"A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks," George Orwell wrote.
Democrats should keep that in mind.
For example, the Daily Kos, an Internet blog which largely serves as the chief cheerleader and bulletin board for Democrats, thinks the party should fire DNC Chair Terry McAuliffe and replace him with Howard Dean.
Now, the first part of that advice could not be more obvious. Indeed, even though he is slated to retire anyway - and he receives no salary - the Democrats would still fire him. He's presided over the most calamitous decline of a major political party in modern memory. Many Republicans think he should be chair for life. Though some Democrats I know think he should be kicked out of the party the way some street gangs do it: with a barrage of kicks, punches and spit.
But, replacing Terry with Howard Dean would be a disaster.
The conventional wisdom is right: Democrats have a values problem. At the national level, they can't talk about them convincingly. Even Rahm Emanuel, a former Clinton staffer and now a Democratic congressman, explained to the New York Times, "people aren't going to hear what we say until they know that we don't approach them as Margaret Mead would an anthropological experiment."
As my old boss - and lifelong Democrat Ben Wattenberg - noted in his book "Values Matter Most," when the Democratic Party moved to the left, many moderate and conservative Democrats felt abandoned. In 1964 Barry Goldwater carried five states in the Democratic South. In 1968, the left kept LBJ from running and ruined the convention. In 1972 the leftists ruled the roost. A young militant with a huge afro, wearing a dashiki, was splashed across the airwaves because he helped get Chicago mayor Richard Daley dumped as a delegate to the Democratic Convention. That militant was Jesse Jackson.
Jackson both led and represented a change in the Democratic Party. For example, the '72 Convention imposed a severe racial and gender quota system - which exists to this day - so that the party would be more "inclusive."
Referring to such reforms, George McGovern, the presidential nominee in 1972, said he opened the doors to the Democratic Party "and 20 million people walked out." McGovern lost the election in a historic landslide to Nixon. Only Massachusetts voted for McGovern, and even there it was surprisingly close.
Only two Democrats have won the oval office since LBJ. Both were Southerners who campaigned as moderates. Jimmy Carter, a born-again Christian, lost his re-election bid in part because he seemed to break his promise to be a moderate (and partly because he was "history's greatest monster" - if you are a devotee of the Simpsons). In 1992 Gov. Bill Clinton also ran as a moderate on abortion, crime, the death penalty and welfare. He even criticized the rapper Sista Souljah - which infuriated Jesse Jackson, now comfortably wearing suits, paid for with corporate shakedowns. When Clinton was elected, he governed from the left - Hillary Care, gays in the military, etc. - and the American public elected a Republican Congress to punish him.
And, because the one thing we know Bill Clinton likes more than interns is being president, he suddenly tacked back to the center and basically stayed there for the rest of his administration.
There's a reason, as George Will recently noted, that "by Jan. 20, 2009, all the elected presidents for 44 consecutive years will have come from three Southern states - Texas, Arkansas, Georgia - and Southern California." America is simply a more conservative country than the leaders of the Democratic Party and the editors of the New York Times wish it to be. More than one out of five voters said that "moral issues" were the No. 1 reason they were voting for their candidate, and for four out of five of them their candidate was Bush.
The day after the election, a writer for the liberal journal The Washington Monthly declared that Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle's defeat proves "it is clear that Senate Democrats simply cannot afford to have a leader who hails from a hardcore red state." The analysis was fair. Daschle was indeed hindered by the fact that he was from a conservative state while he was leading a liberal party. At home he said abortion is an "abomination," but in Washington he was writing fundraising letters for NARAL. At home he was running ads showing him hugging George W. Bush. In Washington he was making Bush's life miserable.
The problem, however, is that if you follow such advice you reinforce all of the Democratic Party's problems. Like the man who thinks himself a failure, redoubling your commitment to the politics which caused your failure only guarantees even greater failure.