David Reynolds: Defining moments

The phone rang. No, it was not three in the morning. It was a far more civilized hour. And a more civilized time. It was 1992. However, as far as I was concerned it was a political wake-up call.

“Dave, this is Vivian, how would like to be a Bill Clinton delegate at the Democratic State Convention in Salem?” Vivian is Vivian Watts, since 1996 a delegate to the General Assembly from Fairfax County.

Her question was most reasonable. She was a neighbor and her husband, David, and I car pooled to work. (In Washington, a car pool is as close as you can be to another person and still be dressed.) More importantly, Vivian knew my politics. We worked for Doug Wildler for governor and helped other Democrats.

It took me about ten seconds to say, “Yes!” I had never been to a political convention and it sounded like fun. However, it is not easy to have fun in Salem, unless you are at a baseball game. But this was a convention.

So, what did we do at the Salem Civic Center in ‘92? As good Democrats we looked out for ourselves. Public school teachers were there. An so were other union members. No surprise. But then came the big eye-opener.

I sat down to vote for delegates to the national convention. Two ballots were passed. One was for male candidates; the other for female candidates. The winners had to balance. Gender neutrality ruled. Equal results – not equal opportunity.

Allow me to explain. Since 1972 the Democratic National Committee has operated under what are known as the “McGovern Rules.” While George McGovern lost his bid to become president that year he was able to steer his party to the social left. One result: If it were not for two Southern governors the party would have been shut out of the White House for forty years!

The current Democratic Party — as well as many Americans — believe in categorical representation. This form of democracy infers that only those of the same social category can properly represent the interests of that group. Thus, equality is judged not on an individual basis, but on a sociological basis. The civil rights industry has its basis in categorical representation, as well as affirmative action.

Such a self-serving view of humanity clashed with everything I had been carefully taught — that race and gender do not matter. That each of us possess special and unique qualities. And that is why there was an unlimited budget to rescue 33 miners in Chile.

So I left the convention hall. And the party.

Now, fast forward to next Wednesday. That is the day when some political pundit will declare that the McGovern presidency is over. It, too, will be a defining moment. He will say that if the Democratic Party is to rise from yesterday’s ashes it must tack back to the center, that is, the fiscal center where politics will be played over the next two years. He will go on to say that it was the tea party movement that forced how the game is be played here by both Republicans and Democrats.

That is why I talked with Jeff on the poach on the Col Alto Hampton Inn. Jeff who? Jeff Vanke. Mr. Vanke is running as an Independent, a centrist, against Mr. Goodlatte. Try as I could, I could not put Jeff into an R or a D box.

Jeff Vanke believes that neither major party fully understands the public’s angry mood. Maybe a few votes for Vanke can light a fire under our nine-term congressman. But, don’t count on it. Whether you support Bob Goodlatte or not, there is a need to change how business is conducted in Washington. Or are the Republicans again going to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?

Bob, how about no more earmarks to go along with your balanced budget amendment? Show some leadership. Otherwise why have a safe seat? A no earmarks bill can be the “No Broken Windows Bill” for the federal government. When local governments (New York City is the best example) made strong efforts to reduce serious crime they first stopped tolerating broken school windows. Crime rates went down.

Four items on my early Christmas wish list: (1) a Democratic Party like the one we had before 1972; (2) a Republican Party that takes ideas from the tea party movement, not just their votes; (3) a GOP excited about governing, not just playing pin the tail on the donkey; and (4) true independents like Jeff Vanke to be heard.

This month I had another defining moment. In Princeton, New Jersey, where Albert Einstein once lived, I bought a poster. It hangs in my garage. There was his familiar pipe, along with this and other quotations: “Wisdom is not the product of schooling, but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.” On Tuesday our political class will have a postgraduate exam in wisdom. Many are predicted to fail.

Column by David Reynolds



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