Thursday, 29 May 2008

Making Nice

Recently Bill Barnard, the Chair of Democrats Abroad UK posted a message with some very wise and reasoned thoughts about the importance of Democrats behaving cautiously and respectfully in this promary season. I wanted to post Bill's thoughts because I think they are worth hearing but also because it gives me a chance to talk about something I specifically wanted to say to every Obama supporter I know.

Here are Bill's thoughts:

To Members of the Council: I am not sure that we have fully grasped the extraordinary political opportunity that is almost ours. With a Republican President at an all--time low in the polls and with the Republican coalition beginning to crumble, with an unpopular war and an administration with no plan to end it or to define what `victory' might mean, with an economy on the brink of a serious crisis unlike any we have seen in generations, with a health care system whose benefits are not available to all, with a planet in ecological peril and an administration that denies science and refuses to recognize the seriousness of the crisis, with a continuing erosion of American prestige around the world—-with all of this, there is now a rising and almost irresistible Democratic tide. Of course, our focus has been primarily on the historic Presidential contest. And here we have the good fortune to have had an
incredibly talented array of Democratic candidates, a panoply that looked like 21st century America. (The Republicans seemed rooted in the 1950s—only one gender and one color need apply.) Now, we are down to two extraordinary candidates, either of which will make history. Our party has been roughly equally divided between supporters of Senator Obama and Senator Clinton. We face the dilemma—-the historic but exquisitely painful dilemma—-of offering to the nation either the first female candidate to have a genuinely serious chance of winning the Presidency or the first black American with a serious chance of doing so. It is a transitory moment of great sensitivity. And we can best navigate it with respect for each other and for our differing choices. Mutual understanding and civility are qualities all the more necessary in the coming weeks. For we are united in our determination to see an end to eight years of Republican mis-rule. I am convinced that we Democrats will prevail at the Presidential level, despite the kind of campaign of fear and misrepresentation
that the Republicans and their Swift-boating allies will undoubtedly wage. But we should not let the inevitable focus on the historic Presidential race blind us to the reality of what is achievable in the House and Senate. It was clear in 2006 that the old Republican coalition put together by Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan was beginning to fall apart. Democrats retook both the House and Senate, winning in places (in the Senate in Virginia, where DA made a difference, and in Montana) where we weren't supposed to. The further consolidation of our hold on the mid-Atlantic and New England states was evidence too, with Senate wins against incumbents in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island and with a history-making clean sweep of the state government in New Hampshire. The Democratic tide still runs strong—with anticipated Senate wins this year in New Hampshire and again in Virginia, possibly in Maine, and with real chances where we have not been competitive in recent decades, North Carolina, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and even Alaska. In the House in the last two months, Democrats won three special elections—-in Illinois, replacing the Republican Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, and in Mississippi and Louisiana in districts that had given George Bush margins of 20% or more and that had not voted Democratic in House races in a decade and a half. Significant gains in the House are also likely. What? Is it possible to think that Democrats could enter the next Presidential term with 60 votes in the Senate, breaking the stranglehold that has so frustrated every progressive effort of the last thirty years? The New York Times thinks it is. Yes, as I pointed out almost two months ago in the DAUK eNewsletter, we may well be on the verge of a genuinely transformational election, a realigning election, in which we prevail not only at the Presidential level but see a fundamental
shift in the tectonic plates of American politics, a shift that elevates a new Democratic coalition to majority status for perhaps a generation. That coalition will mean an even broader church—an even bigger big tent. We will need to approach those who agree with 90% of what we also believe but who differ on some matters, even some that are important to us individually, with a heightened degree of tolerance, understanding, and civility. The rewards in breaking the deadlock that has characterized Washington over the past decades will be worth it. So, in the words of an old spiritual adopted by the civil rights movement, let us keep our eyes on the prize—-not only on the Presidency but on the creation of a new Democratic majority as well. In our personal conduct—-in all we say and do—-let us lay the ground work for a unified party that can grasp the extraordinary opportunity that can be ours. The officers and the Executive Committee, with support from volunteers from the Council and from the general membership, are at work on a series of events that will permit us one and all to join together in unity to defeat John McCain and to retake the White House.

William D. Barnard

Chair, Democrats Abroad U.K.

Look at it this way - a lot of us got involved in Obama's campaign in the first place because he promised to help us see our country in a less divided way. "Not a red america and a blue America, but a UNITED States of America." Remember?

But no one ever promised that overcoming divisions and polaristion in our country would be easy or automatic - we knew it would be hard work. It's SUPPOSED to be hard work.

So it would be easy for Obama supporters to spend their time feeling angry, or smug. It would be equally easy for Hillary's supporters to feel bitter, or disrespected. But I don't see how that would help us win in November. Instead, I invite you to treat this schism within our own party in the same way that Obama is asking you to treat the wider political climate. Respect those who have a different point of view. Engage with them constructively and calmly. Understand where they're coming from even (especially) if you don't AGREE with where they're coming from.

Hillary Clinton is the first woman to arrive within touching distance of the Presidency. It's not surprising that many women feel extremely proud of her and are sensitive to any hint of sexism directed against her.

She is an accomplished Senator, a successful lawyer and a leading figure within our party. There's nothing irrational about her supporters' desire to see these achievements respected.

And while I dispute the notion that she has by any meaningful method of counting won more votes than Barack Obama, she's won many millions of votes from many millions of people who generally admire and respect her.

Those people will be disappointed when this competition concludes and she is not our nominee. They have a right to be disappointed. So, show a little human compassion as well as political savvy and do your small part to ensure our victory in November - be nice to the Clintonites.

Have you got a Clinton supporting friend who you haven't spoken to for a while? Give them a call. Hear them out. Remind them that, despite the real differences between the two candidates, on matters of policy - health care, civil and women's rights, ending the war in Iraq, restoring the constitution - Hillary and Barack agree a lot more than they disagree. And John McCain is on the wrong side of all these issues.

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