As Bill Clinton prepares to address the delegates of the party he led to two consecutive electoral victories, he’ll be addressing a caucus not entirely unified behind the man who bested his wife for the Democratic nomination. Â Part of the reason Democrats have has such difficulty coming together is the shadow he still casts over the party.
At their last such gathering, the party chairman was Terry McAuliffe, a Clinton loyalist whom the former president succeeded in installing as he was leaving office. Â Most presidents exited the stage gracefully, ceding control of their party to the next generation of leadership. This one determined to hang on.
I think part of the hatred of his wife stems from the frustration of party activists that their family is trying to take over the DNC. Â They resent him in part from steering their party away from its leftist moorings, the moorings they taken such pains to establish in the 1970s and 1980s.
It’s not just the Clintons’ continued presence in their party which causes these divisions. Â It’s also the tension which the Clinton ascendancy represents, between his pragmatism and their left-wing ideology. Â Clinton knew that ideology couldn’t win elections. Â But, some of the left would rather be “right” in their view than win. Â Or maybe they’re so deluded that they believe they can only win by moving left.
But, the reality is that Republicans win when they stick to their conservative principles. Â And Democrats who lose when they affirm their left-wing ones.
Just look at the record, the only times Democrats have won significant victories over the past quarter-century is when they ran against Republicans who lost their bearings and governed not as conservatives, but as centrists (or spendthrifts), such as Clinton’s initial victory in 1992 and the Democratic takeover of Congress fourteen years later.
When Republican run on conservative themes, we win big, as was the case in 1980, 1984, 1988 and 1994.
By the power of his personality and his commitment to win, Bill Clinton was able to unite the Democrats in the 1990s, but despite unfavorable economic circumstances for the incumbent he challenged in 1992 and favorable ones when he himself was the incumbent four years later, he never mustered a popular vote majority — as have all elected Republican presidents (at least once) since William McKinley’s 1896 victory.
Perhaps, Democrats were hoping that their current nominee (no longer presumptive) could unite the party this year because he has charisma similar to tonight’s speaker. Â Yet, it could be that the Clintons’ continued presence in the party prevents him from doing that.
That may be part of it. Â But, think there’s more to it than that. Â It’s also the failure of the Democrats to articulate a political philosophy palatable to the American people. Â One reason I, as a gay Republican, can find a place in a party with the likes of anti-gay preachers is that we can unite around certain core principles, believing in a strong national defense and a limited role for the government in our private lives, leaving important social matters to private institutions and individuals.
But, until the Democrats can find a certain unifying set of principles, they will find unity elusive. Â Or they can keep looking for another charismatic leader, albeit with more experience than their current nominee. Â And one not at odds with a family determined to control their party.
UPDATE: Â Just realized that Democrats did well in 1974 not because of their message, but because of Republican corruption. Â Reacting to Watergate, people turned out to vote Republicans out of office. Â Once again, the issue was Democratic ideas, but Republican failures.