I should be writing a thesis rather than speculating over historical implications for the present, but of course I’m a procrastinator who will do anything to avoid actually doing what I should be doing. Therefore I will now take the time to put down some thoughts I have had on the recent Democratic surrender to Bush.
The political game they are playing is highly dangerous. For 2008 the Democrats are betting on this highly unpopular and costly war in Iraq to sweep them into the white house, not to mention unbreakable majorities in the House and Senate. The gamble they are taking is that the current large anti-war constituency will forgive them and continue to support them, despite the compromise they have made. In fact, they are counting on its growth as increased support for their party, though they are unwilling to stand up and support the voice of this growing majority at this moment because it is not large enough yet.
Before I go into my historical analogy, let me explain what beliefs make up this group of people so generally referred to as ‘anti-war’. There are those who are purely anti-war, no matter what the war. There are those who realize we need to combat terrorism, but this misadventure had nothing to do with it and is in fact exacerbating the problem. There are those who realize our economy cannot handle the deficit required to continue the war. There are those who see that we have strategically lost the war and that it is not worth sacrificing more American lives for a war already lost. There are many more, but this brief sample shows the diversity of understanding, both practical and principled, of those of us who are simply labeled ‘anti-war’.
With their compromising and unwillingness to support the values and views of their constituency, the Democrats are in danger of following the footsteps of the Whig Party. In the two decades before the Civil War, the Whigs unwillingness to unite behind an abolitionist platform caused their downfall. They continually ‘compromised’ giving the slave South everything it wanted. They knew abolitionist sentiment was growing in the North, but they did not yet see it as a powerful enough force. Their mentality was that it would all pass over, give the slave holders what they wanted and in a few decades there would be no more slavery. The fact that they chose to wait out the problem rather than confront it head on lead to their downfall.
Now, the ‘abolitionist’, just like those referred to as ‘anti-war’, were much more diverse than the general label given to them. Sure, there were those like Gerrit Smith, Garrison, and Frederick Douglass, who were abolition agitators, fighting for the abolishment of slavery. There were also those in the business community who resented being marginalized or even locked out in southern business since free labor was discouraged. Also, there were those who didn’t give a damn if slavery remained or not, but once they became required by law to help in capturing slaves that escaped to the North, then you can bet they were quite unhappy about that. Just as today’s ‘anti-war’ activists, those labeled ‘abolitionists’ were diverse and included those who supported the cause on both grounds of practical and principled.
Even more parallels could be made, like that between the slave industry of the 19th century and the military industrial complex of today, but that would be deviating from my point just a bit. The Democrats, like the Whigs, may have ended their party by agreeing to this ‘compromise’. I must admit this would not sadden me, as it would leave an opening for a new party to take up the banner of principle and liberal values that would actually fight for it’s beliefs rather than compromise it’s principles in order to ensure a political safety net. To their surprise, the Democrats might actually find that safety net to be unsecured.