Effective immediately, the Democrats will be known as the lyin'-ass boyfriend party - the perfect date for progressive voters looking to be stood up, bullshitted blind, or left holding the tab.
For five years now it's been "Please baby, baby, baby, please! I'm sorry I was a no-show last time, but hey, that was because I was working overtime to save up to do something extra special for next time, which is the really big event - right, baby?"
Last April, when the Democrats backed away from filibustering extremist appeals court nominees, it was, "Don't you fret, baby. We're not going to go to the mat over small fry like Owen, Pryor, and Brown because we're saving the filibuster for the big one - you know, the Supreme Court, baby."
Months later, Democrats folded rather than fight John Roberts, the young-ish yes man with a penchant for executive privilege and a wife who used to head an anti-choice organization. After all, they said, they needed to save their energy, and the filibuster, for the next Supreme Court nominee, who would undoubtedly be worse.
Well, baby, the moment of truth has arrived. It's Alito-time, and the lyin'-ass boyfriends are backpedaling again. Why aren't they going to raise a ruckus this time? Aw, baby... the filibuster is just so darned hard to use with only 45 senators! And what's the point of trying to do anything until we've recaptured the Senate or the White House?
I have terrible news for the Democrats: being the minority party is not their real problem.
After all, the Republicans were the minority party just 12 years ago. But a bright, power-hungry representative named Newt Gingrich stepped forward with a plan to end "business as usual" in DC. It promised voters term limits for the speaker of the House and powerful committee chairs, an end to gifts from lobbyists and paid travel from outside groups, and a balanced federal budget.
And it worked.
In the historic 1994 US interim elections, the GOP successfully defended all 13 Senate seats up for re-election, picked up eight more, and gained 54 seats in the House, for its first majority in 42 years.
The so-called "Republican Revolution" and the "Contract with America" vaulted Republicans into the fast lane and Gingrich into the driver's seat as Speaker of the House. And while Newt may be gone (for now), and the Republicans backed off most of their promised reforms (until this week, in a scramble to defuse the DeLay/Abramoff scandals), the Republican grip on both houses of Congress has held - and tightened.
At first blush, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's plan to clean up "business as usual" in DC seems like a bid to reenact the 1994 coup. Reid, who had not a word to say about Alito last Thursday, as the hearings drew to a close, used that day's news release instead to trumpet a "Republican Culture of Corruption" in big red letters. Yeah, baby! It's the new really big issue that will really get the love.
It won't work.
First of all, Reid is no Gingrich. He's not a great leader, or even a good one, let alone a visionary. He's not an inspiring or even particularly coherent speaker, and he can't keep weasels like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson or drama queens like Joe Biden in line. On his watch, the party formerly associated with the New Deal and the Great Society has continued its betrayal of working people, labor, the social safety net, civil liberties, and choice.
Secondly, Gingrich was a consummate strategist who grasped the power of talking points and framing very early on, and got his party to step in time: "We've got to start talking about a conservative opportunity society replacing the liberal welfare state. Bang that language into your head. Use it every night. Use the same words and pretty soon it will permeate to the American people," Gingrich said. And even though not all his colleagues liked him, they were sick of losing, so they gritted their teeth and did it.
By contrast, anyone who tuned into the Alito hearings witnessed an incoherent Democratic party in utter disarray - a virtual parody of a drawing room comedy with Kennedy as the slightly disheveled elder statesman with a taste for whiskey, Schumer as the earnest young bounder with a taste for power, and Biden as the crazy, delusional nephew who thinks he's Napoleon.
Gingrich and his crew had an eye to the next generation, and were willing to bypass seniority in favor of hunger and talent when appointing committee chairs. By contrast, political ascendancy in the Democratic Party still operates like the succession of kings. Howard Dean and Barack Obama, who would be treated as rising stars in any functional organization, are kept under lock and key. Dean's only allowed out to raise money and take flack from the same Democrats who have been steering the party into a ditch for nearly a decade, and Obama's only allowed out to criticize Dean.
But finally, it's not going to work because the Democrats really can't differentiate themselves from the Republicans. As the Alito hearings have shown, they all get along like a bunch of dorm mates, with occasional spats that can easily be resolved over a pitcher at the pub or a few reps at the gym.
And why not? They have as lot in common, these rich, white, middle-aged and older guys who want to keep their cushy jobs and reward their wealthy supporters. Both sides supported the Bankruptcy Bill; neither side supports effective campaign finance reform.
Their kids will never be drafted; their daughters and wives will always enjoy access to contraception and abortions; their queer kids will live well within the long shadow of their protection (and payroll, as Mary Cheney and John Schlafly will attest).
So when the DNC sends you their new "culture of corruption" appeal, send the SASE back to them along with a note saying that your check's already in the mail - to someone who walks their talk and loves you better...
Nancy Goldstein can be reached at [email protected]. Her next column will appear on Thursday, February 2nd.