Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Lesson To Remember During A Mean Season

Politics is the art of the possible. -- Otto von Bismarck

At a time when the Democratic Party desperately needs an inspirational leader, watching the debate broadcast from South Carolina late Monday couldn't have been more discouraging. I found myself averting my eyes from the schoolyard brawl between Clinton and Obama. Then, Edwards was hovering right outside the fray, waiting opportunistically to capitalize on some gaping weakness, his Carolina drawl sounding a bit juvenile.

I've seen Republicans go at it this season, too, and I saw even less to admire among them.

Monday night's debate didn't make me feel proud to be a Democrat. But I'm still a Democrat, and I'll damned sure be one this November. There's nowhere else to go.


There was a thing I had to bear in mind during the ordeal. Sunday had marked seven years of George W. Bush. Let's think back, to eight years ago, before Bush had the GOP nomination sewed up.

I don't recall the inarticulate Texas governor as one who inspired conservative Republicans in any extraordinary way. He was the ludicrous stiff they ended up with. Once it was inevitably him, they backed him ruthlessly, all the way to the ridiculous "yuppie riot" in Florida and to what was essentially a 5-4 Supreme Court appointment to the presidency.

Bush has never been that charismatic suit-filler who really makes those gonads on the right wing quiver. They've had some odd icons over the generations, some who worked, some who didn't. One inspirational leader, Barry Goldwater, was able to get the GOP nomination, but scared others with the prospect of him actually becoming president. I can't see how Ronald Reagan was less frightening, but he was elected, and then re-elected with around 59% of the vote. But, sans charisma, Bush is beginning his eighth year in office.

To 2008 Democrats: Unless one of the three presidential candidates left standing has astonishing surprises for us, we aren't going to get the inspirational leader we'd hoped for.

Obama impresses as a speaker, but he's not that different from other politicos when you observe him for a while. Hillary has been a trailblazer in many ways, but she reminds me of college women who toyed with Albert Camus, Gitanes and black outfits at 20 when you just knew she would be a dedicated nonsmoking suit in a law firm at 40. I strongly identify with Edwards' hardscrabble origins, but he's somehow coming across more as a Ken doll than as a populist firebrand.

Let us refer back to the opening quotation. Otto von Bismarck was the Prussian politician who professed to believe in the efficacy of "blood and iron," not in the procedures of liberalism. As "Iron Chancellor" of the newly unified Germany, he was identified with chauvinistic, monarchical conservatism. No one ever suspected him of being overly concerned with individual rights or civil liberties.

But, Bismarck is less known for having been something else -- the effective founder of what is now one of the most advanced and humane welfare states in the world. During the 1880s, he implemented a system that was, among European states, almost without precedent. This from Wikipedia:

The 1880s were a period when Germany started on its long road towards the welfare state it is today. The Social Democrat, National Liberal and Center parties were all involved in the beginnings of social legislation, but it was Bismarck who established the first practical aspects of this program. The program of the Social Democrats included all of the programs that Bismarck eventually implemented, but also included programs designed to preempt the programs championed by Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels. Bismarck’s idea was to implement the minimum aspects of these programs that were acceptable to the German government without any of the overtly Socialistic aspects.

The description isn't of great empathy from Bismarck and his cronies for the underprivileged, but one of pragmatism -- that the workers would have to be, in essence, bought off. That, at the time, was immense progress. There are times when one must take what one can get. The Health Insurance Bill of 1883, the Accident Insurance Bill of 1884, the Old Age and Disability Insurance Bill of 1889 -- they don't appear to have been that much by today's standards, but they were something. Ron Paul would repeal every goddamned one of them. Bush would cut the appropriations and have them all administered by skeleton crews. Grover Norquist would wait on the other side of the door for the bathtub drowning event.

We are living in a grim time politically. Noam Chomsky has characterized the two major U.S. political parties as the right wing of the Business Party and the left wing of the Business Party. Gore Vidal has characterized pretty much the same thing. Pardon me for quoting CNN xenophobe Lou Dobbs, but I thought he described the aforementioned well: The Republican Party is owned, lock, stock and barrel, by Corporate America; among the Democrats, the corpos are the majority stockholders.

In 2008, the bottom line is, that's what we're left with. At least in a situation where you're up against a shareholder majority, you can raise some hell. Fine, let's do it. The most important thing now is to win something. The name of the game is gains. We've had seven years of Bush, and that has been because our adversaries were willing to do what was necessary to impose their will on the nation.

It's not going to be pretty. But it's our turn now. Storm the Bastille, even if the result isn't ideal. Democrats, support the goddamned nominee.

Crossposted at Manifesto Joe.