October 12, 2006
Democrats have no beitzim
Beitzim means eggs in Hebrew, but it is also slang for cojones.
And as the midterm election draws near, any clear-eyed assessment of the Democratic Party would have to conclude: the Democrats have no beitzim.
Plenty of them are gloating that the congressional page sex scandal will clinch a victory for them in November. But I doubt it. It wouldn't shock me if, New York Yankees-like, the team that looks unbeatable in the playoffs gets sent packing.
This is the party that couldn't unseat a president who chose to launch a disastrous war, and who waded against mainstream opinion on everything from stem cell research to energy policy to the environment to Terri Schiavo. At every turn, Democratic candidates have failed to offer an alternative voice that makes Americans feel not just sane, but safe.
I am sick of Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi and all the other so-called Democratic leaders. I'm all ears, and they're still tone deaf. They are either smug or shrill, and for all their smarts, rarely inspiring.
The most engaging, hard-hitting liberals in this country right now are Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher. But they're not leaders, they're jesters. They tell funny bedtime stories so that about 2 million New York Times readers can fall asleep believing the world hasn't really gone to hell.
But last time I checked no president ever won on the Snarky ticket.
There are courageous, brilliant Democrats out there, including many Jewish ones. But they aren't the party leaders, and with the exception of Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), none of them have White House aspirations, and so far none of them seem to know how to inspire the masses from behind a microphone. Does Feingold? We shall see.
I can carbon date the age of the Democrats' petrified beitzim precisely. If my generation will never forget where they were when Kennedy was shot, today's young voters will always remember where they were when JFK's party got neutered.
It happened on Jan. 26, 1998. On that day, President Bill Clinton lied to the public about his liaison with Monica Lewinsky. Instead of standing up to the Republicans and saying, "Hey, I was wrong, now get over it, because I'm not going anywhere," he caved. The Democrats have been sorry ever since.
Contrast that to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). When revelations emerged last week that he bungled an investigation into the predatory conduct of Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.). Hastert admitted he blew it, but held firm. He dissembled, he got caught, then he apologized, and now he is staring down the media and the nation, like Kim Jung Il and his nukes, refusing to budge, daring them to call his bluff. I never thought I'd write this sentence, but Bill Clinton is no Dennis Hastert.
"In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man," the Pirke Avot says. The vacuum in Democratic leadership has allowed Republicans to launch headlong attacks on long-established liberal bulwarks. With the Democrats offering Titanic-quality leadership, Republicans understand that even the historic Democratic voters -- Latinos, blacks, Jews -- are in play. What seems impossibly ingrained can change in a generation, or an election. In his new book, "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South," Thomas Schaller points out that until Barry Goldwater came on the scene in the 1960s, "white Southerners ... trailed only the Jews and African Americans in their degree of economic liberalism."
The struggle over Jewish votes erupted in these pages in response not to an article, but to a series of ads. Smelling blood, the Republican Jewish Coalition bought full-page front-of-the-book placement in major Jewish papers across the country to make their claim that Democrats are weak on Israel and soft on terrorism. One particularly subtle ad featured a full-page photo of Britain's pre-war Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, likening Dems to Nazi appeasers.
Others offered selected quotes from anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan and former President Jimmy Carter, as a way to show an erosion of support for Israel within the party.
The Democratic response has been -- surprise! -- weak. They argue that Sheehan is not the Democratic Party -- although the Democrats were happy to use her during the 2004 Presidential race -- and that former President Carter is not the mainstream of the Democratic Party. Except that he was, um, president of the United States.
The Democrats need to acknowledge that support for Israel is showing signs of softening among the party's left-leaning activist base, even as blind pro-Israel fervor marks the right-leaning evangelical base of the Republicans. The Democrats should acknowledge this, address it, find a way to repair it -- and fight back.
They might want to point out that eight years ago every senior Israeli analyst identified Iran as Israel's greatest strategic threat, and that under six years of President Bush, the Iranian threat -- due to the fiasco in Iraq, and despite the president's rhetoric -- has increased multifold.
They might want to argue that the president's failure to wean America from its dependence on oil -- despite an ideal post-Sept. 11 environment in which to boldly do so -- deeply cripples our ability to stand up to Arab regimes. In his new book, "State of Denial," Bob Woodward reveals that the president received his foreign policy tutoring from the prince of Saudi Arabia. There's no doubt President Bush loves Israel, but good for Israel: Hey, Democrats, stop defending Jimmy Carter and make an argument.
So who can save the Democrats? The Jews.