THE PASSION GAP
You’ll forgive me if I’m too full of joy today to type for very long in my blog. Yesterday was magical. It started off in the morning at one of my favorite synagogues (albeit not my own) attending my friend’s son’s Bar Mitzvah, then it got better in the afternoon when I watched my beloved Stanford Cardinal football team simply dismember their hated rival Cal-Berkeley by more than 30 points (Stanford is now 10-1, whereas five or so years ago we were 1-10) … but the strangest thing of all was that this incredible butt-kicking of a football game wasn’t even the high point of my day. Last evening, I went to the Jewish Folk Arts Festival concert and heard a number of professional Jewish cantors and other singers, including some of the most accomplished Jewish voices in the world. Somehow, my 20 year old daughter got invited to perform a couple of songs, and the crowd absolutely loved her. At the end of the evening, one of my favorite performers told me that she and a couple of the other professionals were talking about how great it was to hear Hannah, because it assured them that there is a new generation of Jewish voices who can keep this music alive. I kept a straight face. But now, when I think of those words, my eyes well up.
So what does all that have to do with a post about politics? It’s very simple. What I’m describing in the paragraph above is one word: passion. Football makes us passionate, music makes us passionate, and our daughter’s accomplishments make us REALLY passionate.
Passion is the sail that leads the way for all of our accomplishments. Indeed, when in The Creed Room I set out to describe the philosophy of “Empathic Rationalism” and then to summarize this philosophy in one sentence, this was the result: “Let passion be your sail, reason your keel, and empathy your rudder.”
Two years ago, when we were electing Barack Obama President and bazillions of Democrats to the House and Senate, practically all the nation’s passion was on the side of the progressives. To be sure, conservatives were passionate about Sarah Palin during the two or three weeks after she was nominated – and indeed, thanks to her, McCain was briefly ahead of Obama in the polls. But once Palin finished showing her vacuity in an interview with Katie Couric, and once the so-called “Stock Market Crash of 2008” revealed the Republicans’ failure to exercise responsible stewardship over the economy, that passion was gone. Plenty of conservatives continued to support the McCain-Palin ticket, but they were choosing the lesser of two evils, rather than enthusiastically endorsing either ticket. By contrast, progressives were going crazy over Obama –throwing money at him and volunteering time. When he said “We are the change we have been waiting for,” they thought they knew exactly what he meant and believed every word of it … even if he himself hadn’t quite figured it out.
I throw out these ideas now because the Democratic Party generally, and this White House in particular, is at a crossroads. Conventional wisdom tells them to tack to the center – as Clinton did after the first two years of his presidency – and enter into what a parliamentary system would call a “Unity Government.” That would begin with compromises on such fundamental, and yet partisan, issues as tax cuts for the rich.
But there is another alternative. And that is for Party leaders to stand their ground and govern as if they still control one branch of Congress and the Executive Branch of Government. Would that be political suicide? Would that constitute flipping the bird to the American public, the will of which was loudly heard during the Midterms? The answer to those questions, at least for me, is a resounding “no.”
From where I’m sitting, the last election can largely be attributed to a HUGE passion gap. Right now, conservatives and libertarians collectively monopolize that commodity. Throughout Red America, people are excited at the prospect of “taking their country back” from the so-called “socialists” in Washington who have no appreciation for the legitimate needs and importance of the private sector. This Administration of Democrats, by contrast, has compromised and compromised and compromised. “We are the change we have been waiting for” now appears to be empty rhetoric, and nobody quite knows what the Administration stands for other than the desire to work in a bi-partisan way. Under the circumstances, is there any question why Democrats could muster little enthusiasm for these past midterms? What exactly was supposed to be their rallying cry: “We are not as bad as the other guys!” Talk about a fear-based campaign.
For those who would say that the Democrats’ many accomplishments during the past two years should generate enthusiasm, think twice. The Wall Street bailouts that brought us from the brink of an economic collapse were obviously no different than what the Republicans would have enacted. Frankly, so are the measures we’ve taken in connection with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The “stimulus package” that Obama pushed through is obviously different than what the Republicans claim to be supporting, but it was hardly a bold package. Just read the progressive op-eds and blogs and you’ll find many diatribes against the stimulus package, contending that it was neither large nor focused enough to do for Main Street was Obama was willing to do for Wall Street. Such a package is not exactly the kind of thing that breeds progressive passion.
Of course, the crown jewel of the past two years – the “groundbreaking legislation” – is the President’s health care plan. Clearly, this was his greatest priority once he stabilized the economy. But even this plan, as popular as it is among progressives, isn’t exactly causing them to turn cartwheels. The supposedly socialist “Obamacare” plan that the conservatives love to ridicule is little different than the previous ideas advocated by moderate Republicans (like Mitt Romney’s plan, when he was Governor of Massachusetts, or the proposal of Robert Dole, when he was running for President). Plus, what is particularly interesting about the present dynamic is that the plan will largely not be implemented for years down the road, and by then, the Republicans may have made good on their threats to repeal it. So even this groundbreaking legislation isn’t something on which the Democrats can truly count.
What should the Democrats count on? What should they be rallying around? How about this: at a time when our economy is in trouble and a small group of Americans are amassing ungodly wealth while most of the country is having trouble treading water, Americans can ill afford to cut taxes on the ultra wealthy. We simply must fight those tax cuts. And doing so is anything but “class warfare.” For it is precisely out of respect for the ultra-rich and their patriotism that we must take this stand. Patriotic billionaires don’t leave the country simply because of a small marginal tax increase. They do their part and help out – and Lord knows that there is plenty to be done, even if it just means paying down the debt.
If the Democrats want to function as a legitimate Party, they need to remember what the Republican Party has long ago realized. While it is important to work with the other Party whenever possible, and while it is vital to listen to the American public, never should a Party take its base for granted. Never should a Party give up on issues that are the most critical to that base. And if you’re a Democrat, never should you voluntarily give up on an issue like tax cuts for the rich without first waging a battle royale.
If you do, kiss your base’s passion goodbye!