Late last week, I posted what seemed like a pretty innocuous note about a candidate running for a state House seat in Eugene on BlueOregon. She's a Dem, but one supported by lots of pretty serious developers and real estate speculators who, as it happens, are also major Bush donors. The upshot of the post: can't we get someone a little more liberal? There followed one of the most vitriolic exchanges (led by her campaign manager, as it later emerged) I've ever had on a blog. All of this was in-party stuff.
Interesting, then, to see that Eugene McCarthy died over the weekend. From the late twenties through his failed bid to unseat LBJ in 1968, the Dems were an amazingly united party. Although we didn't really fall out of power for another dozen years, his run in '68 set the stage for what has characterized the party for the last forty years--bitter in-fighting.
It was the war in '68, and weirdly enough, it's the war now. Howard Dean, broadly characterized as a lunatic by everyone from George Will to Jay Leno, is the only guy who's actually gotten it right on the war, and yet I had to listen to idiotic commentary over the weekend about how his dangerously out-of-touch views threaten the party. People keep a straight face when they hold Joe Lieberman up as the grown-up Dem in a party of children. Hillary Clinton, who hasn't yet found an idea she'd stake a candidacy on, is waiting in the wings to see how it all shakes out. You can bet she'll find a view that offends no moderates.
The Democratic strength comes with strong leadership. We're the collectivist team, and so we have a natural inclination toward compromise. This works great when we have strong leadership willing to craft a vision and stick to it, but it makes us look like idiots when we scuttle along like dung sweepers following a parade. America is sick to death of this corrupt, greedy, and violent GOP, but the Dems, who in panic try to stamp out the only voice of conviction in the Party, have no way of capitalizing.
Dems took the wrong message away from McCarthy. He was a man running from his own inner convictions and lost. Dems learned: never run from your convictions. The lesson they should have learned, like LBJ, is not to lie to the American people. That, ultimately, is the choice the Dems face, and one we've consistently gotten wrong since 1980. So, as long as we elect people who can only lead by following the polls, who are scared of their own shadows, and who haven't the convictions to guide policy, we're going to have to get used to looking at the ass-end of the parade.