Obama and the Fate of the Democratic Party

The Democratic Party is the most successful political organization in the world, if survival in the volatile arena of politics is the criteria of success. And the Democratic Party is the world's oldest political party. It proclaims that its spiritual roots can be traced to Thomas Jefferson, and that is true, at least if one is willing to accept generously the claims an organization makes for itself. But if Jefferson is the spiritual founder of the Party, Andrew Jackson is the founder of the political movement that became the Democratic Party. For though a person of great intellect, Jefferson was a man of restrained passions and divided ideas, a man whose temperament could never motivate anyone to take up a political banner for any cause whatsoever.

Jackson was a man of passion, a hater, a man who never hesitated to start a quarrel or take sides. He was a man coarse habits and animated by the desire for revenge against his enemies. When he was inaugurated in 1829, the respectable citizens of Washington, DC - hitherto governed by the aristocrats who made the American Revolution - imagined that the barbarian hoards from the forests and bogs of Germany had descended upon the civilized precincts of the Rome on the Potomac.

The passion that Jackson brought to his insistence that unassimilated Indians must move west of the Mississippi River forced the Five Civilized Tribes along the Trail of Tears; and his passion to destroy the Second Bank of the United States prevented the United States from establishing an effective central bank until well into the Twentieth Century. Passion has sustained the Democratic Party for all of its existence. Though men of ideas have given the Party its tone and tint, the passion and determination to grab the power that can change society -- often against its will -- is the animating force of the Party. 

During the Twentieth Century the towering figures of the Democratic Party were men of passion. Hidden behind his public façade of academic restraint, Woodrow Wilson was a man great emotion. Passion governed the actions of Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson. Those Democrats whose terms as president were less successful -- John Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton -- were men of political restraint, though the first and the third had unlimited private appetites.  

Passion led the successful Democratic presidents to lie or to bend the truth to achieve their goals. They used the powers of government in ways that shocked the squeamish and established precedents that other presidents emulated or attempted to emulate. For each man, the end justified the means, as it does for anyone who believes that his goal, his vision possesses the essence of happiness for society.

Now, the Democratic Party is led by a man who at first glance has more in common with John Kennedy than Woodrow Wilson. Yet Barack Obama's temperament has more in common with Wilson's than with Kennedy's. Though Governor of New Jersey, Wilson was a man who seemed more at home in the stuffy atmosphere of a faculty club than the smoke filled rooms of a state capitol, as he had an intense dislike for the deal making that is an essential element of politics.

Obama too, one senses, might have enjoyed the academic career with which he toyed had not the relentless drive to power compelled him -- as it did Wilson -- into the political arena. He projects an image of cool detachment, yet only the blindest cannot sense the intense passions that lurk behind the eyes of Barack Obama. Whether Obama can govern his passion and cut deals with his party and the opposition is a question that only time will answer, should he be elected president. But nothing in his career indicates any sort of affinity for ugly, sausage making side of politics. 

Wilson is idealized as a progressive reformer, the man who led the United States into World War I, and, more importantly, the man whose vision called forth the League of Nations, the failed if prophetic precursor of the United Nations. Yet Wilson's presidency had a darker side.  

If war calls forth courage and sacrifice, it may generate an unwillingness to tolerate dissent. Wilson created the world's first propaganda machine and ordered the arrest of thousands of people merely for expressing opposition to entry by the United States into World War I. He had newspapers and magazines shut down for criticizing the war; he instituted loyalty oaths at colleges and universities; and he created an army of a quarter of a million goons who intimidated and beat dissenters. In fairness to Wilson these measures were instituted in response to the pressures of the United States attempting to accomplish a feat never attempted before: fight a major land war on the European continent. Still, Wilson's training should have disposed him toward an understanding of dissent.

At present, Barack Obama faces no such challenge. The war in Iraq is winding down. Yet history demonstrates conclusively one fact: the unpredictability of events is normal. The Arab-Israeli conflict is likely to be more strident, if only because Obama's candidacy has raised hopes to a very high level in the Arab world. Muslims expect Obama to act in their favor, and Obama would have the freedom to act in ways that no president -- especially a Democratic president -- could act. Should he act in a way that is perceived as harmful to the basic interests of Israel, dissent on a large scale would begin, for such a policy would unite two groups hitherto at political poles: liberal Jews and evangelical Christians. 

Would Barack Obama attempt the repressive measures of Woodrow Wilson? The moralistic tone of his pronouncements indicate that he is man who is unwilling to accede to any views except his own when confronted with a crisis. And his temperament might tempt him to try. By his own admission he spent his college years hanging out with Marxists, structural feminists, and radicals. His association with Bill Ayers is too well known to require repeating. These groups are not known for the tolerance of dissent.

And in all frankness the stress of being the first black man to be president may act upon Obama's mind in such a way that he might be tempted to coerce opponents into sub- mission.

Would a policy of repression succeed? Unlikely, for the political and legal system have matured to the point that the American polity would resist -- perhaps violently -- such an assault on its civil liberties. Yet Obama's campaign has demonstrated a willingness to use the legal system to intimidate the opposition into withdrawing or moderating criticism of Obama the candidate. Should he become president, he will have the vast power of the American presidency at his disposal. And given the adoration of him expressed by the mainstream media (and it willingness to overlook the troubling aspects of his campaign) it is unlikely that he would face the harsh criticism that Richard Nixon faced when he attempted to intimidate opponents.

A policy of political repression would destroy or seriously undermine the claim by the Democratic Party to be the champions of dissent. How would the Party answer such a charge? By denial and obfuscation, as can be seen by anyone studying the response by Democrats to the financial meltdown of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Yet truth can be suppressed only so long. And if Andrew Jackson was the Alpha of the Democratic Party, Barack Obama may be its Omega. The intense desire for power, the determination to overcome all opposition, and the passion drove Jackson, that animated Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson may lead Obama to commit acts that might signal the end of the Democratic Party.
The Democratic Party is the most successful political organization in the world, if survival in the volatile arena of politics is the criteria of success. And the Democratic Party is the world's oldest political party. It proclaims that its spiritual roots can be traced to Thomas Jefferson, and that is true, at least if one is willing to accept generously the claims an organization makes for itself. But if Jefferson is the spiritual founder of the Party, Andrew Jackson is the founder of the political movement that became the Democratic Party. For though a person of great intellect, Jefferson was a man of restrained passions and divided ideas, a man whose temperament could never motivate anyone to take up a political banner for any cause whatsoever.

Jackson was a man of passion, a hater, a man who never hesitated to start a quarrel or take sides. He was a man coarse habits and animated by the desire for revenge against his enemies. When he was inaugurated in 1829, the respectable citizens of Washington, DC - hitherto governed by the aristocrats who made the American Revolution - imagined that the barbarian hoards from the forests and bogs of Germany had descended upon the civilized precincts of the Rome on the Potomac.

The passion that Jackson brought to his insistence that unassimilated Indians must move west of the Mississippi River forced the Five Civilized Tribes along the Trail of Tears; and his passion to destroy the Second Bank of the United States prevented the United States from establishing an effective central bank until well into the Twentieth Century. Passion has sustained the Democratic Party for all of its existence. Though men of ideas have given the Party its tone and tint, the passion and determination to grab the power that can change society -- often against its will -- is the animating force of the Party. 

During the Twentieth Century the towering figures of the Democratic Party were men of passion. Hidden behind his public façade of academic restraint, Woodrow Wilson was a man great emotion. Passion governed the actions of Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson. Those Democrats whose terms as president were less successful -- John Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton -- were men of political restraint, though the first and the third had unlimited private appetites.  

Passion led the successful Democratic presidents to lie or to bend the truth to achieve their goals. They used the powers of government in ways that shocked the squeamish and established precedents that other presidents emulated or attempted to emulate. For each man, the end justified the means, as it does for anyone who believes that his goal, his vision possesses the essence of happiness for society.

Now, the Democratic Party is led by a man who at first glance has more in common with John Kennedy than Woodrow Wilson. Yet Barack Obama's temperament has more in common with Wilson's than with Kennedy's. Though Governor of New Jersey, Wilson was a man who seemed more at home in the stuffy atmosphere of a faculty club than the smoke filled rooms of a state capitol, as he had an intense dislike for the deal making that is an essential element of politics.

Obama too, one senses, might have enjoyed the academic career with which he toyed had not the relentless drive to power compelled him -- as it did Wilson -- into the political arena. He projects an image of cool detachment, yet only the blindest cannot sense the intense passions that lurk behind the eyes of Barack Obama. Whether Obama can govern his passion and cut deals with his party and the opposition is a question that only time will answer, should he be elected president. But nothing in his career indicates any sort of affinity for ugly, sausage making side of politics. 

Wilson is idealized as a progressive reformer, the man who led the United States into World War I, and, more importantly, the man whose vision called forth the League of Nations, the failed if prophetic precursor of the United Nations. Yet Wilson's presidency had a darker side.  

If war calls forth courage and sacrifice, it may generate an unwillingness to tolerate dissent. Wilson created the world's first propaganda machine and ordered the arrest of thousands of people merely for expressing opposition to entry by the United States into World War I. He had newspapers and magazines shut down for criticizing the war; he instituted loyalty oaths at colleges and universities; and he created an army of a quarter of a million goons who intimidated and beat dissenters. In fairness to Wilson these measures were instituted in response to the pressures of the United States attempting to accomplish a feat never attempted before: fight a major land war on the European continent. Still, Wilson's training should have disposed him toward an understanding of dissent.

At present, Barack Obama faces no such challenge. The war in Iraq is winding down. Yet history demonstrates conclusively one fact: the unpredictability of events is normal. The Arab-Israeli conflict is likely to be more strident, if only because Obama's candidacy has raised hopes to a very high level in the Arab world. Muslims expect Obama to act in their favor, and Obama would have the freedom to act in ways that no president -- especially a Democratic president -- could act. Should he act in a way that is perceived as harmful to the basic interests of Israel, dissent on a large scale would begin, for such a policy would unite two groups hitherto at political poles: liberal Jews and evangelical Christians. 

Would Barack Obama attempt the repressive measures of Woodrow Wilson? The moralistic tone of his pronouncements indicate that he is man who is unwilling to accede to any views except his own when confronted with a crisis. And his temperament might tempt him to try. By his own admission he spent his college years hanging out with Marxists, structural feminists, and radicals. His association with Bill Ayers is too well known to require repeating. These groups are not known for the tolerance of dissent.

And in all frankness the stress of being the first black man to be president may act upon Obama's mind in such a way that he might be tempted to coerce opponents into sub- mission.

Would a policy of repression succeed? Unlikely, for the political and legal system have matured to the point that the American polity would resist -- perhaps violently -- such an assault on its civil liberties. Yet Obama's campaign has demonstrated a willingness to use the legal system to intimidate the opposition into withdrawing or moderating criticism of Obama the candidate. Should he become president, he will have the vast power of the American presidency at his disposal. And given the adoration of him expressed by the mainstream media (and it willingness to overlook the troubling aspects of his campaign) it is unlikely that he would face the harsh criticism that Richard Nixon faced when he attempted to intimidate opponents.

A policy of political repression would destroy or seriously undermine the claim by the Democratic Party to be the champions of dissent. How would the Party answer such a charge? By denial and obfuscation, as can be seen by anyone studying the response by Democrats to the financial meltdown of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Yet truth can be suppressed only so long. And if Andrew Jackson was the Alpha of the Democratic Party, Barack Obama may be its Omega. The intense desire for power, the determination to overcome all opposition, and the passion drove Jackson, that animated Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson may lead Obama to commit acts that might signal the end of the Democratic Party.