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充满活力的民主
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Just when I was almost convinced that President Disastro had guaranteed Democratic gains in this year’s elections, and maybe in 2008 as well, I read Jeffrey Goldberg’s article on the Democrats’ strategies in 纽约客。 These guys are hopeless.

Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, insists that “this is a Democratic country, with a big D” — though Goldberg observes that self-identified conservatives, the Republican base, outnumber self-identified liberals, the Democrats’ base, by a 3-to-2 margin.

Dean’s idea of a winning issue for his party? “The Republicans are cutting school-lunch programs.” That ought to set the voters on fire! More free lunches!

At the local level, Goldberg finds Democratic politicians much more sensible. Many of them fear for the party if Hillary Clinton gets its presidential nomination in 2008, because she alarms conservatives without satisfying principled liberals. In this, she mirrors George W. Bush, who horrifies liberals and increasingly estranges the conservatives who once supported him.

Bush’s plunge in the polls doesn’t translate into Democratic popularity. It may translate into opportunity for a third party, such as the conservative Constitution Party, which is beckoning to the base Bush has driven to desertion.

In 1992, Bush’s father lost in his bid for reelection in large part because he had betrayed his conservative base, which stayed home in November. The younger Bush was determined to avoid his father’s mistakes, but he has repeated them, even surpassing the old man’s unpopularity.

But conservatives aren’t going to turn to liberals for relief from Bush. Their chief complaint is that he has given us even bigger government than the Democrats had. Some of them have finally figured out that war is pretty hard to reconcile with modest government.

The president Bush is most often likened to is Lyndon Johnson, who expanded government in every direction with both war and entitlements but only wound up loathed by both parties. And Johnson was a far smarter politician than Bush.

The elder Bush made a famous miscalculation. He thought he could get away with breaking his promises to conservatives because “they have nowhere else to go.” He didn’t foresee that they might vote for Ross Perot or simply refuse to vote.

Discontent with both major parties was so strong in 1992 that at one point Perot led both Bush the elder and Bill Clinton in the polls. Then he suddenly withdrew from the race; when he jumped back in, his base wasn’t there anymore. He appeared merely eccentric, and nobody knew quite what he stood for. He’d wasted a golden opportunity for a new party to defeat the country’s political duopoly.

Now that opportunity has come again, thanks to a second Bush. It’s easy to forget how appealing and refreshing Perot seemed at first; he also had the advantage of a huge fortune, despite his populist manner.

All of which raises the big question: Can a third party challenge get anywhere without a billionaire? Or is this “democracy” now doomed to the dreary power struggles of the two plutocratic parties, debating school-lunch programs?

Think of it. If Hillary serves two terms in the White House, we will eventually have spent 28 consecutive years under presidents named Bush and Clinton. Then, by my reckoning, it will be time for another Bush. Thank heaven for equal opportunity.

We are said to be in a conservative era. That seems to be true in the sense that both parties now feel it’s vital to deceive the voters with conservative slogans. Liberal slogans don’t seem to work anymore.

Some conservatives are so alarmed by the specter of President Hillary that they are frantically warning that her attempt to position herself as a moderate is phony. But it can hardly be any phonier than Bush’s efforts to pose as a conservative. Being confusing doesn’t necessarily make you interesting. Both major parties are exhausted.

Goldberg quotes House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on how a big Democratic victory this fall might liven things up: “We win in ’06, we get subpoena power,” meaning full investigations of the Bush administration. But other Democrats fear that such talk may backfire, scaring off moderate voters and rousing dispirited Republicans to fight. One party can’t do anything right, and the other doesn’t know what to do.

In my lifetime, the number of major league baseball teams has grown from 16 to 30. The number of television networks has exploded from three to several hundred. Even the McDonald’s menu is much longer than it used to be. But the number of major political parties has been kept stable: two.

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