If you’re wondering why the Democratic Party has been so quietly
– where is Howard Dean? – I think it can be explained by the old
political adage: When your opponent is self-destructing, get out of
the way.
If you’re wondering why the Democratic Party has been so quietly recently – where is Howard Dean? – I think it can be explained by the old political adage: When your opponent is self-destructing, get out of the way.

Don’t do anything to take the focus off that process. If your opponent is doing your work for you, let him.

Recently we’ve witnessed an internal Republican meltdown over the Miers nomination, hurricane relief, Iraq and a host of other lingering problems, such as Social Security. The ongoing lack of political direction among Democrats dovetails nicely with the formation of a Republican circular firing squad. For the Dems, laying low ends up looking like a strategy, as if they’ve been practicing having nothing to say in anticipation of this moment.

The worst thing they could do right now is to give the Republicans something to rally against. New ideas would be a bad idea.

After falling into such a deep funk following the last election, Democrats feel vindicated watching the Republicans implode. Ever since Karl Rove politicized the war on terror, using it to enforce party unity and then riding it to a second term, Democrats have been unable on their own to exploit the inherent fissures in the Republican slumber party of odd bedfellows, including religious conservatives, Main Street deficit hawks, corporate barons, libertarian ideologues, neo-con nation-builders and supply-side tax hackers.

Now, thanks to a string of political and natural disasters, Rove’s control is crumbling – not coincidentally as Rove himself sinks deeper into the morass of the CIA leak case.

But there is something deeper at work here. If you think of a political party as an organism, then the Republicans’ problems can be viewed in the light of a kind of political natural selection, where the ability to adapt to change is key.

Years of bullying by Rove and Tom DeLay made the party only appear strong. It made it possible to push through a one-sided agenda, but it also hardened the party to outside influence. That’s not how long-term governing works.

Democratic control of the House of Representatives for 40 years, until 1994, was not accomplished through ruthless discipline. This was the party of Will Rogers, after all, who famously said: “I’m not a member of an organized political party. I’m a Democrat.” A succession of Democratic Speakers of the House knew that the only way to get legislation passed by northern liberals and southern conservatives was by a series of constantly re-forming coalitions. They adapted, evolved.

How can Republicans practice evolution when half of them aren’t preaching it?

When the Democrats fell out of power, the loss of the South was only one reason. The broader explanation is that they’d lost their touch, their ability to compromise. When Hillary Clinton’s 1993-94 health care task force froze Republicans out of the process, believing mistakenly that Democrats could do it by themselves, the party paid a high political price for its hubris.

When failure and conflict exposed Bush’s weaknesses, the inevitable infighting within his fractious coalition erupted. Suddenly, the Republicans are trying to govern alone and divided.

Would enough of the pieces of the Republican coalition hang together if ideological purity were traded in for responsible governing – which, in the long term, is what voters want? Can they achieve Rove’s goal of a long-term conservative majority by governing from the middle?

I doubt it. Rove’s scorched-earth tactics have created an ideological blood lust within the party that makes bipartisanship impossible. The read-my-lips party does not, for example, have the courage to defy the supply-siders by letting the tax cuts expire in order to bring the budget closer to balance, even if it knew the public would support it.

And that’s the irony: a Republican Party that thinks of itself as the party of new ideas is now caught up in an internal battle over some old fashioned ones, such as fiscal responsibility. At the same time, it is boxed in by the very unpopular, and even older, ideas of the religious right, whose opposition to abortion is the party’s Achilles’ heel.

Years of self-serving Republican rhetoric about the Democratic Party’s alleged lack of new ideas has been a red herring. Good ideas, old or new, are what matter. The party that harnesses them could lead from both sides of the aisle for the next 40 years.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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