I worked in Washington,D.C., on Capitol Hill from 1987 to 1997 – pre- and post-Gingrich “revolution.” I began my political career in the minority. Democrats had controlled the House of Representatives for more than 60 years before the 1994 election.
In the minority I went to work every day doing things differently than when Republicans took over the House in 1994. In other words, there’s a difference between criticizing the majority and being the majority – a difference between not governing and governing.
Hiding from the majority in the shadows of procedure, waiting for the right moment to strike, causing dissension in the majority ranks, pointing out every little flaw in its opponents – that is what the minority does. In a day and age of growing media exposure, that’s all the minority feels like it can do, frankly. Minority members are not in power, they want attention and they want their way. If they’re included in decision making, it is at the invitation of and through the good graces of the majority, especially when the majority has overwhelmingly superior numbers.
That was the case when I got to Congress in 1987. And that is the case in Utah now – Utah Democrats are the distinct minority.
This prelude is to say that I’m not surprised that newly elected state Democratic chairman Jim Dabakis behaves the way he does and leads like a minority leader. His brain tells him that there’s nothing else for him to do. Every day, when he goes to work for his party, there’s only one thing to do – criticize the majority – and find clever ways to expose their weaknesses and create Republican dissension (real or perceived).
The 1994 congressional election might give Dabakis an alternative example. He could focus on his own party, as Newt Gingrich did, and devise a mainstream and reasonable vision for mainstream Utah. Instead, he’d rather point out that Republicans in Dixie might be getting the short end of the stick from party leaders over redistricting or he’ll invite naïve and attention-starved Republican ne’er-do-wells on a radio show and beg them to be disgruntled – which is about as challenging as begging Dabakis to be conniving.
I admire many Utah Democrats. At the risk of sounding condescending (in front of some people who already believe I am), several Utah Democrats are my friends, people who I care about personally. So I say this with hope in my heart, not rancor: Clever doesn’t win majorities.
I’m waiting for the day when Utah Democrats throw off agenda-driven, not party-driven, gays, environmentalists, civil libertarians and teachers unions – not to mention Mormon-haters – and find their roots and their soul … and actually compete in mainstream politics (as does the one example they have in the 2nd Congressional District – and rather than embrace his style, they try to give him the boot). I’m waiting for the day when they comprise an Idea, not a bunch of weird factions.