I am not a Liberal. I am not a Progressive. I am not Green. I am a Democrat.
I'm not only a Democrat. I'm a Yellow Dog Democrat. I would vote for Disney's Pluto, who is really more of an orange dog, but nevermind, over just about any two-legged creature the Republicans choose to nominate.
I've been a Democrat all my life. My fate was sealed forever one June Saturday morning when I was a kid and I wandered into the living room looking for my father to ask him if we could go to the beach. I found him sitting in front of the television, crying, as he watched the train carrying Robert Kennedy's coffin pass slowly through some small town, the whole population of which, it looked to me, was standing silently, sadly by the tracks as the train went by.
As soon as I got old enough to vote, I voted for Bobby. And for my father. Over and over again ever since I have voted for them. Even when the men and women whose names stood in for theirs on the ballot weren't up to carrying on for them, I voted for Bobby, I voted for my Dad.
I vote for them and I vote for the things they stand for. First and foremost I vote for the principle that since there is no heaven on earth and everybody can't have everything, everybody should have something. Some things. The things they truly need.
A decent job, a good school to send their kids to, a doctor within reach and whose bill they can pay, a life without fear that they will have to go hungry, or go sick, or go without a home, just because some rich guy finds it useful and profitable that they go hungry, sick, homeless and cold.
Everybody should be able to live without fear, of attack by enemies from outside and within their own neighborhoods and enemies who call themselves their bosses, their landlords, their betters.
Republicans claim to believe in all this stuff too. Maybe they do. But they don't believe in doing anything to bring it about except leave it to those rich guys, bosses, landlords, and "betters" to take care of it, in passing, absent-mindedly, on their way to making another heap of money.
There are plenty on the Left, these days, who'd argue that my description of the Republicans works just fine for the Democrats too.
Since the votes on John Roberts, the one by the Judiciary Committee and the one by the full Senate, and since the March Against the War, I've read posts by many Liberal bloggers expressing their disgust with the Democratic Party and considering the possibility that it is time for Progressives to abandon the Democrats---often this is phrased as pointing out the Democrats have abandoned Progressives.
I understand their frustration and I don't believe they should be talked out of it if they want to go start their own party. I don't like lesser of two evil arguments and if you really see no real difference between voting for a Democrat and voting for a Republican then you shouldn't vote for either one, and you shouldn't worry if your vote for a minor party candidate helps the Republican win, as voting for Nader did in 2000, although as for Bush being no different than Gore, well, fooled you, didn't you?
But before you go, let me ask you some questions.
Who are you going to vote for for mayor?
Who are you voting for for governor?
Who are you voting for for state assembly, town council, school board, and dog catcher?
Political parties don't start and stop at the top of the ticket. Remember the Republicans started their rise to majority party by taking control of school boards and state houses. They built local machines that have become smooth running cogs in the national machine.
I can't join you in leaving the Democrats. As I said, my fate was sealed a long time ago. But here would be my problem if I decided my disgust with 22 Democrats in the Senate should drive me from the party. Come 2006 I can vote for Maurice Hinchey for Congress. I can vote for Eliott Spitzer for Governor. Both of them are worthy of my vote for Bobby's ghost. Both of them are worthy of my vote for my father.
For the Senate I can vote for Hillary. She's not quite as worthy but my brother Luke is right now faced with having to vote for Joe Lieberman. I feel a whole lot luckier.
And however much I wish Hillary would take a stronger stand against the war, she is in no way merely the lesser of two evils compared to the Republican running against her.
She just isn't perfect.
But Democrats aren't perfect. Republicans are.
From the point of view of their constituencies.
That's because Republicans, traditionally, believe in only two things: Avoiding taxes and getting the Government out of the way of greedy people who want to make a ton of money and don't want to have to worry about anyone else's health or happiness while they're at it.
Since Nixon they have added a third thing: Hatred for the Other.
For a while, the other was Black, but then the Other became Liberal too, and then Female, and now it is Muslim and Gay. But its main attribute is that IT IS NOT US and we hate it for that.
So they have only three things on which they need to agree, and as it's always easier to get human beings to go along with a vice than with a virtue and none of those three things are remotely virtuous by definition or in action, the Republicans have a much easier time being "true to their principles."
It's always easy to stand for something when all that means is standing against what you hate or fear or what is in your way.
Democrats believe in only two things, but unfortunately because of what those two things are, it's harder not easier for them to agree. One is what I said up above. There is no heaven on earth and since everybody can't have everything they want, everybody should at least get what they need.
The second is that Government exists to help people secure those things they need.
The question is How?
There are lots of good answers to that and no way to prove, except by trying them out, which ones are the best.
Here it gets tricky.
Because now you've got to answer the question, Which answer or answers do we try first?
And here it gets trickier.
The obvious answer is, The ones that worked the last time. Except that we've had a lot of experience, at all levels of government, that has taught us that what worked once may not work again, that what worked here, doesn't work there, that what works to help some people, hurts others, and that some things we thought were working really weren't, and some things we don't like actually help, sometimes, in some places, in some situations, for some people.
And if that isn't enough to drive you crazy, consider this. Sometimes, in some places, in some situations, for some people, what works best is for the Government to get out of the way of the rich guys, bosses, landlords, and "betters" and let them make their piles of dough.
That one causes Progressives' heads to explode. They can't believe it's true any more than Republicans can believe it's happening when Democrats are acting on it.
(It is true. But it's a truth that has been a source of terrible temptation and corruption for Democrats over the last 25 years.)
Given this, it's no wonder that the Democrats never seem to agree on anything, that they often appear to have no principles and are blowing whatever way the wind's blowing. They are never acting wholly in unison. There will never be a specific situation where every Democrat accepts one answer and so there will never be a situation in which every Democrat is right and there will be lots and lots of situations in which most Democrats are wrong, but all of them wrong in different ways.
Over time, though, it has turned out that the Democrats have been vindicated on principle. Using the Government to help everybody get what they need has worked to make the United States a better and better place to live.
This is why I won't be following any of you out the door when you leave the Party. I'm staying right here to continue to vote for Bobby and my father.
But then I'm lucky. It's easy for me. I live in a blue district in a blue state.
Bobby Kennedy's still our senator.
So, I'm asking. Not harshly, and not with any implied "You have no other choice" or "How dare you vote in a way that helps the Republicans" behind it. I'm just asking as a friend who doesn't have the same problem.
Who will you vote for? For governor? For Congress? For mayor? For dog catcher?
My search for a perfect politician ended about the time I realized my kids weren't perfect either, but I support them anyway. As a wise politician I once worked for said, "If you want a candidate you'll always agree with, you must run yourself." Since I'm too busy to run for office (on a platform of eliminating perfume use worldwide), I'll be voting for someone else.
And just because I'm sticking with the Party come hell or high water doesn't mean I don't wish that somebody in the leadership would learn how to make a boat that floats and doesn't require incessant bailing. Ezra Klein reports on yet another Democratic attempt to "brand" the Democrats that makes us sound like a Party of ciphers.