One sorry mess of a party

Jonah Goldberg

2/10/2006 12:05:00 AM - Jonah Goldberg

And for another week, the Democrats managed to hold themselves hostage to, well, themselves.

Item 1 Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, the wunderkind of the Democratic Party who, we've been told, not only transcends race, partisanship and personal ambition but actually sails above such concerns like the Winged Victory of Samothrace, received his first shellacking this week by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

McCain says Obama promised to join in a bipartisan lobbying reform effort but reneged in favor of backing the Democrats' more partisan effort. So McCain - the dashboard saint of bipartisan reform efforts - turned Obama into epistolary roadkill.

In an archly sarcastic letter, McCain apologized for not realizing that Obama was more interested in "self-interested partisan posturing," adding that "I'm embarrassed to admit that after all these years in politics, I failed to interpret your previous assurances as typical rhetorical gloss."

Item 2 Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) returned a campaign contribution from Wal-Mart while gladly pocketing cash from Paul Newman, Reese Witherspoon and other Hollywood liberals. She even took a wad of dough from Jerry Springer, who made his fortune proving that nothing is too vile to broadcast. Clinton served on Wal-Mart's board from 1986 until 1992, and in that time the company was hardly any more "worker-friendly" - to borrow a liberal term - than it is today. It's just a bigger company now, with the same policies she oversaw. When asked if she ever fought for "progressive" policies when she was a director of the company, she replied, "Well, you know, I, that was a long time ago, I have to remember. ..."

Item 3 The New York Times ran a state-of-the-art Democratic self-recrimination story, highlighting the party's inability to make political hay from such supposedly obvious Republican vulnerabilities as Hurricane Katrina and the National Security Agency wiretapping. The article was festooned like a Christmas tree with baubles of self-doubt and ornaments of denial hanging from every branch: The Democrats are frustrated by the party's "tangled" problems and their inability to exploit this "pivotal moment," etc.

Some Democrats are furious that their party doesn't have its own ideas. Others say they do have ideas; they're just keeping them secret for now. That sounds a lot like the high school geek who insists that his girlfriend is really hot but lives in an undisclosed location in Canada.

Others say agendas aren't that useful anyway. "People said, 'You can't beat something with nothing,'" House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told the Times, even though Democrats did exactly that on Social Security. "I feel very confident about where we are," she assured the paper.

And all this happened by Wednesday - and leaves out Jimmy Carter's shabby and even mildly ghoulish exploitation of Coretta Scott King's funeral.

"A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, but then fail all the more completely because he drinks," George Orwell once observed. This seems to capture nicely the dynamic of the Democrats' shame spiral. Success in politics is measured by winning elections. On this score, Democrats have been failures for a while now. In response, they're getting drunk on a brew of partisanship and Bush-hating.

It is amazing how obvious - OK, even trite - is the Democratic plight. Democrats need the money and energy of their "progressive," blog-addicted base, but in order to get it, they turn off mainstream voters. In other words, they can't get escape velocity.

Clinton's Wal-Mart refund is a perfect illustration not merely of her hypocrisy but of the quicksand she is now in. She thinks it's a winning message to say she's too good for Wal-Mart's money but not Hollywood's. That's not exactly red-state savvy.

Obama allowed himself to be seduced by the elixir of Democratic self-righteousness at the expense of making real headway on lobbying reform and hitching his wagon to the most popular politician in America.

And Pelosi has become enamored with the idea that one needn't be for anything, as long as one is opposed to Bush. No doubt that's the feedback she's getting in her echo chamber.

In the Senate, Minority Leader Harry Reid has infuriated Republican moderates such as Arlen Specter more than GOP conservatives by obstructing legislation and hurling partisan insults. This is exactly the opposite strategy required for clawing out of the hole the Democrats are in. But anti-Republicanism trumps everything. And that's a road map for the Democrats to go ever deeper into the wilderness.