I have been a Democrat all my life. I admit that life is only 18 years old, but you have to admit these last two decades have been a couple for the record books. I’ve lived to see an illegitimate president run the country right into the ground as he cleared brush from his Texas ranch 154 days out of the year. I watched a decade of prosperity and peace crash down in unholy flames in the middle of New York when I was just 10 years old. I watched the fraudulent Commander-in-Chief trick the country into a war it didn’t need against a people that didn’t deserve it when I was 11. I watched that same huckster be told by the historic first female Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, that “impeachment [was] off the table” when I was 16. A man who had facilitated unprecedented war crimes had gotten off scot-free. And it had been my party that let it happen.
I lived in this country during the 1990s. I knew the Clintons. I grew up worshipping Bill Clinton, that Bubba from a place called Hope with an affinity for Big Macs and a little bit of “soul” in his soul. Always having been precocious, I knew what he had done—and I didn’t like it. I didn’t forgive him for it and I don’t to this day, but that isn’t my job and never has been. Bill Clinton never needed redemption from me; he got it from the only people who had any right to offer it to him. Chelsea and Hillary Rodham Clinton evidently did just that and I stand by ‘em for it. If I had any reason at all to be upset, he was absolved by the good work he had done throughout his years in Office. Millions of new jobs created throughout this country. Millions raised from poverty to hallowed middle-class status. Even with the battles he couldn’t win—like the Defense of Marriage Act, which he abhorred but that prevented the passage of a Federal Gay-Marriage Ban; like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell that as best it could prevented an outright ban of gays and lesbians in the military—things were a little better, positive steps in positive directions had been taken. In that decade, it was good to be alive in America. And it was my party that had made it so.
I don’t know where that Party is today. I can’t find the path to the Third Way anymore. I remember that Way. It was innovative and new, and compassionate. It made sense in a time very different from when the last Democrat reigned. “The Third Way works to build inclusive, multiethnic societies based on common allegiance to democratic values.” It made sense, doing great things the democratically. I don’t just remember the Way, I remember the man who led it.
I remember the man who cried as those around him struggled and deigned to share their struggles with him. I remember the President who apologized for the Tuskegee Experiment and asked that those still standing in its wake found it in their battered hearts to forgive a nation whose morality once stood so terribly bigoted. I remember the man who helped to re-enact the March on Selma because it meant so much to him. I remember a President who walked into Office on day one ready to lead, only to be stabbed in the back by the very people that brought him—but he soldiered on. That was the Way I was a part of, the Way that “embraces ‘tolerant traditionalism,’ honoring traditional moral and family values while resisting attempts to impose them on others.” There was no battle too small to undertake, no cause unworthy of effort or tears, nobody left behind. Anybody who “worked hard and played by the rules” got ahead, because no way was William Jefferson Clinton going to leave them in the dust. There it goes again, my party. Don’t know where that is now.
I think I was born a Democrat. I was brought up wrinkling my nose and gagging at the word “Republican,” so I know I wasn’t one of those. I didn’t really understand what an Independent was so chances are good I wasn’t that either. All that was left in my head was Democrat. Bill Clinton was a Democrat and I liked him, so I picked that. When it came time for me to vote, I still picked that. What I didn’t know when I came up to bat was how far from the ideal the rest of the body had fallen. I’d been spoiled for eight years—and tormented for another seven. I was blind to it until I started to listen; then I found that my President filled with soul wasn’t the rule but the exception to the rule. My life, which was so bettered by his presence in the White House, didn’t really matter at all. My vote, which moved to send him back there at the behest of his frankly brilliant and wonkish wife, didn’t really matter either. What I wanted—what I needed, the Third Way, was really just a movement of a few devoted people who desired to change the world. I hadn’t known that the letter D they carried after their names signified an organization of men and women devoted to doing the very opposite—not changing a thing. And to accomplish their mission, they would destroy my ideal; they would destroy my hero. Can you believe it? That was my party.
They did the impossible. They sapped the “soul” out of the man from Hope. They quieted his raucous laugh. They besmirched his empathetic tears. They made a fool out of the Third Way—and, by extension, a fool of me. I had never been called a fool before of all the insults that have been leveled at me in life. I had never been belittled for my gender as much as the color my skin. I had never been called stupid for having the audacity to believe. I’ve been called cynical and racist for doing what anyone with a third of the self-awareness could do: I voted! My life’s philosophy and love of people has been referred to as Republican chicanery. I have lived here all along and yet suddenly, in my own party, I am the intruder; I am the interloper. I’m the one who doesn’t belong.
It didn’t take an insult to lose me. It hurt, don’t misunderstand, but such is life. Sticks and stones can cut me, but words can only make me cry. I could only cry for so long before the hurt became fury. I wanted answers, I wanted accountability. I got a lie for question and laughter for my effort. I couldn’t live in a place like that. That was the Democratic Party, suddenly, a place where those who’d given their hard-earned dollars and their time were of no consequence. It should’ve been obvious. If the only two-term Democratic President since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was fair game to be scorned, I should’ve battened down the hatches at first dawn. I hadn’t learned the right lesson yet. I get it now.
Hope is merchandise to be sold, not a place, or a man to be believed in. Hope is the not the look in the eyes of a woman with the answers. It’s the speech on a teleprompter of a man without them. Change was not the peaceful transition from the last Democratic decade of the 20th century to the first Democratic decade of the 21st century. It’s the silent strained pretend of a meeting on May 31st set to derail the course of history—and not for the good. Change isn’t watching relief come in the form of a woman with roots everywhere she sets foot raising her right hand to accept the hardest job in the world. It’s watching more of the same thing we’ve always had.
I’ve come to realize that being a Democrat nowadays means accepting these realities with no complaint. I can no longer do that and sleep at night. I can no longer spy echoes of the Third Way without a wistful sigh. I can no longer be quiet while we pretend that the best days gone by weren’t the best at all. I haven’t lived long, but I’ve lived smart. I still believe in the truth, a principle long since abandoned by progressives. What I want to see is the truth spoken out loud again and not treated like a scandal, even if it is scandalous. I want History to stop being a four-letter word. I want respect to be a necessity again, not a luxury. But most of all, I want the Third Way back.
Happiness, which the Democrats seem to have come into the business of supplying, is not a political platform. One can’t govern for the sake of happiness. This isn’t a “Brave New World.” It can’t be, not when so many people have reason to be afraid. They’re at risk everyday of losing the things they love. They may lose their home, their car, their job, even their life. This is the world they live in, not the good old days when the Third Way ruled the roost. This is the reality the new Democratic Party chose; it wasn’t brave at all.
I don’t know who these men and women are, that masquerade about, pretending they are allies of working folks while selling their jobs over the farthest sea. I recognize the duplicity, but not the perpetrators. The Democrats cannot govern as simply another variation on corrupt. It’s time to remember people like me who’ve worked their hearts out, people like me who always will. If they choose to forget us they will have become every bit the thing they purport to despise: Republicans.
They’ve lost sight of the path that led to prosperity for all, themselves included. They’ve forgotten that the ballots that decide their fates don’t stand alone, but are connected and bound to people who are counting on them to sweat and bleed for a better day in America. They’ve chosen the glamorous path and eschewed compassion entirely. They threw the baby out with the bathwater; the future out with the past; and the “little people” out with the Big Dawg.
I don’t know what’s left huddling under the Big Tent that used to be my home. The political trail I’ve lived my life by doesn’t lead there anymore. More and more, I find my old friends blazing the trail with me, but they’re a little lost too. They still remember the Third Way paved with silver quickly turning to gold. They still remember a place called Hope, and they want to go back; if only they could remember how.
Who better to guide us than the man who hails from there himself? Somebody, somewhere unzip the tent and let the man out! He’s got work to do in this country he lifted; we’ve fallen to all new lows since he’s been gone. Time to clear the brush on the path less traveled by powerful men and take it again—with a woman this time. He’ll be there to point out landmarks and relics left behind, sure; he’ll kick the weeds from the overgrown roads with those size 13s, because it’s easy and he can; then, he’ll step aside for the new leader and it’ll be her turn to lead the Way going forward. While she’s in the White House reintroducing the country to prosperity, I hope, and easier days, Bill Clinton will be there on the sidelines to remind us that when we work hard and lift each other, the only way left to travel is up. Just like that, history stops being a four-letter word.
And it could be my party that does it.