The overstated shrillness of the Democratic Party
Just look at his column in Thursday's Washington Post, where he ripped apart extemism on both wings but more specifically argued that the Democratic Party has fallen under the spell and influence of its more left-wing elements, settling into "a shrillness unlike anything heard in living memory from a major tendency within a major party":
[The Republican Party] is showing signs of becoming an exhausted volcano. Regarding Iraq, it is mistaking truculent asperity and tiresome repetition for Churchillian wartime eloquence. Regarding domestic policy, intellectual anemia has given rise to behavioral patterns not easily distinguished from corruption, as with the energy and transportation bills. Yet the Democratic Party, which by now can hardly remember the far-distant past when it was a volcano not of molten rhetoric but of serious thought, seems preoccupied with the chafing around its neck. The chafing is caused by the leashes firmly gripped and impudently jerked by various groups such as MoveOn.org that insist the party adopt hysteria as a policy by treating the Supreme Court nomination of John G. Roberts Jr. as a dire threat to liberty.
If Hillary Clinton has half the political sense her enthusiasts ascribe to her, she must be deeply anxious lest all her ongoing attempts to adopt moderation as her brand will be nullified by the increasing inclination of her party's base to succumb to siren songs sung by the likes of [Cindy] Sheehan. But, then, a rapidly growing portion of the base is not just succumbing to those songs, it is singing them.
Alright, I don't really agree with Will. Like so many on the right, he overemphasizes the influence of groups like MoveOn and loud-mouthed individuals like Michael Moore (n.b.: I liked F9/11 a great deal, but he is, you must admit, a loud-mouth). I mean, how is the left wing of the Democratic Party worse than the right wing of the Republican Party? Where's the Democratic Pat Robertson, Tom DeLay, or Grover Norquist? Where's the left's Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, or Sean Hannity? Ted Kennedy? Al Franken? Come on, get real.
The plight (and hope) of the Democratic Party has been on my mind in recent months, not least because even from Canada, with my love for America and my wishes to see it resurrected from the political depths to which it has recently plunged, I was heavily invested in the 2004 election. As were many other Canadians I know. But I firmly believe that the Democratic Party already has within it the seeds of its own resurrection to electoral success, and, indeed, a case can be made — a thoroughly convincing one — that the Democratic Party is doing much better than most people realize, including those in the media who seem to focus exclusively on national politics. As I put it back in June:
[T]he weaknesses of the Democratic Party have been wildly overplayed. Yes, Bush won two elections he shouldn't have, the Republicans now control both sides of Capitol Hill, and conservative appointees threaten to shift the entire federal judiciary to the right. But look at it this way: Bush barely won in 2000 — indeed, he may not have won, but that's another problem entirely. He only won because everything broke his way: Gore was a lousy candidate; Nader took important votes away from Gore in key swing states; Bush effectively campaigned as a compassionate conservative, blurring the differences between him and Gore; a relatively peaceful and prosperous country was willing to take a chance on Bush after eight years of Clinton; and, well, there was Florida. If Florida had gone the way it should have, or if Nader had taken himself off the ballot in certain states, or if Bush hadn't campaigned as such a moderate, then Gore would have won. Then Gore would have guided the country through 9/11 and Afghanistan, the Democrats likely would have done well in 2002, the U.S. likely wouldn't be in Iraq, and Republicans would be having this very same conversation about how to refashion themselves in the face of a significant Democratic majority. As it is, Bush won, then capitalized on 9/11 for partisan purposes, leading to a solid Republican showing in 2002.
Given all this — the memories of 9/11, the threat of terrorism (which Bush, as president, was able to manipulate to his own benefit), and the bully pulpit in a time of war, not to mention mass mobilization of evangelical voters — Bush barely won re-election last year. And although Kerry was a stronger candidate than Gore, he wasn't a great one and never quite managed to find his footing (too much nuance, not enough bluntness). It wasn't as close as 2000, but 2004 was hardly a rousing endorsement of a sitting president.
I suspect that the Republicans have already peaked (and not just because Bush's approval ratings are tanking). And that peak meant two narrow presidential elections, Congressional victories fueled by 9/11, terrorism, war, and gerrymandering, and Democratic successes at the state level. That's hardly the kind of dominance worthy of envy and emulation.
Democrats can surely do better, but I think it's important to keep their recent "troubles," not to mention their alleged extremism, in perspective.