The death this year of the long-time Democratic activist Penn Kemble reminds me that among Democrats there is an alternative to these provincials. Kemble, who died of cancer at age 64, began his political life as a civil-rights demonstrator. On his death bed I saw him listening to a tape of Negro spirituals being sung by Bayard Rustin, a black civil-rights leader who like Penn, who was white, never lost his faith in America or in its essential goodness. Kemble was an ardent believer in the labor movement, but from all I could tell was open to technological developments that might increase the productivity of workers. Convinced of the imperative of America's Democratic values, Kemble favored the use of American strength in the world. Where he might have disagreed with the president he was always measured and restrained. And there were limits to his partisanship. In the three decades that I socialized with him and played handball I am sure that we disagreed on things, but we never had an argument. I walked away from his presence understanding his position and he walked away understanding mine. We never doubted each other's good motives. I can tell you this sort of comity is very rare on Capitol Hill. The last time I was there I frankly was amazed by the lack of trust and respect on both sides.
I think what is at the heart of the Democratic leadership's rants and partisanship is a refusal to admit the opposition's good motives. Second there is a refusal to understand the opposition's policies. As the Republicans' policies, both domestic and in foreign policy, are adaptions to the way the world is, that leaves the Democratic leadership in denial of the way the world is. It is this denial that will ensure the party's continued decline. The Democrats do have an alternative. Joe Lieberman is from the same wing of the party as Penn Kemble, and he is equally civilized. My guess is that the Democratic rank and file will in the years ahead side with Lieberman. That is the intelligent future for the party and there are still plenty of intelligent Democrats. It is just that they are not numbered with the likes of Reid.
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