I’ve been arguing for decades that one of the primary problems with Democrats is that they continuously allow Republicans to define the terms of debate on too many issues. When you look at how we discuss issues related to the economy, national security, the drug war, capitalism, religion, you name it, Democrats take their cues from Republicans, defining their views in relationship to conservative ideology, rather than the broader aspects of the argument in relationship to what’s actually right for America.
I came across a perfect example of this on the website of Jim Graves, a democrat who is challenging Michelle Bachmann for Minnesota’s sixth district Congressional seat.
In the section, “Why I am running to represent the 6th District,” Graves begins with the obligatory pap about being “a successful businessman with the know-how to create jobs.” Okay. Jobs and the economy are important issues. Then we work our way down to the second paragraph on why Graves wants to replace Bachmann in Congress. He wants Bachmann’s job because she is part of the “inflexible extreme,” a bland euphemism for lunatic fringe, and that her comments have made her “a national media phenomena,” again, a weak, wishy-washy way of saying she’s made Minnesota a laughing stock in political circles.
As we read on, we go from flaccid political euphemisms into the fantasy world of bipartisanship. Graves writes, “What the people of the District need in Washington is someone who can get along with members of both parties so that the District is truly represented.” Right. I can only assume that Graves has been living in a cave on the banks of the St. Croix River for the past four years without access to electronic devices of any kind. As President Obama has learned through painful experience, there is no such thing as bipartisanship in Washington, D.C. in 2012. Republicans won’t have it. They’d rather have their faces eaten off by bath-salt crazed zombies than spend five minutes at a table negotiating with Democrats. Graves goes on to say, “It is time we come together and mount a unified response to our economic crisis.” There are only two ways to analyze this sentence. 1) Graves is spewing hackneyed campaign jargon because that’s what he thinks his constituents want to hear, or 2) he is going to vote with Republicans. Hell will freeze over, thaw out, and freeze over again before there is a “unified response to our economic crisis.”
And now we are into the fourth paragraph, and here is were the thirty years of hard work on the part of Republican message-crafters Lee Atwater, Frank Luntz, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Grover Norquist, Roger Ailes, Karl Rove and others, really starts paying off. Let’s look at some of the lowlights:
“Government has a role to play in society, but it should be limited to what citizens cannot do for themselves.” This sentence acknowledges and agrees with a fundamental cornerstone of conservative ideology: The only good government is a small, unobtrusive government. Never mind Roosevelt’s New Deal, Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil War, women’s suffrage, environmental protections, etc. Never mind the great government-sponsored scientific and technological breakthroughs of the fifties and sixties. Never mind that almost every citizen in this country benefits in one way or another from government subsidies. As Reagan said, “Government isn’t the solution. It’s the problem,” and that’s good enough for Republicans and weak, opportunistic Democrats.
“I believe that the free market makes better decisions than politicians.” Here is another line that could be lifted directly from Karl Rove’s Playbook. First and foremost, free markets are not, nor have they ever been, truly free. Secondly, the implication here is that government needs to stand out of the way and let the markets do their thing. Well, we’ve already seen how well that works. Remember 2008? Rules and regulations on business practices are necessary and can often mark the line between life and death, when you consider the importance of work place safety and food inspections. The only constraint the free market has is the bottom line. It’s government that bears the responsibility of looking after the health and safety of the American people, and Republicans don’t even like that role.
“I also believe government must balance its budget and my solution is to end the blame game and start working together.” Again with the bipartisanship. But the eye-roll inducing line here is “government must balance its budget.” First of all, in 1999, George Bush inherited a balanced budget and started charging on the U.S. credit card immediately, running up a deficit of a half-trillion dollars by the time he left office in 2009. This is one of the Republican’s favorite “Do as I say not as I do” tropes. For years, Republicans have argued that we should run the country like a successful business. Unfortunately, that is comparing apples to oranges. The government is not in the business of running a profit. It is in the business of running a country, where the needs of the people should trump the bottom line. A balanced budget is a good thing, but it is not paramount over the well being of this country’s citizens. Just look at what is happening to Europe as it sinks deeper into economic stagnation as its leaders doggedly continue pushing fiscal austerity in the name of balanced budgets.
There’s more in Graves’ writing to prove my point. The reality is crystal clear. Democrats have to grow a pair. They have to start standing up and stating what they do believe in as Democrats. They have to reestablish the parameters of the debate and put Republicans back on the defensive where they belong. Poll after national poll indicates that the American people are far more tolerant and progressive than we are lead to believe by the media. It just takes some courage to tap into that vein of voters. The process should begin with the new crop of Democrats running for office, but, if Jim Graves is an example, we may have to wait until next season.