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Democrats as Parentheses?
November 1, 2002
Marcello A. Canuto

In a recent column, George Will wrote “Both the Carter and Clinton parentheses in American history were followed by reversions to realism” In this terse and sly phrase, the true world-view of the most obdurate Republicans is unambiguously revealed. The highly educated conservatives of the Republican party suffer the Democrats in much the same manner as an ornery grandfather would his boisterous grandchildren during the requisite holiday visits.

That is, academically certified Republicans often practice a modern – though equally infuriating, demeaning, and arrogant – form of "noblesse oblige" in regards to the Democrats. They allow them to exist, to occasionally achieve the pinnacle of this nation’s political hierarchy, to consider themselves almost equals in the political arena, but never long enough to feel comfortable in such a position. Republicans own the car, while the Democrats are allowed to drive it every once in a while.

Moreover, the semantics of such a statement are exemplary of the ultimate form of exclusivity and conceit – as parenthetical, the Democrats are not considered central to American history because the premise is that American history is Republican history which is occasionally punctuated by annoying though necessary (we must keep up appearances of being a democracy) Democratic interludes that are as quickly forgotten as they are rare. And often (and so terribly sadly), Democrats pander to this immanent hierarchy by expressing almost gratitude for exercising the power they have a responsibility to seek in elections, wrest from political adversaries, and wield when constitutionally granted.

Democratic presidencies are not interludes in an otherwise Republican America – they are the WILL of the people. Regardless of one’s opinion on foreign policies of both Carter and Clinton, any true Democrat will bristle not at George Will’s rather insipid opinion about foreign policy, but at his premise that the default setting in America is Republican. To dismiss the twelve years of the Carter and Clinton presidencies as “parentheses” in American history is also embarrassingly haughty and partisan. The minimization and dismissal of countless hours of effort (whether well-spent or not) as products of flights of fancy and personal hubris demeans and denigrates the myriad of people who served those presidencies.

It is the acceptance of the achievements of any preceding presidency regardless of color, stripe, or kind that is the ultimate benefit of a peaceful and orderly transition of government. Government exists before, during, and after any one party’s control over it, and its effective stewardship and reform MUST acknowledge the accomplishments of those on whose shoulders we now stand. If our government continues to thrive as an experiment in democracy (rather than the mechanism for maintaining status quo) then this nonsense about parentheses in its development should be suffered, but regarded as the prattling of one of those boisterous grandchildren that simply has a lot of maturing yet to do.

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