Sunday, November 30, 2008

Caution: Democratic Party not what it appears to be

For The Times Herald

Remember the famous McDonald’s coffee lawsuit? An elderly woman was initially awarded a huge sum of money because she was burned by a cup of McDonald’s coffee. Whatever the merits of the original case may or may not be, one upshot of the lawsuit was the printed warning on all McDonald’s coffee cups forever after: “CAUTION: Contents are hot.”

So now even if you spill the contents of a McDonald’s coffee, you may get burned, but you can’t say you weren’t warned. I guess that’s truth in advertising.

In politics, truth in advertising is taken far less literally. The two-party system, whatever its merits or detractions, serves as a kind of shorthand for voters in determining which kind of government they want, generally speaking, a liberal Democratic one or a conservative Republican one.

As the post-election soul-searching of the Republican Party continues, one of the main conclusions that’s been drawn by party loyalists is that the party’s candidates and representatives have strayed from conservative principles and thus have muddied what it means to be a Republican. This is evidenced at every level of government, from the Republican Party’s nomination of “The Maverick” candidate, who made a name for himself bucking the Republicans, to the abject failures of our representatives in the House and Senate to do what they were elected to do: curb spending and shrink government.

But for Montgomery County residents, nowhere has this betrayal been so vividly illustrated as it has at the Montgomery County Commissioners level.

Jim Matthews was elected on a Republican platform and backed by the Republican Party. He received far less votes than his running mate, Bruce Castor, but more than either of his opponents on the Democrat ticket, Joe Hoeffel and Ruth Damsker. In fact, voters were so disillusioned with Democratic leadership at the county commissioners level that they ousted Damsker and voted in perennial-candidate-for-any-available-office, Joe Hoeffel, in her place.

Shortly after the election, Matthews struck a backroom power deal with Hoeffel, wherein Hoeffel agreed to back Matthews for chairman over Castor.

Matthews claimed the “voters had spoken” and asked for bipartisanship. I’m not sure what tea leaves and chicken entrails Mr. Matthews was reading when he came to that conclusion, but by my reckoning, there were a whole lot of people in Montgomery County that would have preferred to get a government for which they actually voted rather than usher in a new era of so-called bipartisanship by royal proclamation.

Now this is nothing new: Politicians, stabbing each other in the back, breaking promises to their constituencies, betraying their principles for personal power grabs. This is almost business-as-usual in politics, and not coincidentally, what disgusts people about the whole process.

What is new —refreshingly new— is that the Montgomery County Republican Party leadership under Bob Kerns spoke up and officially denounced Matthews’s behavior. The resolution to censure Jim Matthews was unanimously approved by 56 Republican county officials.

Marcel Groen, the chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic committee, weighed in on the MCRC’s resolution in a letter published this past Sunday in several publications, including this one. After stating that his policy was not to interfere with the inner workings of the opposition party, Groen did just that by stating the MCRC’s censure sets a bad precedent. Groen continued, “If either party starts to punish elected officials because they try to govern in a bipartisan manner, I think they risk losing the support of the public. If this year’s election proved nothing else, it demonstrated that the American people want their elected officials at every level of government to drop petty bickering and partisan sniping and just do the job of governing.”

Mr. Groen’s letter, of course, assumes that the voters think that there is no right or wrong way to govern, no liberal or conservative values to uphold. According to Mr. Groen’s letter, when the public actually votes for someone who claims to represent their values, they shouldn’t be upset when their trust has been betrayed and the platform they voted for is not being implemented; they should instead be thankful that their leaders are engaged in the very important work of “governing” in the best of all possible manners: bipartisan.

I don’t have much time for bipartisanship. I think ideals like bipartisanship have gained traction in a morally weak America that values things like diversity over achievement and raising awareness over actual service. Bipartisanship is promoted as a faux virtue over real virtues such as integrity, honesty, loyalty and honor.

According to the censure resolution, Matthews “has promoted the cause of Democrat elected officials and implemented the Democrat platform; and he has systematically engaged in the hiring of Democrat Party operatives and Democrat failed candidates; and he has taken retribution on certain persons, because he perceived they did not support him in the Republican Party endorsement process.” Since taking office, Matthews has voted with Hoeffel 100 percent of the time.

No wonder Marcel Groen is denouncing the resolution. Jim Matthews is delivering the Democratic platform that lost the election last year. Hmmmm ... maybe bipartisanship is only a great virtue when you’re a member of the party that’s out of power.

The decision to censure Matthews was not arrived at lightly by Kerns or the MCRC; however, it was the right decision. In putting their ideals in writing, they are proclaiming that they are ready to get the Republican House in order and that the candidates will be held accountable for their actions. It is the first step in rebuilding the grassroots at the local level.

As for Matthews, well, if he wants to continue to stay in the political arena, the MCRC has just done the public the very great favor of labeling him with a warning:

CAUTION: Contents are not what they appear to be. You could get burned. And here is the rest of it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lisa is right on point. Thanks for blogging it, Bill.

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