Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Political death by TV

Commentary by Pat Murphy


Pat Murphy

The most plausible explanation for the crystallizing image of the national Democratic Party as a political species in its death throes is that it may prefer suicide to mediocrity.

What else could explain the incomprehensible behavior of Democrats during questioning of Supreme Court nominee Judge Sam Alito? Instead of focusing on penetrating the stoic Alito's inner thinking as a rigid, doctrinaire conservative, big name Democrats wasted time to grandstand and obsess on matters that didn't lay a finger on Judge Alito.

Delaware's U.S. Sen. Joe Biden can forget about the party's 2008 presidential nomination. His fixation on listening to his own wearisome, self-adulating speeches prompted liberal pundit Richard Cohen of The Washington Post to conclude Biden's mouth has scuttled his White House ambitions.

Then there was New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer's pitiable attempt at humor with a mother-in-law story—it was so bad only Schumer chuckled.

A New York Times headline captured the Democrats' long-winded self-indulgence and gawky questioning: "But Enough About You, Judge; Let's Hear What I have To Say."

Worse moments came for the once-eloquent Sen. Ted Kennedy. Uncertain what to ask next, Kennedy shuffled through pages of notes in a hopeless search for incriminating morsels. His cranky outburst at Republican committee chairman Sen. Arlen Specter over an irrelevant letter he'd mailed to Specter was that of an angry old warrior with no trace of the Kennedy clan's renowned wit, clever turn of phrase and imperturbability.

With such a crucial Supreme Court appointment at hand, thinking senators would've planned and coordinated questioning for maximum effect to avoid performances that only invited derision and mocking.

The party of Roosevelt and Truman that once dominated U.S. politics is in sorry shape. Who Democrats regarded as the best in their ranks to be Capitol leaders shows a party in decline—the uninspiring duo of Nevada's dull Harry Reid and California's primpy Nancy Pelosi as Senate and House minority leaders, confirming that underachievement is no barrier to the top.

The best hope now for Democrats is not any in-house strategy, but instead the GOP bribery scandal involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff that could cost Republican seats in Congress in 2006.

Republican disgrace should be a gift for Democrats. But even on that, Democrats were slow. As they fretted in confusion about what to say and do, hypocritical Republicans beat Democrats to the headlines with ideas for ethical reform of their blemished party.

Long ago, humorist Will Rodgers (1879-1935) had it right.

"I belong to no organized party," Rogers said. "I'm a Democrat."

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