...and then you pick a fight. One of the more frustrating things about my daily romps through the blogosphere is the nearly non-stop Democrat bashing from some 'independent progressive' sources (another one of my frustrations is the widespread fear of using the word 'liberal'), with noxious references like "Vichy Democrats" popping up in far too many places.
I'm not talking about people engaged in the Party that are arguing for reform, whether of structure or message. I'm talking about folks that always talk about the Democratic Party as "them," never as "us," as though there were somewhere else for "us" to be if we're serious about having an impact in the electoral arena of American politics.
The nomination of Alberto R. Gonzales to replace John Ashcroft as US Attorney General has given rise, for instance, to some of the most heated attacks on Democrats, generally and specifically. Among those getting specific damnation from the 'independents' is Sen. Joe Biden, who opined that if he'd been offered the choice between Gonzales and Ashcroft a few months ago, Gonzales would have been a clearly better choice.
That doesn't mean, of course, that Joe Biden thinks Alberto Gonzales is the best choice for Attorney General, simply that, despite serious failings as a selection, he's a better choice that a man who's already proven to be a terrible choice. Yeah, I know about the torture memo, and I abhor it, but it doesn't put forward any ideas that Ashcroft didn't fully endorse himself. Gonzales, on the other hand, when serving on the Texas Supreme Court, offered at least some indication that he has a level of respect for established law (specifically in the area of privacy rights as they apply to reproductive choice) that Ashcroft completely lacks.
Do I want Alberto Gonzales to be the Attorney General? No, at all. I want the Attorney General to be John Kerry's nominee. Am I going to get my wish? No, not at all, not anything close.
On the other hand, venting my frustration by trashing Joe Biden, or Chuck Schumer, who has also opined that Gonzales may be as good as we can expect from a Bush administration, won't take me one step closer to my desires. It's probably a better investment of intellectual and emotional energy to laud the stated intentions of Democrats like Pat Leahy and Ted Kennedy, who are promising
to make the Gonzales confirmation hearings a referendum on the torture scandals that followed Gonzales' horrible advice to Bush.
Gonzales' confirmation "may be the only remaining forum in which to examine more fully the steps that were taken to weaken U.S. policy on torture in the period that led to the prison scandals at Abu Ghraib and Afghanistan," said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"Even Secretary of State Powell objected to Mr. Gonzales memorandum undermining the Geneva Conventions, which Mr. Gonzales called 'obsolete' and 'quaint,'" said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
"I raised it with him when I talked with him today, that of course we're going to ask questions about the memo and the detainees at Guantanamo and at Abu Ghraib," Leahy told PBS Wednesday, and "the question about whether the Geneva Convention should be set aside and his role in that."
Our energies need to be focused on making sure that Biden and Schumer are lined up with Leahy and Kennedy when the hearings come, not pretending that Biden and Schumer are our enemies in the fight against Bushism.
Gonzales' nomination has at least a couple of advantages for Democrats. One, of course, is that we can use it a pretext to reopen the Abu Grhaib issue to public scrutiny. The other is that by picking someone who once ruled against parental notification requirements in abortion cases, Bush has exposed himself to attack from the hard core anti-choice elements in his constituency, and any weakness in the GOP/fundie coalition can only work in our favor.
In the end, of course, we aren't going to stop Bush from assembling his new cabinet, and we're not going to like any of his choices. We're not going to strenghten our hand, though, by lashing out at Democratic officials, and by extension the Democratic Party, every time we lose a battle. We're in the minority in DC. We're going to lose a lot of battles. We can, though, inflict a lot of damage along the way, and set the stage for winning some larger and longer wars, if we can summon up a little solidarity along the way and focus on what we can win instead of what we're bound to lose.
It's time to choose up sides. If you can't find it in yourself to be a Democrat, at least resist the impulse to bash the Democrats. We've got hard fights ahead, and there are more than enough enemies on the other side already.