MAXWELL: Democrats need to grow a backbone
10/1/2006 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper

With midterm elections just around the corner, dirt isflying between Republicans and Democrats. Which party will survive with fewer wounds? Do we have a double standard, one for Republicans and one for Democrats, for being acceptably nasty and mean?
When Howard Dean took over as the Democratic national chairman, I hoped that other Democrats would study the straightness of his backbone and grow one just like it. Dean came into the job showing his utter contempt for right-wing Republicans.
I was convinced that he was the man for the job, that if Democrats were to regain any semblance of respectability and real authority, they would have to face reality and start playing the GOP’s brand of smash-mouth personal politics.
Well, after six years of George W. Bush in the White House, his lunatic war in Iraq and a GOP-led, do-nothing Congress, I am even more convinced that the Democrats had better start fighting back – and with brass knuckles, a la Bill Clinton when he recently outfoxed Chris Wallace.
But first let us get back to Dean. As far as I am concerned, he has told the truth about the GOP and Bush. If he has erred, it has been on the side of harshness, not dishonesty or hypocrisy. Here is sampling of Dean’s GOP truths:
Dean: “All we ask is that we not turn into a country like Iran where the president can do anything he wants.”
Dean: “Mean. They’re not nice people. They want to run nearly every aspect of your life.”
Dean: “This is a struggle of good and evil. And we’re good.”
Dean: “Lord knows this administration is beginning to erode the core of our democracy.”
I have no problem with these observations. Similarly, I have no problem with the way Clinton dealt with Wallace. Clinton was on the Fox News program ostensibly to talk about his climate change initiative, but Wallace apparently wanted to embarrass the former president with questions about Osama bin Laden and the Sept. 11 attacks.
An angry Clinton, showing backbone, answered the questions. But he also revealed Wallace to be the right-wing shill that he is.
“You got that little smirk on your face and you think you’re so clever. … So you did Fox’s bidding on this show. You did your nice little conservative hit job on me.”
Now, right-wing pundits are portraying Clinton as a maniac let loose in civil society, all the while forgetting that for the last month, Bush has been running around the country like an angry and desperate commoner who might “lose it” at any moment.
On Thursday, Bush – the most powerful person in the world – was in Alabama back to name-calling, referring to the Democratic Party as the “party of cut and run.” Then what is the GOP under Bush? The “party of mess up but won’t fess up”?
Republicans and their media flacks exhibit self-induced amnesia when they accuse Democrats of being “uncouth,” “shrill” and “crude” when Democrats respond with equally nasty names and accusations.
They forget, as hypocrites are wont, that they gave then-presidential candidate Bush a bye when he whispered to his running mate, Dick Cheney: “There’s Adam Clymer, major league a—— from the New York Times.” Imagine if Al Gore or John Kerry had said something like that.
Republicans forget that Vice President Cheney told Democratic Sen. Patrick J. Leahy to “f— yourself” on the Senate floor.
Republicans forget that one of their darlings, columnist Robert Novak, imploded on CNN’s Inside Politics when Democratic operative James Carville accused him of being a right-wing stooge. Novak replied: “I think that’s bull—-. … ” He stood, unclipped his microphone and stormed off the set. The GOP remained silent.
Conservatives guffawed when California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger referred to Democrats as “girlie-men.” Well, who is the girlie-man now? The Terminator has come to his senses to keep his job.
Some final words from Howard Dean as he responds to a challenge to one of his attacks on Republicans: “This is one of those flaps that comes up once in awhile when I get tough. We have to be tough on the Republicans. Republicans don’t represent ordinary Americans and they don’t have any understanding of what it is to go out and try to make ends meet.”
Nasty and mean, yes, but acceptably so.