What happens when neither political party has a really new idea about what is happening in the nation and the world? You get election results so nearly tied that a few hundred votes decide who won or lost. It is, if you think about it, fairly astounding that the voters are so equally divided between Democrats and Republicans.
You notice, I said "the voters", not the people who simply identify themselves as members or sympathetic to one party or the other. One of the Republican Party's greatest problems right now is that it has drifted so far away from what its base believes and wants that many are prepared to stay home, short of candidates that offer them a compelling reason to show up at the polls.
The Democrats are faced with another problem. Its platform is essentially the one that won four terms for Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s and '40s. Responding to the Depression, FDR tapped every bright lad he could to come up with something-anything-that might turn the economy around. In the end, it was World War II that energized the nation and started the U.S. on its superpower trajectory. It was helpful, too, that the homeland, other than Pearl Harbor, had not suffered the destruction that occurred in Europe or Japan.
So Americans ever since have had Social Security, Medicare, and a host of other "entitlement" programs. The problem for recent administrations is that these programs are either broke or soon will be. When the GOP added a hugely costly prescription drug entitlement they were acting more like Democrats, but by then the way Congress functioned there were few members who could be clearly identified by party affiliation.
All were drunk on "earmarks" funneling millions back to their districts. The notion that local communities should run their schools is foreign to them. All seemed indifferent to protecting national sovereignty, securing the borders, or the invasion of a million aliens every year.
The only thing with which one could definitively identify Republicans was their support for the war in Iraq. It was, of course, the single issue that turned control of Congress-just barely-to the Democrats in the 2006 elections and it is the one issue that will determine the outcome of the 2008 elections. The only issue Democrats have is their hatred of President Bush and their opposition to conservatives who have a visceral contempt for abortion, gay marriage, and thuggish foreign leaders.
In the 2008 campaign Democrats will offer national health care, but that notion has been trotted out for a very long time and most people are vaguely aware of what a disaster it has proven to be in England and Canada, to name just two places. Michael Moore's documentary, a celebration of Cuban health care, managed to overlook the many shortages of everything needed to practice medicine there.
Most books about politics are, by definition, partisan but a rare exception is Matt Bai's "The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics." He is such a skilled journalist, a political writer for The New York Times magazine, that he humanizes the individuals who are now locked in a struggle to control the Democrat Party.
The result is, frankly, a hilarious portrait of a party where obscenely rich people think their money can make a difference and buy them real influence, while nobodies with little more than bad attitudes and Internet sites like "The Daily Kos" have become movers and shakers to whom candidates must pay heed. Sandwiched between these groups are the party apparatchiks; those who must raise funds, the political consultants, the pollsters, and the think tank folks, all of whom are desperately trying to fashion a winning campaign.
About the only thing the members of both parties agree upon is that the members of the opposing party are just too dumb to understand the issues!
Neither party lacks for really dumb people and this includes those who have risen to the top. At one point, prior to the 2005-6 campaign, casting about for a new motto, Rep. Nancy Pelosi suggested that Democrats call themselves "the people's party." Bai notes that, "This slogan was quickly and wisely rejected, as it sounded like a communiquÃ© from the party headquarters in Pyongyang."
In the end, the Democrats concluded that policy ideas, leadership issues, and the usual rhetoric of campaigning weren't needed, given the collapse of support for and by Republicans. Why "offer an actual agenda and risk the possibility that some voters might not like it?"
One of the real issues is the war against the Islamofascists and, whether a Democrat or Republican is elected, they will be part of a continuum of presidents who have either tried to ignore them as did Clinton or put troops in the field to kill them as Bush did. It doesn't matter in the short run what people think about the current state of the war-except for the way it influences elections-because it is a war that was declared against us and which we must pursue until victory whether we want to or not.
Aside from a lack of any ideas other than those inherited from FDR and LBJ, the Democrats will continue to suffer from the general perception of cowardliness in the face of an enemy and endless bleating about the poor and disadvantaged. They tend to ignore the way America has grown famous and wealthy from people who worked hard, took risks, and moved up the economic ladder. The other factor working against them is the way the population has leaned to the right ever since the days of Reagan and Goldwater.
Bush will not be a factor in the 2008 elections except as a person on whom Democrats can fix (and waste) their hatred. But he is not running for office. Without a compelling reason to vote for a Democrat candidate, voters may decide to stay with the party that-flawed as it may be at this point-still believes in lower taxes, a strong military, and the magic elixir of freedom, opportunity.