.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Doctor recommended for optimal cerebral hygiene 

Unity or Cowardice?

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Josh Marshall made a post to his blog last night that is very tempting to believe. He talks about the tone of the Democratic National Convention as being starkly different from the tone of the campaign amongst the candidates for the nomination. Much has been said in the media about how the rhetoric of the DNC has been surprisingly light in terms of attacks on the Bush Administration, and Josh offers his explanation in two points:

On the surface, the fiery rhetoric and animus of 2003 and early 2004 were directed at President Bush. And to some degree of course they were. But the punch of that rhetoric derived not so much from Democrats' antipathy for President Bush as from a pitched battle, almost a rebellion, within the Democratic party -- the grassroots of the Democratic party insisting that Washington Democrats were compromising with the president over particulars when he was leading the country in a direction that had to be opposed across the board. Fiery rhetoric against President Bush was fiery rhetoric against compromise and accommodation with him. In other words, it was to a very real degree aimed at other Democrats.

Anger is often, and rage is almost always, an emotion rooted in powerlessness. That was certainly the position of Democrats in early 2003 (on so many levels), though less so as the year went on. These Democrats don't feel powerless. The mood is one of cautious optimism that they can drive the president from office, that the wind is at their backs.

So, Josh thinks the change in tone is a sign of unity and optimism. That certainly is a glass-half-full way to interpret it. Yet, while I'd rather be optimistic, the polls showing Bush and Kerry in a dead heat, despite the glaring fact that the Bush Administration has dragged this country through the gutter, erode my ability to believe that the Democratic Party has what it takes to beat the Republicans. What Josh sees as a new found confidence, I see as fearful, tip-toe dancing around the swing voters.

The point that anger is "almost always" rooted in powerlessness, while likely true, rules out the potent combination of anger and confidence, righteous indignation, that occasionally surfaces during struggles for freedom and justice. As a model, I look to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. MLK spoke the plain truth and there was no way to hide the legitimate anger he felt about racism. He had utter confidence that he was right and deep faith that he would succeed.

I find it deeply ironic that the most successful movies in America are blockbuster action films with heroes who act out of righteous indignation. It is a classic American icon, yet somewhere along the line the Democratic Party decided that this formula doesn't work. Yes, the media jumped all over Howard Dean for his post-Iowa pep rally. The key, however, was how the Dean campaign, and the Democrats in general, reacted. Rather than defend the emotion that Dean was showing, which I contend was much more that of enthusiasm than anger, they apologized and toned it down.

This is classic pacification, and the worst part is that it is self-inflicted.