In an effort to live down its name, the Democratic Party descended into farce earlier this week when its leadership sought to re-insert a reference to ‘God’ into the platform and affirm its belief that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Whether or not you agree with either measure (and I don’t...pushing religion on members of a supposedly broad-minded party and endorsing colonialism aren’t things I have much time for) what followed was absurd, a blot on the party’s proceedings and a blow to its leadership’s legitimacy (see video).
On three occasions, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, DNC Chair, put the motion to a voice vote, and on three occasions very clearly failed to win the two-thirds necessary to make the alterations to the party’s platform. In fact, the ‘nays’ grew louder with each vote, in spite of Villaraigosa’s increasingly testy and school-master-ish tone, until by the final vote they sounded stronger than the ‘yeas’.
Events like this sum up the sorry state of the twenty-first century Democratic Party. It’s not just un-democratic, it seeks to embrace conflicting impulses: openness and exclusiveness; a defence of the little guy and an embrace of imperialism. As pointed out in an interesting piece in the New York Times, the party consists of competing and perhaps irreconcilable philosophies, and its platform—like President Obama’s policy decisions in the spheres of energy, international affairs, national security, and economic policy—is cobbled together on the basis of political expediency rather than any coherent strand of morality.
Its two faces were on display last night. Bill Clinton, triangulator par excellence, brought the obsession with messaging and polling to the heart of the party, reflecting a combination of cynicism and an increasingly wide-held belief (one shared by many political scientists) that leaders can’t really lead, but must arrange themselves and their beliefs around the opinions of a big enough crowd of voters to assemble a winning coalition.
Representing the party’s incredible shrinking spine was Elizabeth Warren, the woman who should have headed up theConsumer Financial Protection Bureau, and who will hopefully representMassachusetts in the Senate after November’s election. In a rebuke that should have been felt by the Democrats’ like Clinton and, to a lesser extent Obama, as much as the Republicans, Warren tore into Mitt Romney’s assertion that “corporations are people”.
“No, Governor Romney”, Warren declared in a display of conviction almost shocking for its rarity in the Democratic Party, “corporations are not people. People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they cry, they dance. They live, they love, and they die”.
Villaraigosa, Obama, the DNC leadership, and every Democratic commentator who has or will whitewash the party’s undemocratic approach to dissent this week should be ashamed of themselves. By abandoning their convictions, they’re abandoning people who would like to support them. In losing sight of their purpose and principles, they’re losing votes. That, at least, should make them think twice before insulting their members and the public.