This is something I’ve given a lot of thought to in the last few weeks, and I think I have some new ideas about what’s going on with the Democrats.
My estimations … I think that Alan Grayson and Anthony Weiner may be the core around which will coalesce a new kind of Democrat and a new kind of Democratic Party.
If Anthony Weiner is the intellect of this new kind of Democrat, I think that Alan Grayson is, if I may crudely analogize, the balls. I would compare Alan to the precocious 7-year old in the room who is smart enough to see exactly what’s going on among the adults, but just innocent enough to describe it precisely, without shame or embarrassment to him, but with a baldness which makes the adults want to slink away and hide.
Anthony Weiner is more of the intellectual, passionate heart of the new Democratic Party. He pull facts and figures out of his head in an eye blink, he’s not intimidated by lies and hyperbole from the opposition, and seems tireless in his willingness to fight back against small-minded and interest-group-backed opponents.
I actually have also given a lot of thought to where our contemporary spineless Democratic Party developed, and I think it started, as did so many socially and politically transformative events in our recent history, in Vietnam. Before that, I think that Democrats were becoming a highly activist and unabashedly progressive party, which brought forth (under the dynamic leadership of LBJ, among others, who is perhaps one of our most under-rated modern presidents, again because of his Vietnam legacy) programs like Medicare & Medicaid, important and long overdue civil rights legislation, etc.
After Vietnam, Democrats felt that they were viewed as the ‘defeatist’ party: the party that had lost Vietnam, had essentially been outmaneuvered by and surrendered to the Communists, and had allowed the hippies and far leftists to build their failed war and military policies. George McGovern’s remaking of the Democratic Party procedures at the grass-roots level by his supporters, and his subsequent electoral demolition at the hands of Richard Nixon, cemented this view in the popular perception. More importantly, however, it was imprinted indelibly in the minds of Democrats.
If I may speak as a semi-ignorant layperson in psychology, I think that Democratic politicians from that time are suffering today from a maladaptive emotional and psychological response to those experiences and perceptions — a political form of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder — and that response has been handed down to many of today’s Democrats in the same way that children learn dysfunctional responses from their parents.
Following that analogy, Alan Grayson and Anthony Weiner come from a different generation with different experiences. They’re not fighting a ‘post-Vietnam’ PTSD. They’re frustrated by 8 years of iron and retrograde Republican control of the Federal Government, and by 6 years of a conservative Republican Congress before that. They’re angry at the so-called ‘spineless Democrats’, and probably can’t understand (as many of us can’t) why the Party seems so timid, especially now that the Democrats have won such commanding majorities in 2008.
If you want my Biblical analogy (drawing on my REALLY limited expertise here), I would compare this to the Israelites wandering through the Sinai Desert for 40 years before reaching the Promised Land. An interpretation of God’s reasons for this was that the older Israelites, who had grown up in slavery and still had a slave mentality, had to die off so that the young Israelites, who had known hardship but only in the context of freedom, would control the future course of their people in the Promised Land.
If I were to offer a grandiose interpretation, then, of the sudden prominence and influence of Democrats like Grayson and Weiner, it would be that they represent the new generation of Democrats taking control of the Party’s future from the old generation with their post-Vietnam battle scars, and the emotional, psychological and political limitations placed upon them by those battle scars.