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Saturday, February 02, 2019

The Democratic Party eats its own

Late in 2017, not long after the beginning of the #MeToo movement, a conservative news anchor told a story about Senator Al Franken and a tour she had taken with him years earlier to Afghanistan.  They were performing a skit together that included a kiss for the troops, and he asked her rehearse.  He importuned her rehearse the kiss, and when she agreed, she said, he gave her more of a kiss than she had bargained for.  That, in the existing climate, was news.  In the next few days, a picture surfaced that Franken had posed for showing him feigning to touch (but not touching) the woman's breasts while she slept on the plane.  Then two women, I  believe, announced separately that Franken had touched them on the posterior during campaign photo ops.  Leading Democrats immediately called for Franken's resignation.  Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, in particular, tweeted that Franken, whom she valued as a colleague, had to go, so that she and others would not have to explain the difference between an actual rape or sexual assault on the one hand, and an unwanted French kiss or touch on the other, to her young children--a novel idea to those of us who believe that politics is for adults.  Franken resigned and the Democratic Party lost an effective spokesman.

Now we are replaying a different version of this drama in Virginia, in the case of Governor Ralph Northam.  Northam grew up on an Eastern Shore farm in the 1960s and graduated from VMI before going to a local medical school.  He served as a doctor in the Army and became  a pediatric neurologist.  (In case you are wondering I am relying on his Wikipedia entry.)  He entered politics in a state Senate election in 2007 and defeated a Republican incumbent.  In 2008, the Republican Party entreated him to switch parties, which would have given them control of the state senate, but he refused to do so.  In 2013, Northam, a white Democrat from a conservative area, defeated Aneesh Chopra, a Northern Virginia Democrat and federal official, in the Democratic Primary for Lieutenant Governor handily, and won election along with Governor Tim Kaine.  Virginia law bars governors from running for re-election, and Northam emerged as a candidate to succeed him. In 2017, in one of the first state elections after Donald Trump's victory, Northam once again defeated a more liberal Democrat, Tom Perriello, in the primary.  Then he won a comfortable victory over a former Republican operative, Ed Gillespie, in the general election. The campaign, like most campaigns today, was a dirty one, featuring inflammatory ads on both sides, including a Democratic ad in which a pick-up truck with a Gillespie bumper sticker and a Confederate flag chases minority children in a scene that turns out to be a nightmare.  Northam's running mate for Lieutenant Governor, Justin Fairfax, is black, and a union that supported Northam but not Fairfax, whom the union claimed had opposed a pipeline they favor, at one point got the Northam campaign to print some leaflets that left Fairfax out.  The officers of the Virginia lol appear to be Hispanic.  Northam's comfortable victory in purple Virginia reassured Democrats that the Trump campaign was not the wave of the future.

Northam has taken mainstream Democratic positions as Governor.  He reached a compromise with the Republican-controlled legislator that raised the threshold for thieves to be charged with a felony from $200 to $500.  He has called for a $15 minimum wage (twice the current Virginia level), a free path to community college, and an end to the grocery tax for poor people.  He opposes offshore drilling and fracking, and signed an expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Car Act.  He favors a ban on assault weapons, and he is now embroiled in a controversy over a bill that would allow women to have a late-term abortion with the approval of one doctor, instead of the current three.  He is currently shepherding through the legislature a school funding bill that will restore desperately needed money that has been lacking since the Great Recession 10 years ago. 

This week, some one checked Northam's medical school yearbook page and found a photo of two students, one dressed as a Klansman and one in blackface. Northam has acknowledged that one of them is him.  He has apologized for this picture, which was taken about 35 years ago.  A chorus of leading Democrats has demanded his immediate resignation. It's time to put that demand in historical perspective.

This whole controversy, to me, illustrates once again the extent to which postmodern thinking has become mainstream among Democrats and the media.  Postmodernists believe that the only human reality is language, which includes all forms of representation, including photographs, names of buildings, and much more.  Language is the arena in which the struggle between dominant groups (straight white males, above all) and others is played out.  A racist image, which decades ago both white liberals and black activists might have dismissed as beneath notice or beneath contempt, is a weapon in an ongoing struggle to define us all.  Anyone who helped create one has committed a mortal sin, and their career must be terminated in a dramatic public ceremony.  That's what happened to Al Franken more than a year ago, and it threatens to happen to Northam now.  It is not an accident, I think, that none of the first five Democratic presidential candidates to call for Northam's resignation--Julian Castro, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris--is a white male.  They are buying into the idea that any insult to oppressed peoples needs to be treated as a mortal blow, and punished accordingly--even if it is 35 years old and was delivered against no one in particular, and even if the accused has a good record on race and diversity issues as a public official.  They are also buying into the idea that one unfortunate photo or statement is more important than anything a person might have actually done in office.  To have contributed to one racist image, decades ago, disqualifies one from public office.

I don't think it is going too far to say, in fact, that for many Democratic activists nowadays, the application of this ideology is the principal goal of politics.  That is why the election of more nonwhitemales has become an end in itself, and why the possible nomination of another one (such as Sherrod Brown of Ohio, one of my favorite candidates at the moment, along with Warren), will be seen as a threat. I however do not share that view.  The historic mission of the Democratic Party at this moment, for me, is to defeat Donald Trump and restore a minimum standard of competence and integrity to the White House and American government.  Turning our own and staging ritual purges will not help us achieve that goal.

The next election, like the last one, will be decided largely in purple states like Virginia, where Governor Northam twice defeated more liberal candidates in primaries.  A party that cannot tolerate a single 35-year old indiscretion on the part of a white male will not increase its chances in those states.  The Republican Party is playing by different rules.  When one of their candidates--Donald Trump or Bret Kavanaugh--is accused of recent of distant wrongdoing involving gender or race, they dismiss it and rally around.  I do not admire their values, but I do think their loyalty remains a necessary political weapon.  The Democratic Party may well have to choose between internal purity and electoral success.  I fear that today's Democrats will choose the former.

In 1937, given the opportunity to make his first appointment to the Supreme Court, Franklin Roosevelt chose Senator Hugo Black of Alabama--a New Dealer, and a liberal on everything but race.  Black's fellow Senators quickly and easily confirmed him, as FDR knew they would.  But immediately his confirmation, the story broke that Black, in the 1920s, had belonged to the KKK, then a tremendous political power in Alabama.  Calls erupted for his resignation, but he refused to quit, admitting his membership but repudiating the views of the Klan, and FDR stood by him.  Over the next 34 years, Black established himself as one of our greatest and most liberal justices, emerging as one of the most fervent defenders of free speech in the history of the court, and joining in Brown v. Board of Education, many other civil rights cases of that era, and the decisions that expanded the rights of criminal defendants.  He closed his career, appropriately, with this magnificent opinion in the case of the Pentagon Papers, declaring that in publishing the documents that led to the Vietnam War, the newspapers had "done what the Founders hoped and trusted they would do."

Black would never make it onto the Supreme Court today, and I don't think that makes this a better America.


Bozon said...

Great post, paragraph after paragraph.

Too many things to comment on here.

If one is looking for internal purity, then neither the Democratic Party, nor the global multicolor world, is a place to look for it.

I was reminded of this old remark: "I'm willing to lead but I'm not willing to preside over people who are cannibals." Gingrich

The Democratic Party is in ideological, cultural, linguistic, symbolic, civilizational, and mixed mulatto racial freefall.

Nothing can pull it out now.

Nothing, but nothing, could ever pull the US back to dominance, but something like populist crusading demagogic conservative globalist Christian Jewish right fascism. I don't that kind of thing will emerge here.

Rightist Nationalism socialism is also a dead letter now under globalization, regardless of Trump's protectionist efforts.

All the best

Ed Boyle said...

There was in recent years a similar trick in Ger7many. Aademic credentials of politicians turned out to be faked, mostly phds that were full of plagiaries. This led to resignations and I believe some avid seekers of such mistakes in further politicians. This seems legitimate.

If one is a minority and a racist then in this case it would make sense to take a fine tooth comb to all white male politicians'background for a whiff of non pc behaviour. Maybe 90% could be forced into resignation by shaming. Of course this could backfire as minority racism, jesse jackson's description of NYC as hymietown and probably endless other examples as minorities feel safe to say whatever they want whereas whites must be terribly careful similar to the freedom women enjoy against men. Reverse discrimination can't work for long. People get stubborn, angry when they sense injustice. Imagine Northam becoming a republican upon deciding that democrats are actually racists against whites, so why bother. You might get a wave of party switchers. Republican party would become quite progressive then with all the new recruits but minorities and women would have little say. This might be the end game. Like the nonsense in Europe with conservative antimuslim parties everywhere. The left tries to woo muslims but in the end they can start their own minority parties. In the USA of course there is no proportional representation so an afro american or latino party or women's party would be a no starter.

They say a revolution eats its own children. This revolution against white power has been running since the 60s. If it results in an extreme left wing democratic party, allowing moderate republicans to gain power or worse radical republicans, to roll back all govt progress since 1900 then it will fit the proverb. A revoluton that never ends is self consuming.

Savage27 said...

The criticism you make of the current Democratic Party concerning identity politics is longstanding, and I have argued in response to your past blogs that the result of the march toward greater inclusion of women and minorities in what is still a white, male dominated culture has been beneficial for our society. But now I agree with you that taken to ridiculous extreme, support for minorities and women exascerbates the political divide in a way not only disfavoring the Democratic Party, but also the country. The cases you cite of Senator Franken and the Virginia governor, two capable Democrats, are worthy examples. There is no limit. When will the revisionists begin to argue that President Lincoln’s decision to emancipate slaves was more a political and soft power act than a moral one?
It seems that the election of an incompetent, narcissistic, ignorant buffoon to the highest office has revisited among Democrats the canard that “In American, anyone can grow up to be President.” Hence the plethora of Democratic candidates for the office. All one has to do is eliminate the competition through lies, innuendo and revisionism to win the day. None of the candidates for president in the next election has a good chance to dethrone the current incumbent because they are carving out an extreme position that will resonate negatively with the majority of the electorate, still white.

Pmathews1939 said...

I never thought I'd agree with the National Review, but this time I do:


Gloucon X said...


This data point throws some cold water on your theory that Republicans always rally around their officials. There are other cases. You also forgot to mention that leading Republicans Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell called for scandal-plagued Roy Moore to quit his campaign for Alabama US Senator in 2017. Also, many Republican leaders told voters not to vote for David Duke in his race for governor in 1991. Btw, Northam is now saying he is not either person in that photo.

Bruce Wilder said...

There is a widening split in the Democratic Party, but it is not about racism -- the split is about economics. The social justice braying is a symptom of the acuteness of that split on economic policy, just as the obsession with Russia,Russia,Russia is a symptom of a similar split on foreign policy.

In both the case of the economic policy split and the foreign policy split, the key dynamic is the legitimacy of an elite establishment's leadership integrity. That establishment is quite willing to sacrifice effective politicians like Franken and possibly Northam to establish its own bona fides on a set of issues that are symbolically important to personal feelings of identity and grievance, but which carry no substantive implications or resource claims on the public purse.

The Democratic political establishment, made up in a large part by professional political operatives only some of whom seek elective office, has a good thing going in the massive flow of campaign funds that they spend, and spending draw income from, not to mention their career opportunities in the networks of lobbying and think tanks and business corporations eager to protect their political interests. The preferred electoral strategy of this establishment is to seek to convert suburban formerly Republican women of means or professional status into Democratic voters. Adding professionals to the Democratic electoral and campaign finance base does not require fighting for populist causes that might cost money or make Wall Street hostile to the Democratic Party.

Historically, the Democratic Party was defined in large part by its championing of populist causes and programs of economic assistance and improvement aimed at the many, not the few (to borrow Corbyn's phrase). The Democratic Party was once also the Party opposed to empire and in favor of de-colonizing the Philippines and later Panama, the promoter of "Good Neighbor" policies in Latin America.

The Democratic Party establishment is about eating its own, but it is wrong to think of that process as being about individual politicians. The Party is about sacrificing aspirations for peace to bipartisan confirmations of a policy of perpetual and pointless war and costly empire. The Party establishment is about betrayal, promising "Medicare for All" with every intention of torpedoing that policy to curry favor with insurance companies and for-profit service providers.

If you are not actually interested in pursing a promised policy program, then sacrificing effective politicians to show how much you care about symbolic issues is just a means to an end. Who needs a politician who is effective in the pursuit of policy anyway?

mbur1132 said...

Dear Mr. Kaiser:

Hi there! My name is Madison B. I'm a high school student in Florida who recently did a project on a handful of your articles. I was unable to find your email, so I thought a comment on your blog would suffice. I wanted to tell you I had a wonderful experience working with you articles, my favorite being "How the U.S. Departure From Afghanistan Could Echo Kissinger's Moves in Vietnam". Each article furthered my knowledge on both current and past events and offered insight on many topics, which has intrigued me to continue learning more on each subject. Thank you!

David Kaiser said...

Thank you very much, Madison. I hope you might try one of my books some time. My email is KaiserD2@gmail.com .