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The vital mission: Restoring honor to Democrats

By Bruce Walker
web posted December 2, 2002

In the afterglow of a decisive electoral victory it is easy to yearn for Democrats and liberals to continue their path toward moral and political suicide. Democrats make this even easier when they blame conservative critics - much nicer and much braver men and women than the likes of Temper Tantrum Tom - for the coarseness of modern politics.

If this were war, then we should hope for a Hitler or a Hussein to be fatally delusional. Their hubris helped insure our conquest of evil regimes. Democrats and liberals, however, cannot be our mortal enemies in the sort of free and tolerant society for which conservatives pine. We also cannot seek to crush opposing voices, however wrong they made be on policy issues.

President George W. Bush seems to understand the importance of returning honor to Democrats. I noted this critical role for President Bush in my March 5, 2001 article "Restoring Honor to Democrats: President Bush's Most Vital Mission" and I hit that theme again in my October 15, 2001 article "The Last Good Liberal Democrat." If anything, the need is more compelling now then when I penned those pieces.

Senator Phil Gramm, R-Tex., left, and Sen. Zell Miller , D-Ga., discuss issues dealing with Senate passage of the homeland security bill on Capitol Hill on November 14

Is the term "ethical Democrat" an oxymoron? No, Zell Miller is clearly an ethical politician. Under the arrival of Clinton in Washington, there were several Democrats who were honorable and sincere politicians: David Boren of Oklahoma, Sam Nunn of Georgia, Dick Lamm, the former Governor of Colorado.

These men were not ardent leftists, but even leftist Democrats have had honorable and sincere political figures. Paul Wellstone voted utterly and passionately wrong on almost everything, but he sought his bad agenda for good reasons. He is tragically mistaken, but he was wrong with grit and conviction. In an age when shifty liberals have become "progressives", Wellstone stood firmly behind the label that represented clear values.

Who today among the Democrats in Washington is honorable (besides Zell)? Russ Feingold, probably, despite being wrong on most policy issues and probably no one else. Even those conservative Democrats seem exceptionally cynical. Clinton and Gore, remember, were once "moderate" Democrats.

"Moderate" does not mean much if it is a disingenuous tactic to gain power. We ought - and I do - prefer men like George McGovern, who was wrong on every single domestic and foreign policy, but who stayed on the far political left in spite of the fact that he lost a landslide election as a result. McGovern opposed war on principle. He supported hunger programs on principle.

McGovern in 1972 could have moved toward the center by selecting a conservative running mate, waving the flag and conspicuously wearing his faith on his sleeve. This would not have been all fluff either: McGovern flew a B-17 over Europe (which entitles him to wave the flag a little) and he intended to become a Methodist minister, attending seminary school before turning to politics (certainly indicating genuine religious piety).

Had McGovern done so, he still would have lost to Nixon in 1972, but almost certainly he would have carried a dozen states instead of just one, and he would have received around forty-three percent of the popular vote - Hubert Humphrey's percentage four years earlier in 1968. When Nixon's Administration collapsed, McGovern would have been a logical standard bearer for the Democrats in 1976.

None of that would have been good for America - the Evil Empire was very much alive in 1976 - but McGovern thought what he was proposing was good for America, which is precisely why he said what he did. That honest outspokenness is very good for America and for a free democracy. Those of us on the right ought to encourage honor among those with whom we disagree, and President Bush made a wonderful gesture soon after his inauguration by appointing George McGovern as the first United Nations ambassador on hunger.

Honorable Democrat politicians, especially in Washington, are almost extinct now. Once Washington was different. Once not only did Washington have honest Democrats like McGovern, Feingold and Boren in the Senate, but Democrats chose as their Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, an individual of grace, integrity and decency - despite being dead wrong on almost every policy issue. Once House Democrats chose Carl Albert, the "Little Giant from Little Dixie" who was equally renown for upright, yet unassuming, character as Speaker of the House.

What has happened to the Democrat Party? How has it sunk so low? The first blow came with Jimmy Carter, who loved his wife and his mother sincerely, who served his country under the great America, Hymen Rickover, and who held deep religious convictions, but...he was willing to mask his true political philosophy in order to win election.

As a man, Carter was essentially good in the same way that Mike Mansfield and George McGovern were or Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan were, but unlike those four political figures, Carter understood that he had to pretend to be something that he was not in order to capture the White House for Democrats. Most people forget that the 1976 election was extremely close, and that Carter would have lost had the South understood his liberalism.

Soon thereafter, a rot set in the Democrat Party. Clinton was the penultimate example of this rot as the clever trickster, who lacked the personal scruples of Carter but like Carter knew that pretending to be Bubba would win him elections. Clinton resembles - eerily resembles - the character of Lonesome Roads, played by Andy Griffith in film "A Face in the Crowd." Roads, like Clinton, was always clowning, always pandering, always concealing, and always winking.

The creepy people who rule the national leadership of the Democrat Party - Clinton, Daschle, Gephardt and Rodham - cannot be trusted with power. This leaves the rest of us with several unappealing options.

We can work, as the President has done, to insure that Republicans hold power. Certainly the very corruption of Democrats makes that much easier, but no political party should feel too comfortable in power, even our Republican Party. An opposition party which is rightly and instinctively mistrusted serves our nation poorly.

We can cross our fingers and hope that Democrats begin to select trustworthy leaders, but the reelection of Daschle, the selection of Pelosi as Minority Leader in the House, and the reelection of Gray Davis in California gives cold comfort to that wish. Remember: Robert Torrecelli would have been reelected in November 2002, if the Democrats thought he would win.

Or we can do what President Bush seems intent on doing: work hard to persuade the Democrats to shape up. Recall that Governor Bush won over Democrats in Texas, and that he did so largely by appealing to their better instincts. Republicans should make honor, decency and civility an expectation by the American people of the Democrat Party.

How? Perhaps by honoring those Democrats, regardless of ideology, who tell the truth. Perhaps by raising the ethical bar themselves: have each Republican in Congress execute an affidavit promising to be honest in dealing with the public and their colleagues. In fairness, Republicans have done much in this area. The 1995 House reforms were real, were significant and were dramatic. Term limit pledges have been generally honored by Republicans.

The President should also push much more than it appears on public corruption. Even when it is unpopular, the President should insist than betraying the public trust has consequences. This may well be happening. Robust prosecution of voter fraud, which probably gave Democrats a senate seat in South Dakota, will be a good test.

Finally, the President should reach out to the new governors, especially perhaps the new Democrat governors, who are not now in direct competition with him, and cultivate these men and women as future honorable leaders of America. These Democrats are not beholden to the Democrat National Committee. While this group can produce a serpent like Clinton, it can also produce a gentleman like Boren. Governors, like presidents, are leaders "of all the people."

America has a huge new group of governors. Many of these new governors are Democrats from traditionally conservative areas like Oklahoma, Kansas, Wyoming, Tennessee and Arizona. They are facing serious budgetary problems as well as narrow majorities and strong Republican state legislative strength. President Bush has a golden opportunity to help develop these men and women into politicians of real and perceived honor and character.

These new governors can tell Clinton, Daschle and Pelosi to take a hike. And then these new leaders can reclaim the honor of men like Mike Mansfield, Carl Albert, George McGovern and David Boren. All of us ought to fervently wish them well, if they choose that course. And all of us ought to treat those words and actions by this new Democrat leadership group which are intended to expunge the muck of Clinton as the de-Nazification of the Democrat Party - a difficult process for them, but an essential process for the future of American democracy.

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

Other related stories: (open in a new window)

  • The last good liberal Democrat by Bruce Walker (October 15, 2001)
    Disagree with his politics if you like but Bruce Walker says Mike Mansfield, who passed away on October 5, deserved the respect of everyone
  • Restoring honor to Democrats - President Bush's most vital task by Bruce Walker (March 5, 2001)
    By reappointing George McGovern to his United Nations post George W. Bush is sending a signal to members of both parties, writes Bruce Walker. A healthy nation has at least two parties capable of fielding moral candidates
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