By Michael R. Honig
There is something I’ve given a lot of thought to in the last few months, and I think I have some new ideas about what’s been going on with the Democrats over these past years.
In my estimation …
I think that Alan Grayson, Anthony Weiner and a few other feisty Democrats may be the core around which will eventually coalesce a new kind of Democratic Party.
If Anthony Weiner is the intellect of this new kind of Democrat, I think that Alan Grayson is the street fighter. 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, and just innocent enough to describe it in precise terms without shame or embarrassment, but with a baldness which makes the adults want to slink away and hide.
Anthony Weiner is perhaps the intellectual, passionate heart of the new Democratic Party. He pulls 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. And he doesn’t mince words.
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, with our national experience in Vietnam.
Before that, I think that Democrats were becoming a highly activist and unabashedly progressive party which brought forth great programs under the dynamic leadership of Lyndon Johnson, who is perhaps one of our most under-rated modern presidents because of his Vietnam legacy.
The Democrats of the 1960s passed programs like Medicare & Medicaid, and long overdue civil rights legislation.
After Vietnam, Democrats felt 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 shape the war and military policies that ultimately failed. The success of George McGovern’s presidential campaign supporters in remaking the Democratic Party’s procedures at the grass roots level, 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 Democratic politicians.
If I may speak as a total layperson in psychology, I think that Democratic politicians from that time and the future Democratic politicians that learned from them are suffering today from a maladaptive emotional and psychological response to those experiences and perceptions, 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.
I think the Democrats of the 21st century are still suffering from a political equivalent of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Following that analogy, Alan Grayson and Anthony Weiner come from a different generation with different experiences. They’re not fighting a ‘post-Vietnam’ political 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 after the Democrats won such commanding majorities in 2008.
If I may stretch an analogy, I might compare this time for the Democrats to the Israelites wandering through the Sinai Desert for 40 years before reaching the Promised Land. I have been told that an interpretation of the 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 and a few others, it would be that they represent the new generation of Democrats taking control of the Party’s future from the old generation. … The generation that has the post-Vietnam battle scars, political Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the emotional, psychological and political limitations placed upon them by those traumas.
Looking at the calendar, it’s been just about 40 years since Nixon whupped McGovern’s unelectable butt. Let’s hope the new, revitalized Democrats get their feisty act together and hurry up on their way to the promised land.