Currently, and frequently without their apparent consent, the Democrats are receiving a lot of advice. Advice on how to cope, on how to deal with their feelings of inadequacy, on the problem of personal growth. To realize that so many people care enough to write about them must be a source of some consolation.
In fact, the veritable blizzard of white papers directed to Democratic headquarters now requires that all incoming advice and analyses be assigned to one of four categories. In roughly ascending order of popularity, they are:
The Chicken Democrats School. Because the Democrats lost their nerve, they lost the 1980 election. That's what this small but zealous school argues, along with their insistence that the Democrats' programs did not fail. Rather, the Democrats failed their own programs. The loss of nerve led to the spectacle of Democrats "starving" their very own programs. This school generally closes with the statement the the Democrats lost confidence in themselves, and, as a consequence, they lost the confidence of their most dedicated supporters: the National Educational Association and community organizers.
The Westphalian Royal Family School. This analysis, like its namesake, is rooted in the doctrine of denial. The Democrats did not really lose, because there are still more Democrats than Republicans in the House and, according to Gallup and Harris, in the country too.
Besides, everyone knows that only half the eligible voters even bothered to vote last November. That means that President Reagan, of course, only won one half of a half, or one out of four potential American votes. Usually, this is followed by a triumphant harrumph of "Some mandate, huh?" The Westphalian faculty has yet to explain why Democrats should feel better about losing 44 states to an opponent who carried only 25 percent of the total eligible vote.
The Fire-the-Manager/Coach School. This school says there's nothing wrong with the Democratic team that a change in leadership wouldn't cure. Democratic coaches and leaders over the last dozen years who have had to be replaced, always for the common good, have included: Humphrey, Carl Albert, Jimmy Carter and now Tip O'Neill. Enrollment is presently off at this school.
The It's-the-Best-Thing-That-Ever-Happened-to-You-School (a.k.a. the New school). The school song goes something like this: what a marvelous opportunity disguised as a defeat! Democrats should be happy because now they are free to develop new interests, to make new friends and to test new ideas. Their unexpected loss will help them to discard old, tired ways of doing things and to try some exciting, novel approaches. This faculty is relentlessly cheerful, and the school color is rosy.
Those are the four basic categories for current Democratic analysis. As you probably guessed, there is one more. This involves Republicans, but may be relevant for 1981 Democrats.
For most of the past 50 years, the Democrats set the national agenda-Democrats generally proposed and Republicans generally opposed.
Based in part on their reactions to Roosevelt's New Deal, Republicans self-divided into to groups, which we shall call the Shirts and the Skins. The Shirts, who liked to be called modern or progressive, were Republicans who did not object to much of the New Deal, but who knew they could manage things much cheaper and better, at 20 percent off. GOP nominees Willkie, Dewey and Eisenhower were all the choices of the Shirts.
The Skins, who were referred to as the Old Guard, called the Shirts "me-to-ers," and worse, Mostly they fought tooth and toenail what Democrats from FDR to HHH urged as unwise, unnecessary or even unconstitutional. In 1980, the Skins first conquered their own party and then won the nation. A small remnant of "blue collar" was the Skins only compromise. The Republican Shirts are still busy discovering long-over-looked virtues in the Skins.
Lately, the Democratic Shirts have been highly visible. The Democratic Skins are still scattered and unformed. But all Democrats have plenty of time to work out their differences. After all, it took the Republicans almost half a century.