Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Be careful what you wish for

Digby has an interesting post this morning warning Democrats not to over-react to the Schwarzenegger victory by thinking that they simply need to pull left in order to win. Digby argues that the Democrats problem is more about tactics and strategy than ideology. I agree to a certain extent. This is not to say that ideology cannot be important, but the success of the Republicans in recent years is not strictly based on ideology (polls repeatedly show that the party is to the right of the electorate on nearly every issue). What ideology does give the Republicans is a core belief system to rally around. Something that Democrats have been lacking for several years.

 The comments provide additional enlightenment, including the following from someone named space:

The Democrats' problem is one of tactics and strategy.

I disagree. I think the problem has been almost entirely of tactics.

In my mind, the fundamental usefulness of the DLC 10-15 years ago was their willingness to challenge the sacred cows of the Democratic part. They were willing to adopt Republican positions, not because they were popular, but because they believed they would work. The DLC endorsed NAFTA, welfare reform, and more support of law enforcement because they believed that they were superior policy stances and that the Democratic party would be rewarded in the long run. That was strategy and it was a winning strategy.

Subsequently, the DLC dispensed with strategy in favor of tactics. They supported Republican positions, including INSANE supply-side tax cuts, not because they believed in the inherent superiority of those ideas, but out of political expediency. They engaged in short-term pro-business (but long-term anti-growth) deregulation. That was tactics and bad tactics.

Furthermore, they equated moderate ideology with moderate behavior. Despite the rise of a militantly extremist conservatism, the DLC refused to play hardball, claiming that such behavior was for the great unwashed of the liberal wing. The result was that they got steamrollered and we now face the threat that Digby describes.

Unfortunately, extermism breeds extremism. The danger that Digby mentions - that Democrats will assume they need to be more liberal - is a real and natural one. Communism was a direct reponse to the unregulated capitalism that the GOP is now promoting.

The solution is to forcefully assert strategic centrism. We need more "militant moderates" like Digby.

I think this is spot on. The DLC started out with an admirable goal: to defeat several negative stereotypes that had built up around the Democratic party (that they were anti-business. That they were soft on crime. That they favored immorality over principle. etc.) The problem is, as space puts it, they got lost in the tactical forest and began to think only in terms of how to position themselves in relation to the Republicans instead of finding solid Democratic principles on which to run.

The battles to come will not be won exclusively by the left. It's the "militant moderates" that will make the difference. People who don't necessarily derive their political passion from ideology so much as from a desire to restore a sense of balance to the political process. Our system is out of whack, not because the Republicans are dominant (in a functioning democracy their will always be time when one party is ascendant) but because of what they are doing with that dominance: shoving through an ideological agenda that is at odds with the public image they present ("compassionate conservatism") while poisoning the political atmosphere with divisive tactics designed primarily to keep in power those already in power (power for power's sake).

The primary thing that attracts me to the Dean campaign is not so much the man himself but the idea he represents that it really is us who get to decide our future. The Republicans and the Democrats are both dominated by leaders who are more interested in holding on to power than they are in what they can ultimately do with that power to benefit the people.

In a way, the Schwarzenegger victory is a positive sign towards the future. The man at the center of it might be flawed, but the desire expressed by the electorate, the desire to "kick butt" against politicians who seem more interested in their own futures than in ours, is an admirable one. The Republicans may think that Schwarzenegger's victory is a positive sign for them, but they better hope that the same anger that the voters felt toward Gray Davis does not turn on their fair-haired boys and girls.


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