The Democratic Party is at a crossroads. In trying to determine what has gone wrong and how to fix it, Democrats first have to decide whether they are going to be Doc Holliday Democrats.
That is, are they going to be devil-may-care, full-blown obstructionists, or a strong, constructive opposition party seeking to reclaim common ground with the majority of Americans? Or, will they, like Michael Moore, remain in denial about their standing with voters?
Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp's colorful sidekick, was diagnosed with terminal tuberculosis, which led him, many believe, to live on the edge with profligate gambling and gun duels. Holliday might have figured that the worst possible consequence of living life dangerously was to accelerate his imminent death. Could it be that some Democrats have decided to be openly obstructionist, calculating they have little to lose given their increasingly entrenched minority status?
Or, does Michael Moore's spirit of delusional optimism prevail among them? Moore believes that a majority of Americans support the Democrat agenda (whatever that may be), notwithstanding the outcome of the election. That, coupled with Moore's cogent post-election observation that Republicans won because they got more votes, might lead us to infer that Moore doesn't believe President Bush stole the election.
Instead, Moore probably thinks that many voters -- enough to sway the outcome of the election -- are just not sophisticated enough to match up the correct presidential candidate with their preferred policy positions.
No matter how you cut it, a substantial number of Democrats -- among the grassroots and in leadership positions -- are loaded for bear. In their rhetoric and their actions, such as in blocking President Bush's judicial appointments, they seem to have assumed the role of spoilers.
The Washington Post reports that "Democrats in Washington and the country are organizing for a year of confrontation and resistance, saying they are determined to block Bush's major initiatives and thereby deny him the mandate he has claimed from his reelection victory last November."
Don't miss the double dose of hypocrisy here. Democrats, while denying Bush has a mandate after his decisive victory, are, essentially, claiming one themselves, after their decisive loss. And while demanding Bush demonstrate bipartisanship, they are vowing to redouble their commitment to bitter partisanship.
In the Washington Post article, Democrats are quoted as saying they "have little interest in building bridges to the White House" and "they are united in their desire to fight." One Democratic pollster said, "What's been clear and somewhat surprising in the weeks after the election is that Bush got virtually no bounce and no honeymoon from his victory. What seems pretty clear is that there was nothing particularly healing about Bush's victory."
These are not the words of bipartisanship and compromise. Besides, no election is a healing experience for the losing side, and it isn't supposed to be. Democrats keep talking the language of healing and collegiality, but betray themselves when they unilaterally declare the honeymoon to be over before President Bush has even been inaugurated. By definition that can only be their fault, since a presidential honeymoon is the period of collegiality and cooperation historically extended by Congress or the opposition party to a president at the beginning of his term.
Don't get me wrong. I don't believe in all this nonsense about bipartisanship, and I find claims of mandates by either side to be a little silly. I don't think parties are supposed to be bipartisan, if that means abandoning their respective agendas. And I don't think they ought to view their authority in office differently based on any perceived mandate.
Under our system the winners don't have to voluntarily surrender a portion of their agenda commensurate with the percentage of votes their various opponents received. It is up to other members of the opposition party who did win their respective elections to exert the proper checks and balances by attempting to implement their agenda as well. The system works when each side is pitted against the other.
Truthfully, Democrats only talk about mandates and bipartisanship when they lose. To them bipartisanship means Republicans should unilaterally abandon a substantial portion of their agenda. If their roles were reversed, Democrats wouldn't think of doing that.
But while Democrats have the right to press for their agenda and to oppose President Bush's, they will eventually be accountable if they continue to insult Americans and treat them like little children who don't know what's good for them and don't even know how to vote in their own best interests.
They can either be the party of reasonable opposition that tries to regain their lost trust with the majority or Doc Holliday Democrats -- no offense to the good Doctor and Wyatt Earp intended.