Democratic Party

Confusing Professional Politics With 'Service'

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If you are one of those people who are aglow after two days of Democrat rhetoric—and I've actually met many humans like that, these past 48 hours—you probably haven't noticed a subtle theme that crops up again and again, like a nervous and revealing tic. Namely, that being a professional six-figure politician should be confused with noble "service," while throwing them your hard-earned money amounts to a brave and selfless sacrifice. Check out this chilling passage in the transcript of Howard Dean's war-avoiding speech tonight:

Our greatness is also measured by our goodness. It is in the capacity of our minds, the size of our hearts, and the strength of our democracy.

As I've traveled America, I've seen that strength. I've seen it in the people I've met and their desire to take our country back for the American people. I saw it in a college student in Pennsylvania who sold her bicycle and sent us a check for $100 with a note that said, "I sold my bicycle for democracy." I saw it in a woman from Iowa who handed me $50 all in quarters. She saved it from her monthly disability check, because she wanted to make America well again.

Not belonging to a political party, and believing fervently in Brian Doherty's excellent maxim that time well spent is usually time away from politics, it is possible that I'm jaundiced. That said, the vision of a disabled woman handing over her last quarters to another moneybags politico who dreams of taking more of the stuff by force strikes me as, at minimum, nausea-inducing.

So, too, is the confusion of normal campaign politics with profound revolutionary bravery. Here's Ted Kennedy tonight, right after he invoked the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution (but before he compared John Kerry to John Adams):

For today, like the brave and visionary men and women before us, we are determined to change our government.

Ben Franklin may have been a big fat lecherous drunk from the Eastern Seaboard, Ted, but that's about where the similarity ends.

It's a short and tragic road from that kind of self-important analogical inanity to what one might describe as governing-induced megalomania (or at least, near-total lack of perspective). From Al Gore last night, about Kerry:

He showed uncommon heroism on the battlefield in Vietnam. I watched him show that same courage on the Senate floor.

Italics mine. It may be my failure of imagination, but I just can't visualize how dealing with the daily possibility of being blown to hell by the Viet Cong compares with uncorking a particularly tasty filibuster.

But at least he didn't promise that the future president may well be the Messiah. Here's Teresa Heinz Kerry, from the prepared remarks:

John Kerry will give us back our faith in America. He will restore our faith in ourselves and in the sense of limitless opportunity that has always been America's gift to the world.

It's nice to believe in your husband and all, but my self-esteem operates quite independently from one politician's electoral successes, thank you very much.

And what of the candidate himself? Well, the first ominous sign is the very title of his narcolpetic campaign explainer, A Call to Service. Here's the money shot, over two sentences:

If we are to stand as the world's role model for democracy, we need to become vigilant about participation in our own democratic system.

Do we? It's true that there are many countries who are more vigilant about, for instance, getting citizens to come out and vote. But I don't think Cuba—or Australia!—are role models particularly worth emulating. We participate by either voting or not, running for office or not, showing up to city council meetings or not, giving Howard Dean our quarters or (hopefully!) not … and by that little thingie that happens every April 15. If we want to sit naked in the desert and make self-destructing art projects instead, well, that's pretty useful too, especially if the government leaves us the hell alone.

If we are to stand as the world's role model for citizenship, we need to become far more focused on what we expect American citizens to give back in exchange for the blessings of freedom and justice.

Give back what, to whom, and on whose marching orders?

John Kerry should have plenty on his plate already, and will have plenty more if our faith in ourselves is restored, I mean if he wins on Nov. 2. Let him win the war against Al Qaeda, and euthanize the horrific War on Drugs, before he even says one more word about what he can "expect" me to "give back in exchange for the blessings of freedom." And let Democrats know this—Bill Clinton might have declared that the Era of Big Government is over, but the warped mentality from generations of confusing governance with courage, campaign contributions with patriotic sacrifice, and electoral victories with revolutionary wars, is alive and unwell.

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