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Sam Smith: Is That All There Is?

Is That All There Is?

By Sam Smith Editor

IF things keep going the way they are, the Democrats will nominate for president a man who was wrong on the Iraq war, wrong on the Bush tax cuts, wrong on the Bush education disaster, and wrong on the Patriot Act. And despite intimations of immutability by the media, all this has happened many, if not most, Democrats being unaware of the aforementioned.

In short, the Democrats are preparing to nominate someone who agreed with George Bush on many of the major issues of the day and has only lately discovered that this may not have been such a good idea and so is making gentle adjustments in both his opinions and autobiography. Not that the latter couldn't use some help, since the most interesting elements of it, according to the candidate's own repeated testimony, occurred more than three decades ago.

It may be the best that the Democrats can do, but they should realize that what they have is not so much an opponent of George Bush as a replacement should the president do himself in.

This, fortunately, looks increasingly likely. Bush is basically a bully and a con man, occupations that require a regular supply of victims and marks. The number of people either scared of or fooled by Bush has peaked and the only question is how many will have figured it all out by election day.

This, however, should not be confused with a political campaign, which requires some self-knowledge beyond that of a victim, some motive other than revenge, some policies other than repeal, and some dreams beyond a Washington free of Bush barbarians.

Such goals remain beyond the Democratic Party which has been incompetently and abusively run for the past decade, reflected in the huge loss of electoral positions at national and state levels. The present chair of the Democratic National Committee believes that the sole purpose of his organization is to put a Democrat in the White House, which leaves in the cold thousands of Democratic officeholders and seekers around the land. The DNC has become the permanent capital office of the next Democratic presidential candidate, even to having excess square footage to house such a campaign, but there is no movement, no organization, no ideas, and no true effort to extend the Democratic base into an increasingly insecure homeland. Much as the labor unions have been co-opted and betrayed by a smug, sleazy, and soporific Washington leadership, so the Democratic Party has been turned into the plaything of an elite, narcissistic coterie fixated on 1700 Pennsylvania Avenue.

A symbol of this distortion has been the front-loading of primaries, designed to concentrate control of the party in its pinnacles of purse and power. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out like that because a obstreperous governor from Vermont, and an establishment Yalie who should have known better, used the new system to his own advantage until he was bashed and ridiculed back into his place.

Democratic primaries used to involve a lengthy courtship during which the voters could decide whether they really did like the choices being foisted upon them. In the end, there was always time and California on your side. Bad stories had occasion to surface, bum candidates could peak and fade, and dark horses could, if necessary, be mounted at the last moment. Now no one even mentions California, despite it having more population than the aggregate of a score of smaller states.

Another factor has entered the picture. While American politics has always centered on the 5-10% of voters who were indecisive or indifferent, the power of this strange bloc - a kind of aristocracy of the apathetic - has gained new importance as reality in politics is increasingly replaced by media-generated myth.

This election has much more in common with 'American Idol' than it does with its electoral predecessors, a point dramatically illustrated by the number of voters who think it's their responsibility to find an electable candidate rather than one with whom they actually agree. This is a deadly trap, ultimately fatal to what remains of democracy, because it reduces the citizen to the status of a sitcom producer rather than an active political participant. If we are all trying to guess what each other thinks, we will all drown in our suppositions about each other.

How important this is can be shown by the exist polls from New Hampshire and Iowa. In each case, eliminating all voters who made up their minds in the last week - the least involved, the least thoughtful, and the least committed to anything - produces strikingly different results.

For example, counting just the people who knew what they thought at least a week before the caucuses causes Kerry to lose four points, Dean to gain eight points, and Edwards to lose 12 points. Kerry would have won, but only by eight instead of 20 points, and Dean would have beaten Edwards.

Similarly in New Hampshire, Kerry would have gotten the same total, but Dean would have gotten 7 more points to close the gap between the two to only six.

Obviously, in such instances, the subsequent media commentary would have been quite different than it was.

The point is not to bar the apathetic from the polls, but to illustrate the degree to which our politics has become a measure of temporary blood pressure and not of deep belief. And, with few exceptions, the systolic variations are directly instigated by a media far more interested in its own goals than in the welfare of the nation. We vote like a patient gulping down four Dunkin' Donuts before having their blood sugar measured.

This hyped-up, hurried-up primary system seems to have produced a candidate that few Democrats know, pursuing a politics that even he can't define, and with rapidly diminishing opportunity to do anything about it. And it's not even February yet.



JAN 28, 2004
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