David Brooks has an interesting dissection of the Democratic Party’s over-the-top attitude towards Republicans. Brooks writes:
When conservatives look at the newspapers, they see liberal columnists who pick out every tiny piece of evidence or pseudo-evidence of Republican vileness, and then dwell on it and obsess over it until they have lost all perspective and succumbed to fevers of incoherent rage. They see Democratic primary voters who are so filled with hatred at George Bush and John Ashcroft and Dick Cheney that they are pulling their party far from the mainstream of American life. They see candidates who, instead of trying to quell the self-destructive fury, are playing to it. "I am furious at [Bush] and I am furious at the Republicans," says Dick Gephardt, trying to sound like John Kerry who is trying to sound like Howard Dean.
In fact, just today Howard Dean states that "Our nation is in crisis" because of the President. Reading Atrios would be enough to make one think that we’re one heartbeat away from 1984. One does wonder where the Democrat’s perspective has gone to, and Brooks has a theory.
In short, when many liberals look at national affairs, they see a world in which their leaders are nice, pure-souled, but defenseless, and they see Republicans who are organized, devious, and relentless. "It’s probably a weakness that we’re not real haters. We don’t have a sense that it’s a holy crusade," Democratic strategist Bob Shrum told Adam Clymer of the New York Times. "They play hardball, we play softball," Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile added. Once again, Republicans think this picture of reality is delusional. The Democrats are the party that for 40 years has labeled its opponents racists, fascists, religious nuts, and monsters who wanted to starve grannies and orphans. Republicans saw what Democrats did to Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas, and dozens of others. Yet Democrats are utterly sincere. Many on the left think they have been losing because their souls are too elevated.
Of course, such rhetoric is not only arrogant, it also is politically poisonous. The Republicans learned this lesson in 1996 – people want ideas, not venom. If you spend more time demonizing your opponent rather than shaping your image, your chance at winning is virtually zero. Brooks puts it bluntly:
Democrats can continue to circulate real or artificial tales of Republican outrages, they can continue to dwell on their sour prognostications of doom, but there is little evidence that anxious voters are in the mood to hate, or that they are in the mood for a political civil war, or that they will respond favorably to whatever party spits the most venom. There is little evidence that moderate voters share the sense of powerlessness many Democrats feel, or that they buy the narrative of the past two and a half years that many Democrats take as the landscape of reality.
If the Democrats can’t stop acting like they’re on a righteous crusade against some evil Republican monstrosity, they not only will remain a minority party, but they deserve to. The politics of personal destruction are no longer important in a climate where there are far more formidable threats than partisan sparring. The attitude that politics should be about innuendo, accusations, and hyperbole firmly belongs in the pre-September 11 age. It’s time for the Democrats to grow up or get out.