I’m 46—just a few years above the median age on DailyKos—but I’m feeling mighty old these days.
When Bill Clinton became the first Democrat elected President in 16 years in 1992, I was 30 years old. I followed the transition fairly closely through newspapers and radio, even though I was working and attending college at the same time. I didn’t have cable, but I could see that troubles with some of his cabinet nominees were played up by talk radio and the newspapers. It came back to haunt him not long after. The meme stuck, and congress flipped over to the Republicans in 1994 for 12 long years.
When Jimmy Carter was elected, I was only 14. I tried to understand what was going on, but my memories are somewhat hazy. I recall that Carter had controversies with his Budget Director Burt Lance, and he did not ingratiate himself with congress. That came back to haunt him later.
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But now as I read DailyKos, I see a plethora of diaries from progressives (of which I consider myself one) fall into the same mistakes that were made in 1993 and 1977. Several diaries espouse a philosophy of The Perfect roughing up The Good. Let me tell you from my own ancient personal experience of history, when this happens The Beaten Up and Injured Good often ends up losing to The Bad.
I don’t believe that people younger than me are unable to learn from history, or that most under-30s are too impatient to allow policies to be proposed before they attack them. Nor do I believe the long-running jokes that Democrats make a circle when it’s time for a firing squad or that Democrats aren’t members of "an organized political party."
If you’re 30 today, you were 14 when Clinton made the last transition from a Republican to a Democratic administration. So you were probably about as aware then as I was as a young teenager during the transition to the Carter administration. Maybe you’ve forgotten some of the mistakes that were made in the Clinton transition, and they were many. If you’re 30 now, you didn’t exist during the Carter transition. All you know about the last Democratic transition is from books or articles or hearsay.
Let me just tell you—neither the Carter nor the Clinton transitions were smooth. In fact, the damage that was incurred in those early days hamstrung the two presidencies in deeply fundamental ways. The Republican transitions, by contrast, were quick, smooth, and effective. As a mostly homogeneous party, the Republicans weren’t subject to as much infighting. They were never out of power more than eight years at a time, so they could bring back their top performing operatives. They held a consistent and dogmatic philosophy for the past 28 years, so they simply recycled their people and erased everything they could that was done in the intervening years of a Democratic administration.
Every time we take power, it feels like a Jacobean Purge from the French Revolution. Nobody is progressive enough for certain elements that try to out-bid each other. So The Good are beheaded along with The Bad, and The Perfect are too uninitiated in the ways of negotiations to get anything done.
I personally don’t believe in the kind of message discipline that the Republican party espouses. I think it has led to their current unpopularity. But I also don’t believe that the dogmatic drive for The Perfect should exclude The Good. That’s what I see happening on DailyKos, and that’s why I feel so old and tired and sad these days.