As the winter holiday season blows in and 2005 begins to wane, both major political parties face big questions that will impact American politics far into the future.
The question for Republicans is simple: Are they going to continue fueling their culture of corruption and intensifying their wild-eyed ideological jihads?
The question for Democrats is also simple, but more frustrating because the answers should be obvious: Does the party really want to be a majority party?
Republicans are answering their big question with a big yes. By all indications, the GOP is going to continue down its path, with no realization that they are in a downward spiral. In recent months, we’ve seen no sign of remorse from the GOP for all of its corruption scandals, and a redoubled effort to gut basic government services in the name of financing new tax cuts for the wealthy. Meanwhile, Republicans have largely refused to reevaluate their disastrous Iraq policies, instead doing everything they can to label war critics “cowards,” “gutless traitors,” or worse.
Democrats are answering their big question in much the same sad way. As the New Republic recently reported, Democratic aides admit that some Democratic officials “simply aren’t willing to really go all-out in the quest for the majority.” Put more succinctly, Democrats’ answer to their big question is, at best, a maybe, and more likely a big no – at least not yet.
2005 has shown that many Democratic Party leaders have made a conscious decision to take no position on almost every major challenge facing America. On the major economic issues, the party has talked a good game and lashed into the GOP – but on some of the biggest congressional votes, many Democrats have stood in lockstep with the Republicans. Just look how many Democratic senators supported the bankruptcy (18), energy (25) and class action (18) bills for proof.
There have been opportunities for Democrats to show a real contrast with the GOP’s culture of corruption. But it’s clear the party is still in a business-as-usual mode. For instance, Democrats all year have publicly bragged about their ties to corporate lobbyists, going out of their way to land stories in Capitol Hill publications coddling business interests. Meanwhile, most Democrats joined hands with the GOP in voting in a $3,100 raise for lawmakers at a time of massive deficits and cuts to critical programs.
And then there is Iraq. Even as Vietnam war heroes like Rep. Jack Murtha (D‑Pa.) try to lead their party to reevaluate the Bush administration’s destructive war policies, the party continues to stress that it does not have an official position – seemingly more concerned with the desires of the Washington cocktail party circuit and its insulated “strategic class” than with actually serving as a voice for the majority of Americans who support a withdrawal.
Perhaps most problematic for Democrats is that some of its highest-profile spokesmen seem to go out of their way to undercut the party’s courageous leaders.
For every Rep. George Miller (D‑Calif.) or Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D‑Calif.) fighting against the corrosive influence of corporate lobbyists, there is a Rep. Steny Hoyer (D‑Md.), publicly bragging that he wants to be the first contact for K Street lobbyists.
For every Rep. Sherrod Brown (D‑Ohio) fighting against the latest corporate-written trade deal, there are groups of House and Senate Democrats that provide the critical votes needed to pass the Central American Free Trade Agreement.
For every move by a Sen. Harry Reid (D‑Nev.) to demand answers about prewar intelligence, or a Sen. Russ Feingold (D‑Wis.) to press a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, or a Murtha who says it’s time for a change, there is a Sen. Joe Biden (D‑Del.) opposing a withdrawal, a Sen. Ben Nelson (D‑Neb.) saying he has no regrets about voting for a war based on lies, or a Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D‑Ill.) actually telling reporters that the party won’t have an Iraq position until “the right time.”
How each party answers its big questions will not only decide the 2006 or 2008 elections but whether America will still have a political system that represents our country’s people. Polls consistently show that Americans want a vastly more progressive economic policy, are concerned about Big Money’s influence on our government and support bringing the troops home from Iraq within a year. In other words, what the public wants is very clear despite the political establishment’s efforts to muddle the issues.
That means that while both parties face a different set of questions, their responses will give us an answer to the biggest question of all: Will the new year witness the final death throes of America’s representative democracy?