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Political Animal

A Better Country

By Brian Morton | Posted 10/29/2008

Back in 2000, during Ralph Nader's quixotic quest to muddy the waters between the two parties as much as possible, a meme went around claiming that "there's not a dime's worth of difference" between the two major political parties.

In hindsight, it's pretty clear how wrong that was, isn't it?

If the last eight years have taught us anything, it's that people who don't like government and don't want much government probably shouldn't be trusted to run whatever government we have to have. In 2000, John McCain ran as a reformer (back when he had some actual claim to the title), and George W. Bush, then the governor of Texas, immediately ran on a slogan saying he was a "reformer with results." The end result was that we got a president who believed that slogans were an effective substitute for government.

We discovered that despite "Mission: Accomplished," slogans didn't keep more than 4,100 Americans from dying in an unnecessary war, and 30,000 more from suffering injuries that have changed their lives and will tax our teetering health-care system for years to come. We learned that "Heckuva job, Brownie" didn't save the thousands who died when a hurricane experts had predicted in advance washed over what was then the 38th-largest city in America.

Since September 2002, this column has been a long (and often depressing) catalog of examples of one party using government to enrich the few at the expense of the many, and sometimes even a litany of how the other party simply laid back and allowed it to happen. Cowed, chastened, and cornered, Democrats were rolled on the USA Patriot Act, Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq, the bankruptcy bill, the Military Commissions Act--time and time again, both as a minority party and in the majority, they acquiesced to browbeating from Republicans and a lockstep corporate media. Only when the house of cards began toppling did they finally see that the GOP had built a Potemkin America, and how they could run against it.

Part of what has failed Democrats is the constant call by disingenuous commentators for "new ideas." The ideas Democrats should be running on are the same ones that built them as a majority from the end of the Great Depression and World War II all the way to the flabby and undisciplined party that lost the majority under Tom Foley in 1994. Social Security. Medicare and Medicaid. A strong environment. Quality public education from kindergarten through high school. Affordable college education for those who want to go.

Combine these principles with the devotion to science and technology that built this country during the baby-boom years into a juggernaut that went from putting a man on the moon to creating a technological and communications revolution with the internet. The new ideas of today combined with the solid principles of the past can help Democrats win majorities again if they have the courage of their convictions--and stick to them.

Already the chorus has begun on the Right to distance itself from what Bush and Tom DeLay and Newt Gingrich hath wrought over the last generation, but conservatives got nearly everything they wanted, and now they have reaped what they have sown. The final straw is the ongoing economic crisis. To paraphrase conservative guru Grover Norquist, no matter how big it is, when you can drown government in the bathtub, rich and poor alike stand a chance of going under.

Covering politics shouldn't be drama criticism, and the modern "Washington insider"--the David Broders, the Maureen Dowds, the George Wills, and the William Kristols--haven't had the best interests of the average American at heart for a long time. Yet these are the people who chided Bill Clinton, who touted Bush, and who cheered as we were led into the biggest foreign-policy quagmire in a half-century. And in some cases, they were the ones saying, eight long years ago, that there wasn't that dime's worth of difference between the two parties.

This coming week you have a chance unlike any other in a long time to cast a vote to change the direction in which we're headed. If you believe voting doesn't matter, you are a living testimonial to the times that have proven such a belief's idiocy.

I'd rather have a better country. If you would, too, then on Tuesday you've got your chance to prove it. Vote. H

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