Niagara Gazette

September 5, 2013

Are liberals afraid of standing up for their own policies?

By Stephen Dick
CNHI News Service

— What are liberals afraid of?

At the Missouri State Fair in August, a rodeo clown, a white man named Tuffy Gessling, walked around in an Obama mask. An announcer told the clown to stay put. Don't you want to see Obama gored by the bull? he asked. Cheers went up from some of the crowd. A Daily Mail report later noted that rural Missourians don't take to President Barack Obama's policies.

The skit was done in jest and was taken to task by Missouri officials. (Tuffy was banned from the fair forever.) Regardless of the skit, what should be shocking is that rural Missouri voters don't vote for Democratic policies - though they should. That ought to perk up the ears of Democrats everywhere.

We've heard all the reasons for this phenomenon. Journalist Thomas Frank summed it up well in his 2004 book, "What's the Matter with Kansas," just before George W. Bush was re-elected. Frank wanted to know why people vote against their economic self-interests by casting their ballots with Republicans. He did a fine job answering the question.

Evangelicals vote against abortion, school prayer bans and anything that hints at sexuality, and they associate those issues with Democrats. Less-educated voters see minorities and immigrants as threats to their livelihoods and associate the empowerment of those two groups with Democrats. Never mind that their livelihoods often are impacted by the type of cutthroat capitalism that Republicans cheer.

In the 30 years since Reagan, Democrats have always played bridesmaids to the GOP's bride when it comes to policy. Even when the Dems held a majority in Congress, they were conciliatory to the opposition.

They followed Reagan down the yellow brick, supply-side road. They waved flags as both Bushes went into Iraq. They shuddered when Newt Gingrich unveiled his Contract for (should have been "on") America. They taped their mouths shut and sat on their hands when Clinton vowed to end big government as we know it.

Impeaching Bush junior after lying to go to war and sanctioning torture was "off the table," according to Nancy Pelosi, then the House speaker.

Compare that to today when Michigan Rep. Kerry Bentilovio, a tea-party Republican, said it would be a dream come true to impeach Obama.

"I stood 12 feet away from the guy and listened to him, and I couldn't stand being there," Bentilovio said in a quote picked up by Maureen Dowd in the New York Times.

As Dowd summed it up, "For some of the rodeo clowns clamoring for impeachment around the country, Barack Obama's real crime is presiding while black."

After two centrist Democrats - Clinton and Obama - party members seem appeased just to have their logo on Pennsylvania Avenue. Those presidents and members of Congress have done very little to promote Democratic policies.

As a result, Republicans have moved steadily to the right, and ideas that were once howlers when Barry Goldwater espoused them are now the norm. We get bank deregulation, war without end, war on women and minorities, and an economic system that rewards the rich for being rich.

It's not only Democratic cowardice to stand up to the right-wing surge. The right has a highly organized network of think tanks and deep pockets (think Koch brothers) to feed free-market, undemocratic ideas to Republicans who take them all the way to the goal line, especially in some states where they command huge majorities.

Liberals have nothing like this. They sit back and think that the common sense of Americans will eventually triumph.

I confess I don't know what liberals are afraid of. But the 2014 midterm election is just around the corner, and Republicans are already demonizing Hillary Clinton well ahead of 2016.

What are liberals doing? I don't know, but I know what they should be doing.

Stephen Dick is a columnist for CNHI News Service. He can be reached at steve.dick@heraldbulletin.com.