To properly address today's midterm elections, we must return (and regrettably so) to John Kerry's gaff of last week. I don't want to anatomize intentions as much as I want to focus on the trajectory of the story itself, especially within the Democratic party.
Let's begin with a simple synopsis.
- John Kerry misspoke, so that a joke intended to darkly and viciously criticize the Bush Administration instead seemed to criticize American troops.
- Kerry initially made a strong statement in which he refused to apologize and quite nicely shifted attention to the original intentions of his joke, hoping to begin a conversation about the war in Iraq instead of a diversionary conversation about troop intelligence and Democratic patriotism, which was what ultimately ensued.
- Prominent Democrats and Republicans alike demanded that Kerry apologized.
- As a result of mounting political pressure and the failure of his own statement to initiate public discourse, Kerry eventually apologized and retreated sheepishly to one of his many homes.
What Did Not Happen, Why It Didnt Happen And Why This Fills Me With Rage:
- Democrats did NOT promulgate a unified message that stood behind the intent of Kerry's original joke and attempted to direct the media towards the more significant errors and missteps of the Bush Administration in Iraq. This indicates the serious and continued lack of a functional Democratic media machine. This also indicates increased divisions within the Democratic party, especially in this election cycle as Democrats have been forced to run moderates in order to pick up key Congressional seats. Moderates in close elections were forced to run to the right in order to avoid aligning themselves too closely with a prominent Democratic leader like Kerry. This does not bode well for a party just months away from a potential Congressional takeover.
- This enrages me because: Democrats or, more broadly, liberals, have failed to author and promote a grand vision for change in this country. Democrats may win individual seats across the nation and there may be significant pickups for the party nationally. But without a unifying theme, message, vision, etc..., these victories will remain isolated, fragmented: they will fail to coalesce into the sort of movement that is truly necessarry to shift public opinion in a significant and lasting way.
I don't want to belittle or deride the gains that will be made possible by a Democratic takeover of Congress. These gains will not be insignificant, but they will be insufficient.
To move the country towards the left, the Democrats need to abandon politics, as it were. The political landscape in this country is, in a way, fully mapped. Without the invention of a new language, a new way of speaking about our values and speaking to people about these values, any movement left or right will be temporary and small.
The sort of grand vision I'm speaking of is a progressive one, a new cultural narrative that recaptures the romanticism of the American dream, a narrative of broadd gestures and rhetorical flourishes that fills the country once again with a sense of urgency towards an abstract but emotive end. I understand why progressives are frightened of broad, romantic gestures because of the violence that has occurred beneath the flourishes of language and because of the socio-political nuance that romance inevitable overwhelms. But history should not be a reason for inaction, it should merely fill us with an increased sense of caution and responsibility.
If progressivism takes hold in this country, it will be because of a political leadership able to make American believe in them, a political leadership able to make seemingly disparate issues and causes coalesce within a single, synthetic, dialectical vision of the future.
We need a political leader who can talk about the future as a time of promise, who can be honest about the challenges we will face as we move towards these promises, and who can bridge the gap between private and public lives so that politics might once again become the charge of America instead of a task left to those in power.
I think the next president will be someone who can perpetuate the story of America's greatness without resorting to isolationism or ethnocentrism. It will be someone who can talk about economic competition and the rise of power in Asia, and someone who can define these new areas of the world as foreign policy priorities. It will be someone who can talk about the nation's infrastructure and get people to support its wholesale improvement so that our nation can become a symbol of innovation and efficiency. It will be someone who can talk about diversity as a foundation of democracy and borders and walls as antithetical to this foundation without resorting to the tired metaphors of multiculturalism.
America needs a new vision. Only once we have a vision, an imagined future, can we begin to talk about how to get there. Without a telos, imaginary (and dynamic) as it will inevitably be, all politics are moot, only tepid adjustments to the status quo.
More on this later, but allow me to close with a bold pronouncement: Russ Feingold will be the darkhorse candidate in 2008.
Thoughts on 2008? On how the next two years will influence 2008? On Obama or Clinton or even Gore? And maybe even on who will get the Republican nomination? (You don't need to be registered to comment, by the way).