Why Am I A Democrat?

Roger Simon has a pretty bloody-minded (in the British sense) reply to my earlier question “Why Are You a Democrat?” His reply:

I don’t know. And more amazingly, I don’t care. In fact, I haven’t even thought about it much at all since 9/11. Party politics, as I have experienced them all my life, just don’t seem relevant to me now.

He goes on:

I admit it’s ironic when what we have before us is what appears to be the beginning of an epic struggle between religious fundamentalism and secular democracy and, as a militant democrat (small d), I can’t begin to concentrate on the internal affairs of my own political party. But I think there’s a reason for that: this same conflagration … this giant philosophical debate that engulfs our planet … is creating new alliances none of us had anticipated.

Now, I’ll agree to that…after all, while I think that before 9/11 I’d have enjoyed a drink and a chat with Joe, Trent, Celeste and the crew here, I doubt that I would have chosen to stand (or better, sit) and write with them.

But we’re together because we see the conflict in which we are now engaged, and have been for some years – without realizing it – as the central event of our era.

But while Roger (and Trent, and to an extent Joe) see it primarily as “an epic struggle between religious fundamentalism and secular democracy,” I see it in a somewhat more complicated way. So bear with me while I try and explain.
I’ll admit that the Islamist soldiers that we face – and let’s not call them anything but that – are the broadest part of the spearpoint. But the reality is that even the most militant forms of Islam don’t present a credible military threat to the West. If we have to fight them, we can and we will, and we will win.

The Islamist enemy – and since they call themselves my enemy, I will do them the courtesy of recognizing them as one – has roots both specific to the cultural and material history of the Muslim world, and generally applicable to almost every culture, including our own.

Those roots are in large part philosophical; they go to the question of how people have come to believe and understand the world around them.

I’ve talked about them at length, and have been thinking and reading primarily about these issues for a year now (Good Grief!! It’s been over a year!! It’s my blogoversary, and I want some damn cake…). Nothing has come close to changing my mind. This is not a question of the Muslim world vs. the West, although the current phase of the conflict involves combatants from the Muslim world.

This is a war of philosophies; of an alienated, frustrated, band of would-be warriors who are frustrated by what modernity means to them and mean to respond by pulling down the pillars of the temple.

They are in Europe, and here in the U.S.

Celeste wrote about one group, environmental terrorists slowly escalating their level of violence; she could just as easily have written about the right-wing anti-abortion forces who have already murdered in the name of their cause. Tim McVeigh may or may not have been connected to Islamist terrorists as some claim; the fact remains that this child of “fly-over country” either led or participated in the second-largest terrorist action ever in the U.S.

Richard Reid became a terrorist in the U. K., not in the West Bank. Ted Kaczynski became one in Montana.

And while jailing or killing active terrorists is and must be the immediate goal, the ultimate goal must be to stop growing them before the disease – “mad human disease” – infects our own communities.

And to do that we need something that each party has to offer. We need tradition and license, regulations and freedom, a safety net and responsibility. We need a dialog – not always a friendly, neighborly chat, but a sometimes muscular disagreement with raised voices – on any number of issues domestic and foreign.

We’re trapped between venal corporations, bloated government bureaucracies, corrupt politicians, and radicals who, frustrated with their own lives, are perfectly willing to take yours.

We have problems local and global far beyond our resources to easily solve them.

So we’re going to muddle, as humans always have.

So why am I a Democrat? Because I don’t believe the GOP can solve these problems by itself.

14 thoughts on “Why Am I A Democrat?”

  1. Fascinating. Would you consider yourself a Liberal Hawk? I assume that would be the case from your name, but want to be sure. I have always been stupified by the fact that those of the liberal(small L) tradition in contemporary society don’t seem to understand the role violence played in creating and protecting our liberal freedoms(liberties).

  2. People are human. They err. That is not a platform. That’s a negative reason for being something or adhereing to some party. The question you raised was Why am I a Democrat, not, Why am I not a Republican.

    This reflects much of the poverty of liberal Democrat thinking.

  3. Actually, I agree with every word A.L. just wrote.

    Yes, there is “…an epic struggle between religious fundamentalism and secular democracy” going on, at least in the near to mid term. On a strategic level, that’s the contest afoot. It’s worth our attention. On a civilizational level, however, A.L. has described the contest properly:

    “..a war of philosophies; of an alienated, frustrated, band of would-be warriors who are frustrated by what modernity means to them and mean to respond by pulling down the pillars of the temple. They are in Europe, and here in the U.S.”

    Indeed, and that temple is being pulled down in ways both large and small. 9/11 simply threw that process, which lies beyond the present War on Terror, into sharper relief. As the war advances, it has clarified those dividing lines. It has asked people to claim sides, and having done so they may find themselves with strange allies. I suspect that if you had told Christopher Hitchens or The Village Voice’s Nat Hentoff 5 years ago that some of their most reliable allies would be right-wing conservatives, they would have told you to go back on your meds. You’d have received the same reaction had you told many right-wing Conservatives at the time that one day their hero would be “Third Way” Europhile socialist Tony Blair.

    Diversity has traditionally been one of the West’s great strengths, and here we find it all unlooked-for. We will need it. As we will need our other great strength: the faith of a civilization in itself and its ideals, even as affairs within that civilization are open to discussion and fierce debate. That, too, is required for victory – and here, too, those who brand themselves as “conservative” cannot achieve it alone.

    And so we go on, hoping and working for a future in which many, many others will have the opportunity to share in our arguments, and invent some of their own… and maybe remind us, as so many newcomers to our way of life do, just what that way is worth.

  4. FH –

    Yes, I certainly am a Liberal Hawk. I’ve actually written on *that*, as well as being an ‘*armed liberal*‘ before; easier to click through than to restate.

    Richard –

    This reflects much of the poverty of liberal Democrat thinking.” And that perfectly epitomized the intellectual laziness (I’ve posted about a dozen specific policy documents on this site, not to mention what I’ve put up at Armed Liberal) and narrowmindedness (you’re not looking for a discussion, you’re hoping to score points with the Big Debate Judge In The Sky – and guess what – she’s dead) that keeps the doctrinaire Right from truly dominating American politics at a time when they should own it.


  5. I believe that the Democrats are about to self-destruct in a very thorough way, much as the extreme right did in the late-1980s to mid-1990s.

    I believe that politicians like George Bush and Zell Miller and John McCain and Joe Lieberman will pull towards each other, and will pull in certain Libertarian elements, together creating an agenda of muscular self-defense abroad, broad individual rights at home, with a true safety net for those who cannot help themselves, respect for individuals no matter the groups they belong to, and reasonable levels of taxation and regulation.

    I believe that the remaining far-right elements of the Republican Party and the remaining far-left elements of the Democratic Party, along with the Greens and such extremist groups as the ELF and KKK will end up together promoting an agenda of isolationism and militant self-loathing, combined with large-scale government interference in both personal and public affairs and a deep commitment to victimhood and victimization.

    I believe that the former group will end up being called Republicans and the latter group will end up being called Democrats, because the names haven’t changed in a long time (and aren’t likely to now) and that fit is closest to what’s happening right now.

    I believe that the interesting part of this transformation will be where each current party splits (my guess: 75-80% of current Republicans and 35-40% of current Democrats go into the new Republican coalition, with the rest of each party ending up in the new Democratic coalition).

    I believe that this has already begun. I believe that it will accelerate. I believe that George Bush will win a second term. I believe that some time during that second term, likely in its third year, there will be another major terrorist attack within the Continental United States. I believe that the 2008 election will be the catalyst for the realignment I describe above.

    I believe that people will be asking me in 2009 how I could have gotten all of these predictions so terribly wrong. :-)

  6. They might. Never underestimate the inertia and staying power of institutions. Especially those with long pedigrees and high levels of emotional attachment.

  7. I think you’re right, Jeff, but in reverse. No outside initiated terrorist attack (homegrown only) and the Democrates will be the isolationists — the KKK and southern right wings will never be part of “Lincoln’s party”.

  8. So, Jeff, I’m counting four parties??

    I think you’re underestimating the resilience of the parties and the importance of the electoral mechanics (both in the human and systems sense) controlled by the parties. Perot found that out; Ventura is an interesting counterexample, but Minnesota politics are cheap and simple because of the population/media distribution in the state.


  9. I don’t think that our system would comfortably support more than two large parties, because of its adversarial nature. I see two parties, called the Democrats and the Republicans, with somewhat different make-ups and positions than they now have. There is precedent, as recently as the 1960s.

  10. Over the last decade I’ve come to accept Strauss and Howe’s “Generations” as the template for our history: Eighty year cycles. What is going on now has occurred before (at least four times in the past 300 years). The Democratic Party is in decline because it refused to take the crisis we are now in seriously. They worried about union job security during the Homeland Security debate and that cost them the Senate. In the last crisis (1929-1945) the Republican party refused to take the depression and the rise of fascism seriously and it was marginalized for the next 50 years. It occasionally won the presidency (1952 and 1968) but never set the national agenda and only picked up Democratic crumbs. The Democratic party is on that same road now because it has developed such a tin ear. But remember, Strauss and Howe have said our history moves in 80 year cycles and at some point in the 2040’s a new generation of hippies will emerge. When those members of the “greatest generation” were storming Omaha Beach they could never imagine the “Summer of Love” would happen in 1967.

  11. Everyone seems to be ignoring the tribal dynamics coming into play now that the “New Left” boomer’s program of abolishing the U.S. as it had evolved to 1965 is bearing fruit in the form of multiculturalism and mass migration(NOT immigration,we’ve passed that point long ago).
    As to the staying power of institutions,well,people are beginning to abandon public education in increasing numbers,prompting a predictable authoritarian reponse.
    White southern voters have the most reason of any tribe today to boycott elections,Democrats openly despise them and REpublicans betray them.But of course the Repubs can’t win without them,so the WSJ’s call to purge them is a stupid gesture to win yuppie approval,nothing more.I think there may be some potetntial for a regional party at least at state level to have some impact

    The single biggest issue arising today is the insistance of neo-cons,leftists and libertarians to claim the U.S is merely an abstract concept rather than a concrete reality of a distinct population defined by a unique history and a distinct culture.
    People rarely hold deep emotional attachments to vaugue concepts,”marriage” is a concept but a marriage is something real,not abstract.

  12. I hold out the faintest hope that the two-party system could transform into Republicans vs. Libertarians over, say, the next 20 years. By Libertarians I mean possibly but not necessarily what is now the Libertarian Party, which has so far proven ineffectual and sort of kooky. It’s unlikely that mainstream politics could become dominated by two right-wing parties, but not impossible: some section of the Democrats’ current broad base of voters (by this I mean not the party loyalists) have be considered “protest” voters, turned off of the Republican Party mostly on civil-liberties issues like abortion, or gay rights, or some Republicans’ historical associations with racism, or concerns about military spending (not saying the Democrats differ substantially on any of these but abortion, but at least that’s the perception). If a viable 3rd option came into play that neutralized these issues, and voters could be convinced they weren’t throwing their votes away, a large portion of these people I think could be brought over to the libertarian side. As for the true liberals and statists, the more reasonable of them might be brought over into the “moderate”, Olympia Snowe/Arlen Specter wing of the Republican party, the rest would just have to make do with being ignored in mainstream politics… not so different from the current situation, really.

  13. This Republican is about to add Armed Liberal to his list of favorite liberal blogs, along with the War Liberal and Michael Totten.

    As a Republican and someone who is still fairly conservative (I have a statue of Attila the Hun on my desk), I think people of all sides of the specturm, who are reasonable (that excludes the John Birch Society, Pax Christi, and Michael Moore) shoudl come together at the right times and while dsiagreeing on many issues (perfectly reasonable in a free society), we will coem together for a common cause. If Pat Schroeder teamed up with the Christian Coalition and Pat Buchanan joined the anti-war crowd or the Ralph Nader anti-globalization brigade, then Republicans and Democrats can team up, especially when this is about our nation’s safety.

    I don’t see the sensible Democrats and sensible Republcians merging. This would actually be bad and make us like the PRI in Mexico or the (US) Democrats or (Confederate) Whigs in Harry Turtledove’s Great War series (I recommend anyone with an interest in alternate history read it).

    As for the GOP’s rise today, it is cyclical, mainly. From 1930-1994, the Democratic party had controlled the Congress for taht whole time save four years, so it would seem normal cyclically for the Republicans to have power in the US House for some time. The pendulum will swing time and again, but that’s politics.

    I just hope the aftermath of all that is going on reverse the polarization in America that started with Kennedy’s death and Vietnam. I regret my partisan views from my teens.

  14. It is unfortunate that modern American politics is such a joke. Let’s review. During the last presidential election, the American people were left with two inept choices. Two men who are hardly capable to run a medium-sized cooperation much less the nation. In the 90’s we had more of the same with Newt and the band of happy GOP pirates trying to hijack Clinton who, despite some good ideas, allowed his appetites and ego get the best of his tenure. Bush 41 – big joke. Reagan – worse. The only thing worse than our political situation, is the world of high-finance and corporate fleecing of the middle-class.

    Sure, Marx was a terrible economist, but his political and social commentaries were dead-on. The difference being, we have multiple opiates (entertainment, internet porn, video games, and 0% financing, and religion) to keep the voter turnout low enough that politicians need only have enough money raised and side-deals made to ensure at least a good chance at victory.

    I can only claim to be a Democrat because of the two political parties, it is the one that sickens me the least, and its members tend to have a little more intellectual honesty. Plus, Republicans tend to be extremely short sighted and selfish when it comes to economic and social issues.

    The politicians I admire are either in the John McCain, Joe LIeberman, Moyinihan, Kerry, Zell MIller, Olympia Snow mold…you see, I can’t really even think of more than one or two Republicans I respect and trust. Anyway. That’s my rant.

    Tom Hanks 2008!


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