David Hoppe

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:: The Democrats' turn

Curves, wiggles and whoopee cushions

by David Hoppe

Reality is messy.

This was what Democrats conveyed at their convention last week. Where, one week before, Republicans came off like petulant teenagers, fretting over what they see as a general lack of appreciation for their perfect selfishness, the Democrats, as usual, were all over the place.

Republicans are the party of straight lines, right angles and, above all, discipline. They don’t see the world as it is, but as they would like it to be.

Democrats, on the other hand, are all curves, wiggles and whoopee cushions. They like to say they have a big tent, when, in fact, they have what amounts to a political circus.

This is a crowd that can count the likes of West Virginia’s Joe Manchin among its members. What, apart from force of habit in his neck of the woods, makes Manchin a Democrat defies explanation. He’s a friend to strip-mining, stomps on gay rights and has even threatened not to vote for Barack Obama.

That Manchin hails from the same political party as, say, Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, a senator who voted against the resolution to go to war in Iraq, supports the right of gays to serve in the military and opposes paying exploration subsidies to oil and gas companies, can be mystifying.

In their sunnier moments, Democrats claim to be proud of this so-called diversity. They say it looks more like America. There is truth in this, but there is also a fair measure of exasperation.

Barack Obama, like his Democratic predecessor Bill Clinton, should have been able to enjoy the Democratic majorities that reigned in the Senate and House when he took office. But, Democrats being Democrats, neither president was able to ramrod legislation to the extent that seemed possible at the time.

Clinton, for example, failed to pass comprehensive healthcare legislation.

While Obama succeeded in this, he deemed a single-payer program — a model considered by many to be simpler and superior to other options — politically unrealistic. And so, instead of truly universal healthcare, we have an “affordable” alternative.

This, of course, is much better than the pristine nothingness Republicans would put in its place. It also, being a Democratic initiative, must be understood as a work-in-progress. For Democrats, nothing in life is ever really finished. “The Affordable Care Act is not the end of efforts to improve healthcare for all,” they say in their 2012 platform document. It’s a start, open to revision, tweaking and, hopefully, improvement based on experience. This may seem messy, but hey, that’s life.

Unlike Republicans, whose platform was loathe to so much as use the words “climate change,” Democrats have no bones about bringing it up: “We know that global climate change is one of the biggest threats of this generation,” according to their platform, “an economic, environmental, and national security catastrophe in the making.”

But while Democrats express support for environmentally friendly policies, from mandating more fuel-efficient automobiles, to more robust regulations concerning air and water pollution, their overall approach to this “catastrophe in the making” seems more incremental than urgent because of their polyglot politics.

The same holds for their approach to the country’s protracted response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Yes, Democrats are finally bringing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in for a landing. But our extra-legal detention camp at Guantanamo Bay is still in business.

Finally, while Democrats can rightly boast about bringing the country’s economy back from the brink of collapse, and running up a string of 30 straight months of slow but steady jobs growth, the stubborn fact remains that few of these jobs provide the kind of pay and benefits many workers enjoyed prior to the crash.

When life hands the Democrats lemons, they try their best to make lemonade — or at least some kind of lemonish beverage. This may lack the panache of ideological purity, but it reflects the party’s mosaic make-up. If Republicans believe that, for the country to work, everyone must conform to a single set of cultural values (or else); Democrats think this is impossible. They just want everybody to get along.

A kerfuffle arose at last week’s convention when it was discovered that, while the Democratic platform made frequent use of the word, “faith,” another word, “God,” was nowhere to be found. This oversight was quickly remedied, so that She or He or It received due props and the party would not be tarred as God-less.

This was a perfect Democratic moment. Plenty of Democrats, the president first among them, believe in God. They go to church, quote scripture and find a moral compass in the Judeo-Christian tradition. But if other Democrats find spiritual sustenance elsewhere, that’s OK, too. By emphasizing faith, instead of god, the platform’s writers merely acknowledged a fact of lived experience: that to make good things happen in this life, you sometimes have to believe in something larger, braver and more generous than yourself. Call that God, if you want. Whatever term you use, Democrats want your help. As someone once said, it takes all kinds.

That may be messy, but, as far as Democrats are concerned, it’s real.