Presidential campaigns are often discussed
in terms of romantic conquest: “courting” key voting
blocs, “wooing” the skeptical, etc. It’s a useful
metaphor. Political parties do vie for the affections of voters in
much the same way that individuals vie for the affections of other
individuals. But the metaphor-wielding political commentators
always get the gender stuff backward — to simplify, they
speak as though the political entities were the male and the Vote
were the female of this arrangement. Wrong and wrong.

Laura Wong

Here is what I mean:

The media pounced on Howard Dean last week after that immortal
Iowa-caucus yelp, criticizing him for being too aggressive, too
violent, too intimidating-in-a-scary-manly-way, like he might beat
us and call it love if we elected him. In fact, Dean’s outcry
was not threatening nor even masculine in nature — it was
simply a logical outgrowth of the Democratic Party’s
jilted-lover recovery process.

It started all the way back with President Clinton. Remember
Clinton’s final hours? Unemployment was low, morale was high,
the economy was shiny — it was a great time to be a Democrat.
The Democratic Party thought the Vote would be with her forever and
ever. So she got a little lazy, didn’t fawn all over him the
way she used to. Maybe she flirted a bit with the other guys
— the young, the old, the poor — thinking it was all in
good fun and the Vote would understand, would know that she still
loved him best.

And then it happened. The Republican Party slinked in the side
door in a slinky black dress and black stilettos and red, red
lipstick that even the heterosexual and female Democratic Party had
to admit was totally hot. As the Democratic Party looked on,
startled, the Republican Party struck up a conversation with her
beloved Vote (“Hey, handsome, you wanna see my tax
cut?”), and soon the two left, holding hands. A walk, the
Vote said. Just a walk.

“Just a walk,” of course, is never just a walk, and
this one was no exception. It would inevitably lead the Democratic
Party to the first stage of this mess: shock. The morning after the
2000 presidential election, the Democratic Party woke up in an
otherwise empty bed and found a note taped to the TV that said,
“There’s someone else and I think you know who. Thanks
for nothing.” Though she probably deserved this, she was
floored. Unsure of what to do with herself, she stumbled numbly
around for a few months, staring at her hands, babbling to herself,
blinking slowly.

Sept. 11, 2001, snapped her out of it. All at once, she realized
that her beautiful economy was ruined and that the fear of
terrorism and unemployment had brought the Republican Party and the
Vote closer together than ever. They were inseparable. They were
sitting in a soda shop, splitting a milkshake with two straws and a
cherry on top and he was paying. This was bad.

This brings us to stage two of the Democratic Party’s
failed romance: heartache. The Democratic Party disappeared into
her bedroom with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge
Brownie and wouldn’t come out no matter how hard her friends
the Liberal Independents begged. They pounded on her door,
desperate to be heard above the alternately blaring 1980s rock
ballads and songs from Tori Amos’s Little Earthquakes,
pleading with the Democratic Party to go back to work
(“Honey, you can’t stay in there forever — and
the president’s about to nullify the Fourth Amendment. Come
on out, okay? We need you”), but she wouldn’t
budge.

Two years later, when the dust had finally settled in the chasm
where the Fourth Amendment used to be and the Liberal Independents
had finally given up, the Democratic Party finally poked her head
out into the hallway, a changed woman. Stage three. She still loved
the Vote more than anything, but she knew if she was going to get
him back, she’d have to be brilliant enough to stop the
Republican Party mid-sentence and stunning enough to upstage those
stilettos. And she was angry. Furious. On her way out to find the
Vote, she practiced what she’d say to him: “Remember
when you used to care about poor people and gay people and privacy
and not having to work at McDonald’s when you’re 75
because Social Security no longer exists and your brand-name
prescription drugs are outrageously expensive? Don’t you see
that wench the Republican Party is ruining you? She’s got
nothing on me, I tell you — nothing! Yoooouuu neeeeed
meeeeee!” Which is what Howard Dean was trying to say last
week when he said “Yeeeagh!” after the Iowa caucuses.
He was just a little tongue-tied. Such is the terrible reductive
power of a lost love. Here’s hoping the Democratic Party
pulls herself together before it’s too late.

Henretty can be reached at
“mailto:ahenrett@umich.edu”>ahenrett@umich.edu.

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