Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Wednesday, July 28, 2004  

Sorry, this appears to be another one of those inappropriately long-winded posts--my forte.

Finding Their Voice

There is a discontinuity in Bizarro World.  Not much of one, of course, emanating as it does from Boston.  Still, practitioners of the postmodern political arts have noticed a subtle change in the force.  Peering into their television screens, they watch the festivities at the convention, and all looks well.  They consult their instruments of threat detection, they consult each other, they check again.  Nothing.  And yet ... a disturbance.

Example.  Last night, after Teresa Heinz Kerry finished a speech that visibly moved an audience to tears, David Brooks, perplexed, told Jim Lehrer that it wasn't very personal.  She was his wife, why didn't she tell something personal about her husband?  Like Laura Bush would have done.  It started strong, but then sort of trailed off there.  I could see him tapping his Dean-o-meter for seismic activity: nothing.

Yet what we're observing is a bedrock change in the Democratic Party.  For the first time since Ronald Reagan snatched away their working class, the Dems have again found their voice.  For the past two days, literally every speech I've heard (I missed Al's due to a phone call from my dad) has been about the forgotten values of the Democratic Party: freedom, unity, diversity, well-being, hope.  The poor righties, who have dictated the terms of the debate for 24 years, don't know what the hell they're talking about.  It's like they're speaking Portugese.  (Okay, Teresa did speak a little Portugese.)

The Republicans pulled off an amazing Orwellian feat under Reagan--they appropriated the language and morality of liberalism and perverted it.  Now giving money to the rich helped the poor, removing civil liberties ensured citizens' rights, ensuring whites didn't lose their advantage was civil rights, and empowering corporations was good for workers and consumers.  They used the same objectives, but they argued that the moral way to achieve them wasn't bankrupt liberalism--that unholy devilchild of the enlightenment--but through proper, narrowly-interpreted Protestant doctrine. 

So for 24 years we've watched as the Dems cast about for a language that communicated actual liberal values but conformed to the ruling orthodoxy's moral code.  It led, unfortunately and improbably, to Clinton asserting that "the era of big government is over" and his dismantling of key provisions of the progressive great society reforms.  (Welfare, sure, but what about the deregulated FCC, the federal giveaways to corporations, the poorly-crafted NAFTA, the problems on Wall Street?) 

The language they're using is populist liberalism.  Not the doublespeak divisive populism of George Bush's "uniting not dividing" but an actual confidence in the power of the people.  It was the font of reform in the 1930s, when America was confronted by economic hardships and external threats, and the Dems seem to be unpacking it once again (with relish and delight).

Howard Dean: "America’s greatness rests on far more than the power of our arms. Our greatness is also measured by our goodness, it’s in the capacity of our minds and of our hearts, and it’s in the strength of our democracy. "

Barack Obama: "It is that fundamental belief, it is that fundamental belief, I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams and yet still come together as one American family. E pluribus unum. Out of many, one."

Teresa Heinz Kerry: "For many generations of people around this globe, that is what America has represented. A symbol of hope, a beacon brightly lit by the optimism of its people--people coming from all over the world. Americans believed that they could know all there is to know, build all there is to build, break down any barrier, tear down any wall. We sent men to the moon, and when that was not far enough, we sent Galileo to Jupiter, we sent Cassini to Saturn, and Hubble to touch the very edges of the universe in the very dawn of time. Americans showed the world what can happen when people believe in amazing possibilities."

For Democrats, it's a return to honest, direct politics.  This is what we've always believed, this has been the heart of the platform since Jefferson's era.  Al Gore couldn't spark the base because no one was really sure if he was commited to this vision of politics or, under pressure from the Orwellians, he'd turn to quasi-GOP Clintonian liberalism.  Now they're speaking directly, and the message is enormously effective.  So effective that they don't even have to mention Bush to indict him and his bankrupt policies.  The righties like David Brooks, whose instruments are calibrated to detect exploitable liberal policy or direct assaults on the President, have been left scratching their heads.  What's that crazy African going on about now?

Dems though, are starting to ignore the David Brooks.  If he can't see what's happening in front of him, it's because the confusion of Bizarro World still clouds his faculties.  His instruments are attuned to doublespeak, and so he can't hear the Democrats, who are speaking directly and guilelessly--truth to power, as Teresa said.  And anyway, they're not speaking to the David Brooks.  They're speaking to the country.  By the time he figures out how effective the truth is, it will be too late.

posted by Jeff | 8:58 AM |
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