A couple of years ago I attended a show by Greg Proops, a radical left-wing comedian. While I found much of his act to be annoying, he made a comment that was quite interesting. Greg was lamenting about the fact that Republicans will always beat Democrats, because Republicans are united in their causes while Democrats are so diverse that they can never agree on anything.
At first, I wrote off this comment as more complaining from a crybaby who was still smarting from the election controversy. However, the war with Iraq has brought to light just how fragmented the landscape is for the Democrats.
Living in the occupied territory of San Francisco, I witnessed first-hand the numerous anti-war zealots who filled the streets and the television screens. Although they represented a small minority view in the United States, they were very effective in portraying a much more popular movement with the liberal media who would rather have been marching next to them than covering their story.
While attending one of the anti-war rallies undercover, I also noted the endless Socialist/Communist/Leftist causes being promoted by the marchers that had nothing to do with war or Iraq. Worker's rights. Queer youth programs. Solar energy. Universal healthcare. The evils of capitalism. The list goes on and on.
While the supporters of these causes are a minority in this country, they are very passionate and aggressive. And taken as a group, they make up a fairly substantial portion of the population who will never vote for a Republican. The only problem is that the pseudo-Socialist Green Party is attracting more and more of these individuals due to the perception that the Democrats are too moderate for their taste.
Many political pundits have been arguing recently that the Democrats don't stand "for" anything, and that they only stand "against" whatever the Republicans represent. Given the fragmentation of their current target audience, it's easy to see why Democrats have such difficulty in creating a message that resonates with enough people to actually have any meaning.
Mainstream Democrats had no choice but to support the war against Iraq for the sake of their political future. Even the leftist Nancy Pelosi had to downplay her opposition to the war, since around 60% of the residents of the San Francisco area supported the war effort. In the end, all she could muster was some lame comment about how we could have taken down that Saddam statue for a lot less than $90 billion. I still haven't heard her reveal what this brilliant plan might be though.
Several of my more radical friends voiced their disgust with the Democrats for not taking a stronger stand against the war. But this is where the Democrats find themselves today. Coming out united against the war would likely have been political suicide for all but the few politicians who hail from truly leftist parts of the country. But by not protesting the war, they might alienate a large minority of angry and vocal constituents.
So what did most them do? They hedged their bets by supporting our "troops" and nitpicking about the way in which the war was being fought. They also focused on the perceived failures of foreign policy that would have shown a more united world front in dealing with Iraq. In the end, it created a convoluted and mixed message that really didn't mean anything.
Now that the war in Iraq is over, the Democrats are really on the ropes and grasping at straws. The recent whining about Bush's aircraft carrier landing was so ridiculous that the liberal pundits weren't even willing to run with it. And now some Democrats are even criticizing Bush's war on terrorism. Personally, I'm shocked that no other terrorist attacks have occurred in the United States since 9/11. Whatever has been done to prevent future attacks has obviously had a strong positive impact thus far. To attack Bush's record on the war against terrorism is like criticizing Tiger Woods for his lack of success on the golf course.
All of this bodes very well for the Republicans today. Democrats feel continued pressure to move further to the left thanks to the hippie roots being awakened from the Iraq conflict. Meanwhile, Republicans can strengthen their core constituency by focusing on patriotism and shining a spotlight on the discord within the Democratic Party.
Democrats have some very difficult decisions to make about the future of their party. The war on Iraq and terrorism has polarized the nation, and a large portion of the Democrats' reliable constituency is now firmly opposed to the actions taken by the Bush administration. Unfortunately for the Democrats, that constituency is also a decided minority compared to those on the other side of the polarized situation.
By pandering too much to this growing vocal minority of anti-war Socialists, the Democrats risk alienating their core following. By ignoring this minority, they risk strengthening other groups like the Green Party and losing key voters.
Adding to this dilemma is the fact that Martin Sheen seems to be a stronger leader for the Democrats than any of their current elected members. The Clintons appear to remain the most powerful figures within the Party. But as Susan Estrich pointed out in a recent column, the egomaniacal Clintons refuse to leave the stage in order for other Democrats to emerge as leaders within the party (oddly, not a single newspaper that carried the article in print published the article on their website).
So what's a Democrat to do? What should be their strategy? I guess they either need to become Republicans or move to France. And if they move to France, maybe they can take all of the protestors with them.