Are the Democrats Whigging Out?

Predicting what will happen if the Democrats win control in one or both houses of Congress next month is a burgeoning cottage industry. It is, however, both more interesting and probably more useful to consider what will happen if they don't.

If Democrats win they will crow and bray and make nuisances of themselves with frivolous, ankle—biting investigations. They may even connive with the White House and some foolish Republican legislators to enact "comprehensive immigration reform." If they do, the principal effect will be to turn our illegal immigration problem into a crisis, creating a major political opportunity for the next generation of GOP leaders. Aside from that, very little will change.

Democrats are too conflicted and too politically timid to force any significant change in the Bush administration's foreign and defense policies. They frittered away their dominant position in American politics by procuring the Ford administration's surrender in Vietnam. Ever since, they have been crippled by the widespread (and entirely accurate) perception that they are not to be trusted with our national security. They may belong, body and soul, to the lunatic left, but most of them are not about to step over the same cliff twice.

In any case, having stepped over that cliff in the 70's, the Democrats are very unlikely to win either house of Congress in 2006. The American people may loathe the Republican Party every bit as much as the Washington Post thinks they do, but nothing in our history suggests that a majority of American voters is crazy enough to trust Democrats with significant power during a war.

The headlines of the moment are orchestrated to create the appearance that a Democrat restoration is at hand. After the news industry has prepared them for victory in the run up to three consecutive electoral defeats, the Democrats should be wary. Many, probably most, of them are not. They have made the mistake of believing their own propaganda yet again.

In the likely event that Democrats wake up on the Wednesday after the first Tuesday in November and find that the federal government is firmly in Republican hands for another two years how will they react?
After licking their wounds by dabbling in deranged conspiracy theories about election fraud, they will fall to fighting among themselves like starving sled dogs. There will be casualties. Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid will all have trouble keeping their jobs in the wake of yet another failure.

In the ensuing succession struggles the deep divisions in the Democrat Party will be laid bare. Some Democrats will claim that the party must take the war more seriously and appear more moderate to win. Others will argue that the party must be true to its ideological roots on the far left so that it may win a majority by the power of passion and persuasion. Neither side of this debate will grasp the true nature of the Democrat dilemma.

The would—be moderates don't understand that Democrats can't win without the left. The ideological purists don't understand that Democrats can't win with it.

If the Democrats ceased to be the leftist party they would lose their all—important propaganda apparatus in the heirloom media. They would lose all their intellectual firepower (such as it is) in the universities and all the cachet of Hollywood. Their fundraising base would disappear. They would become a me—too party relegated to winning elections in most of the country only when the Republican candidate got caught in bed with either a live boy or a dead girl.

As essential as the left is to Democrats, it can't muster anything approaching a nationwide majority. This is hardly surprising. The left is anti—American and most Americans aren't.

The left is defined by it's loyalty to a trans—national ideal. Nation states in general and the United States in particular are obstacles to the realization of that ideal. Whenever the interests of the United States and the ideological purposes of the left conflict, which is often, American leftists work against their own country.

Consider, for example, the grotesque foolishness of Kyoto and the left's determined efforts to undermine our ongoing war for national survival. Even the dimmest voter can smell the contempt leftists have for ordinary people and for everything they hold dear. The more voters understand that Democrats are the political wing of the American left, the fewer votes they will cast for Democrats.

Professional Democrats have tried for years to have their cake and eat it too. They have tried to keep the loyalty of the left without getting identified with it. That worked during the ersatz peace of the Clinton years when they were still winning, at least sometimes.

The pressure of war and defeat has made it much more difficult for Democrats to have it both ways. They have tried desperately to straddle the divide between those who want to defend America from our deadly enemies and those who don't. John Kerry made an ass out of himself trying to bridge that gap and then discovered that Americans don't really want an ass in the White House.

Since Kerry went down in flames, canny Democrats have tried to say very little about the war but to say it as indignantly as possible. They have been in tune with the left's anger without overtly adopting its politically poisonous defeatism. This tightrope act isn't likely to work for them any better than Kerry's contortions did.

After yet another defeat even the Democrats may finally grasp that they can't have it both ways. They can follow Joe Lieberman's path and stand for American interests at the price of parting ways with about half their voters. They can also follow Ned Lamont and stand up for the left at the price of losing the other half. Either choice would mean that the Democrat Party could no longer seriously contend for a share of power in national elections.

This isn't the first time a major American political party has been closely divided over a defining issue. The Democrats' dilemma in 2006 looks a lot like the Whigs' dilemma in 1852. The Whigs depended on support from both slave holders and abolitionists. They tried to straddle the slavery issue but they couldn't. Their party broke apart and disappeared.

The Democrats have much deeper roots than the Whigs, who lasted only 24 years. They are likely to linger in some form for quite some time. But one more unexpected defeat just might tear them apart and prompt a dramatic political realignment.

At some level, Democrats seem aware of this danger. They are fighting the 2006 campaign like the existential struggle which, for them, it may very well be. It smacks of desperation, to choose an example at random, when the party of pederasty attacks Republicans for failing to condemn a homosexual congressman in advance of any evidence that he did anything wrong.

The political game has never been a better spectator sport and the stakes have rarely been higher.

J. Peter Mulhern is an attorney in the Washington, DC area.