Democracy and freedom depend on real choices in elections. For example, elections in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a theocracy run by Shi’a clerics determined to destroy western civilization are contests between multiple candidates with the same ideology. The same was the case for elections in the Soviet Union and for many years elections in parts of the American South (where every election was decided in the Democratic Primary). With yesterday’s election of Mark Pafford as Democratic Leader designee in the Florida House, the party has embraced the one member who above all has stood on principle and has had the courage in his convictions to say no when the “me too” elements in the Democratic caucus were rolled by an abusive and arrogant GOP majority.
Through the years, Democratic legislators more motivated by political self-preservation and personal acceptance among the majority of the legislature sold Democracy down the river-In fairness this is nothing new. The Republicans in Washington did this for years, accepting being the minority and picking fights on only rarely with the entrenched, arrogant and corrupt Democratic majority. For his other flaws, Newt Gingrich understood the Democrats could only be beaten by stressing ideology and employing dilatory tactics on the floor, using C-Span as a walking advertisement for Democratic excess. Gingrich’s efforts led directly to Speaker Jim Wright’s resignation over ethics issues, and the GOP picking up 54 seats in the 1994 election to take the majority for the first time in 40 years.
Florida Democrats need to learn from Gingrich and to a lesser extent the recent actions of the Tea Party Congressman and Ted Cruz. Democracy can only exist if (at least) two parties compete in marketplace of ideas and ideology. Florida’s Democrats have simply been the party of “no” the last decade, taking pot shots at Republicans and playing up scandal but not giving Floridians a real agenda for change. Gingrich proposed a Contract With America (I preferred at the time to call it the “Contract ON America” but I was in those days a Democratic partisan more than an ideological activist) which clarified where the GOP stood on issues and how the party would govern if they were to obtain the majority.
In September 1994, the press laughed Gingrich off seeing no possible scenario for the GOP to ever gain a majority. But guess what? The next month the Republicans closed the gap in the generic congressional ballot and won a narrow majority in November with a pickup of 54 seats. Looking further back into history, how relevant was the GOP going to be if Barry Goldwater’s forces hadn’t seized the party in 1964? By the time Goldwater ran for President, eastern elites who were in many cases more liberal than the Democrats they opposed were controlling the RNC and the Presidential nominating process. Between 1940 and 1960, the Republicans nominated for President moderates or liberals who while more conservative than the Democratic nominee were not truly conservative by any reasonable standard. This was called “me too Republicanism.” Granted the 1932 to 1968 era was the apex of liberalism in the United States, but it was aided by a GOP so bent on self-preservation they froze out conservatives.
Florida’s Democrats use every excuse under the sun for not competing in elections. Reapportionment and districting is the most common excuse but only one of a laundry list of complaints that the whiny Democrats have formulated to justify continued ineptitude and unwillingness to really compete on a large scale statewide. While national elections in Florida have generally favored the Democrats in the 2000s, the state party has amassed the single worst record of any political party east of the Mississippi River for state office over the same period.
Much of this is due to the comfort level with which Democratic insiders and operatives live. The bar is set so low and many value their relationships with the Republicans more than pushing for the ideology they purport to hold. Mark Pafford’s election as Democratic Leader designee should shake the tree a bit.
In 1994, I was depressed for weeks when the GOP took control of the Congress but in retrospect while it was bad for those who share my passion for issues, I realize for Democracy it was an important event. Here in Florida where Republican arrogance, corruption and entitlement resembles that of the Democrats in Congress during the 1980s and early 1990s, we need a similar change.