that lie between and, for better or for worse, many of them tend to stay in the gray area.  Some progressives believe in abortion, some do not, while others believe it should only exist in certain situations; some believe in affirmative action, some are adamantly opposed to it, while others feel it is necessary but only for a limited amount of time (see the infamous "25 years" quote).  When it came to health care, once again progressives displayed their diversity of thought much to their own detriment: many were for single payer, some were for the public option, some were for the public exchanges, and some were for none of the above.

I truly believe that diversity of thought is necessary for a healthy society. Surely, we do not all want to be mindless lemmings following some singular strand of consciousness like the Borg.  However, there is a time and a place for everything.   Therefore, when something as historic as health care reform for every man, woman and child in America is on the line, it's time to suspend your individuality and join hands with the movement responsible for its achievement. Your party is trying to pass the most significant piece of legislation since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and you're over there being some kind of gotdamned individual.  All 212 Republicans voted against the Health Care Reform Law.  219 Democrats voted for it, while 34 Democrats voted against it. I guess Will Rogers was right when he coined the infamous quote: "I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat."  Unfortunately for the Democrats, this is true. You don't have to subscribe to groupthink, but you at least have to be organized when the vote is on the line.  It is that lack of organization that stained this entire legislative process and allowed the Republicans to control the message from day 1.  The American people decisively gave the Democrats the keys to the driver's seat in 2008.  If the Democrats ever hope to hold on to those keys, they had better learn  how to get organized and show the people that they can deliver results like their well-oiled-machine counterparts across the aisle.  

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