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Wading Back In

Thanks for all the comments.  I don’t think anyone crossed the line of civility.  If the left can’t abide debate this mild—while passionate—it’s in more trouble than I thought.

For starters, I don’t disagree on substance with any of the respondents.  We’re all in the left wing of the Democratic Party.  The much harder thing to recognize and accept—and even embrace if possible—is that the Party has to be able to contain members with fairly significant substantive disagreements.  A smaller, but more unified, party would guarantee itself minority status for a long, long time to come.  I think the Republicans might well be headed in that direction; I’d hate to see the Democrats ape them in that regard.  We need to be bringing people in, not drumming them out.  I’m a big tent Democrat.

On one level, the disagreement registered in the comments is about interpreting the political landscape.  Some people believe that the Republicans are not headed to disaster, but have strengthened themselves and gained their current ascendancy through sharper self-definition.  The Democrats, this position avers, should take strong leftist positions, thereby garnering the respect of centrist voters and the passionate energy of partisan activists.  It will gain more votes by this strategy.  Gains among the apathetic, the disenfranchised, and the committed will outweigh any loss among wishy-washy centrists. 

I disagree, but the evidence for either position is hardly overwhelming.  I point to the Democrats’ having won when they ran to the center in 1960, 1976, 1992, and 1994.  Each of these victories was a squeaker, so we can’t afford to alienate swing voters.  The other side says “look at 1964.” That was the only Democratic landslide since 1944, and it was based on unapologetic liberalism.  The Democrats need to have the courage of their convictions. (I will pursue this debate in a subsequent post because it interests me for a host of reasons.)

But there is not just an interpretive disagreement here. The responses to my post about Democratic campaign strategies are a version of a debate that rages within both of the major political parties—and, no doubt, within every smaller political group as well.  Let’s call it the debate between the “people of principle” and the “rhetoricians.” I’m firmly in the rhetorician camp.  Here’s why.

I do not think a party that wishes to win an election in a democracy can do so without considering the opinions, prejudices, values, and commitments of the electorate.  But, even more crucially (should I say, “as a matter of principle”?), I think that’s a crucial part of what democracy means.  Democracy is a two-way street.  The party can’t just lead (that’s Leninism); the party should also (probably more than less) be shaped by the people.  Democracy is, to a large extent, the reining in of leaders, of the elite, and of the government by the led.  And that’s the way it should be.

Take the Republicans as a first instance.  W. won because he sold the “compassionate conservative” image and then won the second time because he sold the idea that the Democrats couldn’t be trusted to provide security and would allow gays to marry.  He never took the Iraq war or Social Security reform to the people in his own presidential elections.  He did, to a certain extent, take the war to the people in the 2002 Congressional elections, and he has taken Social Security reform to the people in a non-electoral campaign, after denying outright that he had any designs on Social Security during the presidential campaign. 

He got the Iraq war because the president’s war-making powers have been just about absolute since Congress abdicated on its constitutional obligation to declare wars.  (How quaint!  Who declares war anymore?) He isn’t going to get the kind of Social Security reform he desires because the people have no desire to be led in that direction.  That’s democracy in action. 

We need more democracy, not less.  I can’t choose the most dastardly among the many outrageous things the Republicans have done, but their assault on democracy ranks high on the list.  Democracy is messy, inefficient, and full of compromises because it spreads power around, thus encouraging endless wrangling.  The Republicans hate the democratic process; their agenda is all-in-all to them.  The hope (that word again) is that the people will see what the Republicans are doing—and vote them out of office. (More on the Republican assault on democracy in a subsequent post.)

The Democrats, of course, have the pedagogical task of dramatizing this assault upon democracy.  Just as they have the rhetorical task of moving the voters toward grasping the moral and practical disaster that is the Republican disregard for civil liberties and prisoner abuse.

But I’m with Madison and Arendt in believing that absolute truths—moral or otherwise—have no place in politics.  Liberalism is about trying to limit the damage that such truths do in the public realm.  The Republicans are split between their self-righteous religious right and their pro-business wing.  They have never nominated an outright Christian right candidate; they haven’t gone that far yet.  Our very democracy would be at stake if such a candidate won, because politicians who act from moral certainty, from the sense that any and all opponents are beyond the pale because morally reprobate, have no patience for and no commitment to democracy’s limitations to power, its provisions for compromise by its inclusion of different viewpoints at the table, and its commitment to the legitimate right of all contending political factions to be in the majority in some instances.  (I will take up this crucial point more fully in a subsequent post.)

So I would hate to see the Democrats assume a morality-based politics of their own.  Yes, politics cannot avoid moral questions; but it must submit such questions to the same messy democratic processes as every other kind of question.  Yes, there are times when the individual should say: “Here’s something I will not be part of.” Times when I have to say the majority is wrong.  At such times, I—and those who agree with me—undertake the rhetorical task of convincing that majority that they are wrong.  And, if I am part of the institution that is doing wrong, I should resign.  Unfortunately, we do not have the British tradition of resignation in this country. 

In order to resign, however, you first have to hold office.  W. E. B. DuBois says somewhere that a teacher must begin from where his students are.  Certainly, my experiences in the classroom confirm that simple observation.  The Democrats have been terrible teachers.  They have become as out of touch with the experience of working Americans as the Republicans claim.  They need to start their pedagogical campaign (their rhetorical campaign) where their constituency is: in the everyday struggle to make ends meet in a society where job and pension security is a thing of the past and where education and medical care and housing get more and more expensive even as the government claims that inflation is running at 2% a year.  If we can get Americans to realize how completely Republican policies hold them in contempt, think of them as dispensable and disposable, we then have a chance of moving on to showing that there is a continuum between this disregard of working people’s lives and the treatment of prisoners. 

If you don’t start where your audience is, but come to them from an utterly alien perspective, you quickly descend into the schoolyard mode of swapping fervent assertions of “I’m right,” “No, I’m right”—or the teacherly mode of hectoring a sullen captive audience. Such encounters may do wonders for convincing each of us of our personal rectitude, but they do nothing to enable the two-way, transformative possibility of democratic dialogue.  Certainty on the left or the right leads pretty inevitably into name-calling and excommunication.  Passion, yes.  Conviction too.  But fallibilism, always. 

In sum, watching the polls and being influenced by them is an essential part of democracy. There are other lines of communication between the populace and its elected officials (elections, for one—and direct address for another), but the polls are a legitimate and important source of feedback in a nation with a population as large as ours.  (Recall that all the traditional political theorists believed democracy could never be sustained in a country much larger than a city-state.) In fact, thank god for the polls and their influence on politicians at a time when well-financed interest groups (through professional lobbyists) have such a disproportionate (in terms of the percentages of the population they represent) influence. Politicians who don’t take public opinion into account are not participating in democracy’s two-way street as well as very unlikely to win many elections.  As they shouldn’t.

Posted by on 05/28 at 12:56 PM
  1. The other side says “look at 1964.” That was the only Democratic landslide since 1944, and it was based on unapologetic liberalism.

    It was also - perhaps primarily - a referendum on whether or not we thought presidential assassinations were a good thing.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  05/28  at  02:48 PM
  2. I know this is a left coast thang--but if you scroll down and click the Icon for the Pattern Map, and then button through some of the links and texts, you realize that ‘embedded” in the pattern language are some fairly succinct democratic principles, upon which most of the population can agree.  Reframing the debate from economy versus environmentalism to one of economic growth and prosperity through sustainable conservation and protection of natural resources removes the signifiers of animosity from the MSM oriented debates. 

    http://www.conservationeconomy.net/meta_3/index.cfm

    This morning for example, several of the priests of the American Taliban were threatening the US Senators who signed the agreement.  These threats suggest that the religious theocrats have all this power to enact substantive change in the party.  This is not evident though.  That faction does not have the votes to create a successful third party; they do not wish to help elect Democrats through party fratricide; they cannot risk removing Senators who are reliable GOP stalwarts in the long haul.  Thus these threats are rhetorical devices to alarm their own constituency to be ever vigilant.  The Democrats need to make this point clearly evident in the MSM, but they will not do so.  Why???

    Posted by  on  05/28  at  03:19 PM
  3. John,

    Welcome the insistence on a vigorous, but civil debate.  A few points regarding your latest post:

    1. I’m a big tent Democrat as well.  Its BushCo we are fighting….we need all the votes we can get.  Even if we bitterly disagree on this or that issue.  Here’s an old Rumanian Orthodox proverb.  “at times of serious trouble my son, you are permitted to cross the bridge with the Devil”.  And in many cases I might seem the “devil” in question. 

    2. I disagree with your formulation that a “party can’t lead…that’s Leninism”.  It’s all a question of degree.  Perhaps it should be said that a party can’t get too far out in front.  That to do so would be “Leninism”. 

    3. You wrote, “W. won because he sold the “compassionate conservative” image…”.  I disagree with you here.  W came in a CLOSE second in the first election for many reasons; among them the ‘compassionate conservative” image, shit-spoon fed to the so called liberal media who swallowed it like candy.  (see the Daily Howler’s achieves to get a ugly, first hand look at what I mean).  But the fact is he stole the election. Another truth we are not allowed to talk about any more in the mainstream press.  This is not simply sour grapes on my part.  It is vital to keep this in mind so we understand exactly who, and what, we up against.

    4. Bush “… then won the second time because he sold the idea that the Democrats couldn’t be trusted to provide security and would allow gays to marry”. Maybe, maybe not.  I think he won, to the limited extent he did win mathematically, because he was a sitting president while the nation was, and is, at war.  But that is just my take.  Yours may be closer to the mark….it may not.

    5. You wrote, “The Republicans are split between their self-righteous religious right and their pro-business wing”.  I think you left out an important faction.  The Military-National Security representatives.  Cynical, and remorseless….they know how to play on the passions, greed, and fears, of the two factions you mentioned.

    6. And finally, the main disagreement between us: and a big one.  You wrote, “They have never nominated an outright Christian right candidate; they haven’t gone that far yet.  Our very democracy would be at stake if such a candidate won, because politicians who act from moral certainty, from the sense that any and all opponents are beyond the pale because morally reprobate, have no patience for and no commitment to democracy’s limitations to power, its provisions for compromise by its inclusion of different viewpoints at the table, and its commitment to the legitimate right of all contending political factions to be in the majority in some instances.” I think you are, almost, dangerously, wrong about the first sentence in the quote. I can’t prove my point here.  Or perhaps anywhere.  But Kevin Phillips in American Dynasty makes the best case on W, as the titular leader of the Religious Right, and most outright Christian candidate to sit in the White House since McKinley, who, by the way, Rove idolized.  But the rest of your paragraph is as good a description of what the US is facing as I have seen in 5 years.  And is a near perfect description of W’s bizarre and diabolical mind set.  Somewhere, sometime, I hope your language above will be used in a speech by a major Dem candidate.  But I have my doubts. 

    Anyway…thanks for your efforts. I really enjoy them and respect them….even where I disagree with them.

    Posted by  on  05/28  at  03:47 PM
  4. As you say:

    In sum, watching the polls and being influenced by them is an essential part of democracy.

    Sure. My previous point however stands--it is better to watch polls we’ve influenced than be influenced by polls influenced by our opposition. I won’t go into all the ways that happens, but an analysis of the topics themselves, let alone the language used, is a good place to start.

    The process is iterative with a chicken-and-egg aspect to it. Our task is to define which comes first and speak to it. Your notion of rhetoric works in this regard, but only when it strikes a collective nerve, when it becomes a prime mover by channeling rather than merely describing the mood of the electorate.

    We on the left lose waiting for it to be defined by the other side first, as we have done and as your argument seem to imply we should do again.

    Posted by ccobb  on  05/28  at  03:50 PM
  5. Sheesh—you guys are living in a bubble.

    Bush won and Kerry lost, because Bush strutted his codpiece on the USS Abraham Lincoln and Kerry wore his windsurfing off Nantucket.

    If we actually cared about reclaiming power, we’d be organizing in the 30-40 Republican districts where we might have a slim chance of winning.

    But that’s hard work.

    “Die Philosophen haben die Welt nur verschieden interpretiert, es kommt aber darauf an, sie zu verändern.”

    Posted by  on  05/28  at  10:29 PM
  6. I don’t think anyone crossed the line of civility. John McGowan

    Quaere: Does this sentence contradict itself?  Id est, does its seemingly patronizing arrogance sow the seeds of its own negation?

    But then, I could be overreacting. Logic’s never been my strongest suit.

    Posted by  on  05/28  at  10:52 PM
  7. Ellen,

    I can see that.....I love people that preach “hard work"…

    Posted by  on  05/29  at  05:18 AM
  8. Has there ever been a worthwhile blog comment that began by addressing everyone present as “you guys”?  Thought not.

    Posted by Patrick Nielsen Hayden  on  05/29  at  08:33 AM
  9. Dear John,

    I think we are on the same wave-length at the moment.  You might want to take a look at my blog:  http://melancholicfeminista.blogspot.com.

    aspazia

    Posted by aspazia  on  05/29  at  10:22 AM
  10. Thanks for an interesting piece.

    I agree with jon st - Bush IS a Christian right leader - in thin disguise. He is also doing all the things the author mentions that a Christian right president would do. If you do some research into all the changes Bush is making, his policies and style of governing it becomes obvious.
    A great series on this can be found at theocracywatch.org, or yuricareport.com.

    Posted by  on  05/29  at  11:50 AM
  11. Thanks John, for getting this discussion going.  But (and there’s always a “but, isn’t there?), it seems to me, the dems have been *extremely* attentive to focus groups, public opinion polls, and other devices for measuring their standing with voters.  Problem is, they’re *really bad* at doing it.  Whether or not you believe Bush stole either of the last two elections, his ideology (especially as reflected in his record, not his rhetoric) cannot possibly be that of nearly half of adult Americans, registered voters, or even those who actually voted.

    Problem is, attitude--cockiness, swagger--is what Americans seem most to want right now.  On one hand, then, you argue that dems owe it to Americans to represent their wishes (which we’ve already established the dems aren’t good at doing, even when they try), on the other hand, you say that moral certainty--the surest source of swagger known to God or man--is a no-no.

    Assuming that it is, in fact, the job of democrats to respond to public opinion (which I do not--at least, not until they become elected officials, particularly to Congress), would it be possible to be absolutely morally-assured and immovable in devotion to the dangers of absolute moral assurance and immovability?  Maybe that kind of cockiness-against-cockiness could snap the dems out of their malaise and win a few supporters from the middle (and, at the same time, reach out to what seem to be the vast numbers of disenfranchised who just don’t vote). 

    Aw hell, maybe we just need speech lessons from George Galloway.

    Posted by  on  05/29  at  01:24 PM
  12. while watching one of the debates last fall, my boyfreind turned to me and said “how can kerry lose, bush just keeps saying the same stupid things over and over, kerry actually thinks and gives intelligent answers” and that unfortunately is why bush will win i answered (hoping i was wrong).the moral here- dems must play a bit of demigogery themselves.it also must be remembered that the last three dems to win the presidency were southerners and there for able to appeal to the “good ole boy” voters to whom, kerry i suspect seemed the same kind of itellectual northerner who has been making fun of the south since the civil war. am i saying dumb down a bit? unfortunately yes, sound absolute yes, is this all kinda distastful- you betcha!,but do we want another rightwing pres no.

    Posted by  on  05/29  at  05:29 PM
  13. Wading in from a European perspective, I’d venture to pose (for starters) the question what the true difference might be between a one and a two-party state system? It seems to me both the UK and the US have sustained what amounts to a two-party system that has proven to be more sturdy than a simplistic one-party-system, without having to give up on the solidity of a single ideological consensus. One or two parties do not make the democratic day, in fact, no amount of parties does. Here’s where the wisdom of Claude Lefort should come in handy.

    Some context, at this very moment the French have sacked the EU constitution, as they should have for very good reasons (not quite the reasons people are actually voting), I think some cross-Atlantic perspectives may be helpful.

    Meanwhile, Europe is, just as much as the US, being plagued by a strong (perhaps unprecedented) resurgence of a fascist extreme-right fundamentalism, so I would suggest “Democracy is, to a large extent, the reigning in of leaders, of the elite, and the government by the led” is precisely a wrong and, even more, dangerous position to start from. Democracy has everything to do with keeping the centre of power empty, that whomever or whatever takes up the symbolic role of being ‘in charge’ does not even get to actually believe they are in power. As for instance Slavoj Zizek keeps on repeating: a king who is king because the people believe he is the king is one thing, but ‘god forbid’ he actually believes he is the king. And it gets worse if the ruler thinks/believes to rule out of a service to the population, which I think is concretely the case with Bush, Blair and Chirac (and many, many more).

    John, thank you for the sincerity and keen insight, but the notions of “Left” and “democratic” appear to me to be not quite worked-through here; I see no reason why the ‘opposition’ should play the same game on precisely the same terms as ‘those in power’ unless they assume themselves to be also in power. True, we (not only the US) “need more democracy, not less” but it might be nice to have a somewhat clearer notion of what that might possibly mean. The rhetorical versus the principled position is, I believe, an unwelcome distraction; rhetorical efficacy resides in it being principled, and what principles need defending do obviously require some rhetorical prowess, but the point is, in the end, that we should not necessarily or at least not self-evidently be playing the same game on the same grounds. 

    And no, Bush is not a Christian right candidate; he is an extreme right fundamentalist and per definition doesn’t care one way or another what religious tradition he abuses (although he would today perhaps have a slightly different game to play if he were muslim). That is to say, whatever worthwhile candidate the Democrats would come up with, it best be a morally principled person. I will grant that that’s a very difficult position to take up these days (see http://www.ethical-perspectives.be/viewpic.php?LAN=E&TABLE=EP&ID=139
    ; one of the most succinct texts which can help a convinced Leftist to keep the – or whatever – faith).

    So, yes, in the end - I hate to disagree – whatever credible opposition is going to arise, it will better be morally very strong and even wear morality on its sleeve. Be it a morality that is based on an operational ethics and not simply gratis or sentimental. Your counter-arguments, the principled teacher-position, should also look beyond the ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’; the ‘students’ or the population are all too often very wrong, and what is worse, for the very wrongest reasons (although I’m tonight very much relieved by the fact that the French, with a slim majority rejected the “very liberal” EU constitution, mostly for very wrong reasons). No, you are right, in that one should start where the ‘audience’, the ‘people’ (and all those possible candidates for useful fictions) are; reality is what it is, but let’s never assume we actually ’know’ what reality is to anyone. Are not the only options we are liberally allowed today to be either the victim or the culprit, and if need be both? Is not the only democratically legitimate voice precisely the one that legitimately can claim to speak for the whole of society? And, is not that claim and act of assuming power, a power which is higher than what the ruling game presents as valid? That is to say, it’s legitimacy resides in its effective success? Sometimes the consequences precede the cause.

    thanks for the insights and the hope,
    G

    Posted by  on  05/29  at  08:00 PM
  14. "I disagree, but the evidence for either position is hardly overwhelming.  I point to the Democrats’ having won when they ran to the center in 1960, 1976, 1992, and 1994.”

    Did the Democrats win in ‘94?  I thought that was the year of the “Republican Revolution”?

    Thanks,
    JFP

    Posted by  on  05/30  at  02:13 AM
  15. On one level, the disagreement registered in the comments is about interpreting the political landscape.  Some people believe that the Republicans are not headed to disaster, but have strengthened themselves and gained their current ascendancy through sharper self-definition.  The Democrats, this position avers, should take strong leftist positions, thereby garnering the respect of centrist voters and the passionate energy of partisan activists.  It will gain more votes by this strategy.  Gains among the apathetic, the disenfranchised, and the committed will outweigh any loss among wishy-washy centrists.

    I think the mistake John is making logically precedes the distinction outlined in this paragraph. The first question that Democrats should be asking themselves is “what do we want politically?” (and one can say the same thing about liberals in general, or the left in general).  They should only then concern ourselves with achieving these political goals.

    Our goals should not—and cannot—be derived entirely from an analysis of the political landscape.  Of course, if those goals are entirely divorced from that landscape we’re also in trouble.  But we’re not going to figure out the right thing to do by asking ourselves what the best way to win elections is, for at least two reasons. First, for the moment anyway, the best way to win elections in this country appears to be to do what the Republicans are doing. And guess what, they’re already doing it.  But secondly, elections can be won in many ways, from many different points on the political spectrum.  And saying so, I suppose, puts me firmly in the rhetoricians’ camp, as well.

    One doesn’t have to be a moral (or political) absolutist to believe that politics cannot be reduced to marketing.  Even John has his (absolute?) principles.  For example, he complains about the Republicans “assault on democracy.” One of the reasons that they’ve gotten away with this is that the public usually doesn’t care about process issues.  Now, I would say, we need to come up with a way to get the public to care.  But perhaps that makes me a “Leninist,” or a utopian.

    Finally, lost in the shuffle of this post, is one of the chief reasons why the Democrats have been poor teachers: they haven’t figured out what they’re teaching, e.g. peace or “smarter” war?

    Posted by  on  05/30  at  02:16 AM
  16. The problem with polls, which one must acknowledge, is that they often create the very reality they purport to describe.  One can end up chasing one’s tail.  And in so doing, one makes sure that nothing fundamentally changes; one guarantees the system as it is, that is, the very system that has prevented the Democrats from winning…

    more of such thoughts, on a regular basis, at CPROBES:
    http://www.cprobes.com

    Posted by RIPope  on  05/31  at  12:06 AM
  17. Anyone who thinks liberalism is every maiden’s dream in this country is deluding themselves. The numbers since LBJ’s misleading win speak for themselves. Liberals amount to around 41%-43% of the population. When we face a thoroughly repulsive candidate (c.f George Bush) we can expect around a 7-9% increase in centrists who will vote Democratic. That’s it. Tops. Even with a semi-viable 3rd party candidate draining votes from the Republicans, we didn’t exactly storm to victory with Clinton. And Carter only squeaked by the amiable dunce Jerry Ford. Liberalism is a substantial, but doomed-to-marginal status, political belief in this country.  Any Democratic political strategy that doesn’t involve compromise and accomodation is doomed.

    Posted by  on  05/31  at  09:04 AM
  18. I actually think that Jeffrey Davis actually exaggerates the percentage of liberals in the population.  Most polls put self-described liberals at lower than 20%.  In contrast, the percentage of voters calling themselves “conservative” hovers at around 35%. These numbers have stayed remarkably stable over the last three decades (see the chart in the middle of this Harris Poll, for example).

    You’d think that such numbers would heavily favor moderate candidates over conservative and liberal ones.  That’s Jeffrey Davis’s argument, and that has been the overwhelming national strategy of the Democratic Party (with few exceptions) since the debacle of 1972.

    But in fact, the far right has been remarkably electorally successful, and the center has been less so. 

    Obviously voters are not overwhelmingly liberal. But they’re just as obviously not overwhelmingly Christian conservatives...yet look who’s governing us.  Centrism has simply not been the winning political strategy that voters’ self-descriptions might suggest it would be.

    Bottom line: winning presidential candidates—and parties—need to tap into the vast pool of voters who consider themselves independents and centrists.  However, there is little evidence to suggest that the best way to appeal to these voters is compromise or accomodation.

    Posted by  on  05/31  at  09:48 AM
  19. Sorry in advance for the long comment.  Guess I need my own blog.

    As I said in an earlier comment, the “compromise” that needs to be made needs to be made in terms of personality, of ethos, rathter than in terms of policy.  I mean, centrism isn’t even centrism anymore; it’s political conservatism masquerading as centrism (at least until the last person who remembers the pre-Reagan era dies--that was the era when, as I recall, poverty became a character flaw.)

    Rather, the dems need to actually lead, instead of try to play catch-up with America’s political right wing.  We need to develop and articulate a positive plan of our own based on social justice and civic responsibility--not to rat out your neighbor for merely being a dark-skineed Muslim, mind you, but to truly recognize that we all owe a debt to the society that protects and enriches our lives, and that the more we are enriched by it, the more we owe.  At the same time, we need somebody to “step up” and call a spade a spade--to state plainly that Bush is a liar and a fool and have the facts (which abound), intelligence, wit, and--most of all--fearlessness to back it up.  Or, even less abrasively, to systematically deconstruct the rhetoric of the political right:

    1.  They use large-scale socio-economic arguments to justify irresponsible economic policies, but resort to a rhetoric of nearly absolute individualism in matters of law and justice, and social policy.  Did millions of Americans just decide to start getting divorced, leave their kids alone after school, smoke crack, and do other things that have led to a decline in “family values” and the “moral fiber” of the U.S.?  Are there just more losers who choose to be a drain on the system out there today than a generation or two ago?  Or might it have something to do with the systematic raising of the cost of homes, cars, pharmaceuticals, etc. alongside the systematic lowering of real income by political conservatives and moderates?  It’s obvious, but why the hell won’t anybody just make the graph, put it on a TV ad, and SAY SO?!

    2.  They continue to preach fiscal responsibility and small government when they spend money out the wazoo and have vastly increasd the power (and size) of the federal government (particularly the executive branch).  I guess Kerry tried to do this a bit, with the deficit critique, but his message was lost in that bullshit militaristic “reporting for duty” act he pulled throughout the campaign.

    Change can--and will--happen.  What’s more, the “political landscape” of voter attitudes is so complex that change is as or more likely to happen quickly and radically rather than slowly and incrementally.  It’s like a pile of sand: it builds and builds until suddenly it reaches a point at which it collapses on itself and thus takes on a new form.  You can never predict exactly when the pile will become unstable, but you know it will.  Same with politics.  There’s no way to predict whether my strategy will work, but we can be reasonably certain that American support for the political right will only further solidify if voters never really get a viable alternative--that is, if we don’t start pouring sand on the pile.

    What’s interesting is, if the dems run a candidate who has the swagger Americans seem to need, then the more support that candidate garners among communities of voters, the more likely those same communities are to begin to correlate their positions on issues with each other and with the candidate--at least, that is, if the candidate isn’t shtupping everything that moves along the campaign trail or, god forbid, in the oval office. 

    Thanks again, everybody, for this discussion.  It’s been interesting.

    Posted by  on  05/31  at  01:53 PM
  20. Speaking of “needing his own blog,” John, do you have one? You should. (I’d blogroll you!)

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  05/31  at  02:23 PM
  21. Lance wrote: “...to state plainly that Bush is a liar and a fool and have the facts (which abound)...”

    To that end, why isn’t the http://www.downingstreetmemo.com/ front and center on the “liberal media’s” radar? So, yeah, an editorial in the NYTimes, a story in Slate, and a few other mentions in places like the Seattle Times (which was about the story ‘fizzling’ in the U.S. media) but no serious coverage.

    This is documentation from the U.S’s key ally in the “Coalition of the Willing” that proves Bush and Co. cooked the books when it came to the case of Iraq’s WMD’s. And, it points out that the Bushies had no plan for successfully carrying out the invasion once they had sold the bill of goods to the American public.

    Why do we continue to let these facts slide down the toilet hole of collective memory? I, for one, cannot stomach the hypocrisy of Bush and his minions laying wreaths on soldiers’ graves on Memorial Day and talking about the “last full measure” and all that patriotic gibberish when it was “W” that crammed the war down our throats and sent those 1600+ men and women to their deaths in Iraq. It amazes me that the “Support Our Troops” crowd don’t understand this simple logic--if you really supported our troops you’d be calling for the head of the nincompoop who LIED about the reasons for sending them to their deaths.

    Posted by  on  05/31  at  02:40 PM
  22. The party can’t just lead (that’s Leninism); the party should also (probably more than less) be shaped by the people.  Democracy is, to a large extent, the reining in of leaders, of the elite, and of the government by the led.  And that’s the way it should be.

    57% of the whole population, and 80% of self-identified Democrats, think the Iraq war was a mistake, but it would be “Leninism” for a candidate to call for withdrawal. 

    The Democratic Party will not take one tiny step off the AIPAC-approved line on Middle East policy.  There’s no reining in of leaders, of the elite, on that issue, even though the base of the party is dramatically more flexible on Israel-Palestine policy than the DNC and the candidates.  Leninism of the funders and consultants, I guess.

    Leadership is not “Leninism.” It’s speaking the truth.  The rich have foisted off their share of taxes over the last 25 years to the point where we functionally have a flat tax.  A party that leads will be clear about who has to pay to stop the fiscal train wreck we’re headed for.

    Posted by  on  05/31  at  06:41 PM
  23. To be clear on something:  There are no good choices on Iraq.  That’s the nature of a project based on lies that were never adequately challeged because Democrats like John decided IN ADVANCE that opposing the invasion was too much of a political risk.  Now once again we’re being told that withdrawal is the politically losing choice.  How will we know unless someone steps up and calls for it? 

    This isn’t a moral issue to me; it’s a practical one.  The burden is on those who say we have to stay:  You are calling for the deaths of 2 more soldiers a day, adding $1 billion dollars a week to the deficit, for something that can’t be achieved. But we’re the “dreamers”. 

    I can’t believe I’m living through this again, it really is a nightmare to hear the same arguments that kept us in Viet Nam for years and years as the country fell apart.  The U.S. is not as economically strong as it was in 1968-75; we’re multiplying the number of people around the world who deeply hate us; we’re almost out of resources to heal the divisions at home.  But let’s not tell the voters… they just want that sunny John Edwards smile.

    Posted by  on  05/31  at  07:00 PM
  24. Most analyses of these types of issues (i.e., how the Democrats can win) assume a voting population with specific views that fall into the easily recognizable categories that we have established for people.  That characterization leads to conclusions such as the Democrats have to move “right” because some pro-gun or anti-gay or anti-choice voters will vote for a moderate Democrat, as if the political spectrum is an easily accessible chart and we only have to plot the center course to win.  This analysis short changes the complexity of the population’s views and in doing so, leads us to put the cart before the horse and head down the trail of me-tooism, leading to occasional Democratic victories in an overwhelimingly Republican controlled state apparatus (i.e. the world as it exists today).

    Rather than picking a candidate or platform which adapts its views in a manner that will encompass the greatest number of votes, if Democrats want to win, and win in the long term, they have to advocate for the types of solutions which address the problems of the majority of voters.

    The paradigmatic election here is 1932, where a down and out Democratic Party (having lost 12 of the previous 16 elections) brought the New Deal to the voters.  It was that entirely revolutionary economic program that led to every Democratic victory of the next 40 years.

    What did the Democrats do?  They advocated a new program which directly addressed the most basic issues facing every American voter and promised to make life better for them.

    What are the equivalent of these issues today?  Health care, debt, job loss, low wages, retirement, and yes international security.  The Democrats need a comprehensive program which will address these issues, not just a tinkering with the system or opposing GOP evils, but a program which will address these issues and speak to the United worker who just lost their pension, the Wal-Mart employee who can’t make ends meet, the Marine who came back home to face a full load of credit card debt.

    I don’t have the solution, but we need to put our heads together and be creative.  In our post industrial economy, one element has to be portability.  Our economy cannot be based on life-long employment.  Pensions, healthcare, union bargaining rights, death benefits, continuing education, have to be portable and stay with us from job to job and in between.

    The old New Deal is worn thin and we now seem to be in the midst of an intra-party debate about whether to revive it or save what’s left of it.  I guess I’m advocating a new program for the new economy which sets out real goals. 

    This is the kind of thinking that will lead not only to Democratic victory but to a government run by the principles of liberalism.

    Posted by  on  05/31  at  07:59 PM
  25. I point to the Democrats’ having won when they ran to the center in 1960, 1976, 1992, and 1994(sic, 1996).  John McGowan

    If memory serves, Kennedy lost more House seats than any winning Presidential candidate in living memory—and thereupon, got nothing accomplished in his 34 months in office.

    Carter(1) picked up a couple; Clinton(2) lost a couple.

    Granted vetoes and judicial nominees aren’t to be sneezed at, but if we expect to get anything substantive done, we need the legislature.  Moving to the center doesn’t seem to have gotten us there.

    Organize.  Organize.  Organize.

    Posted by  on  06/01  at  01:26 AM
  26. I agree with sku, the left has to not only oppose the really awful stuff the Great Moron proposes (which is most everything he proposes), but we need to come up with our own solutions and fight for them. For instance, on Social Security, there WILL be a funding gap somewhere by mid-century. The Dems are doing a great job of tearing the GM’s “solution” apart, but we need to have our own plan to solve the problem. Say, remove the cap on where SS taxes are levied. Who gets hurt? Mostly those bankrolling our enemies, and they can afford it. And when they cry, “Tax and Spend”, let’s put them on the spot, and say, “They’d rather SS go belly up, then give up a small part of their inordinate wealth!”

    Class warfare? You betcha. But the majority of the American people are in a class war now, and are losing.

    Posted by  on  06/01  at  01:35 PM
  27. I agree with sku and lefty, but what I’ve been trying to emphasize is that, in addition to coming up with a truly liberal issues-based plan that addresses the needs of the majority of Americans, we need to develop a party ethos (and a candidate) that has real guts.  I keep saying “swagger,” and I know that term makes some people nervous, but don’t underestimate the power of attitude.  *Of course* we need the substance, too, but, dammit, we nominate another Kerry and the best friggin New Deal in the world is going down in flames (set ablaze, no doubt, by Jeb in 2008).  I’m not saying W is particularly charismatic, but he’s so cocksure he’d probably expect Benedict XVI to kiss *his* ring.  LOTS of Americans--even many of those who, when pressed, would come out as moderate to liberal on most issues--love that “we’ll put a boot in your ass” stuff.

    Discounting what I thought was his marginal performance in the q&a, George Galloway’s recent verbal spanking of Senator Coleman (R-MN) and the senate subcommittee on investigations got a lot of people very charged up, very ready to jump on the liberal bandwagon.  He opened up a can of whoopass, and as far as I can tell, was well-received by almost everybody except Fox News devotees.

    I know Galloway has little to lose; he’s not even an American politician.  But that’s the point:  Dems have been working so hard not to lose it seems they have forgotten how to win.  Maybe not caring about losing--calling the radical right out *for real* and in plain but harsh terms while at the same time articulating a truly useful, liberal plan--is precisely the way to win.  Isn’t that what true leadership needs to be sometimes?

    Posted by  on  06/01  at  04:44 PM
  28. something other than the discussion but of interest particularly in signifying some of the divisions within the parties.

    http://www.humaneventsonline.com/article.php?id=7591

    the conservative’s Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries....

    Posted by  on  06/01  at  05:51 PM
  29. Politicians who don’t take public opinion into account are not participating in democracy’s two-way street as well as very unlikely to win many elections.

    Like the DNC Dem leadership who won’t go near positions like ending the war, national health, cutting the military budget?  David Sirota rounds up the polls that support the view that wilfully, fearfully centrist pols are the “Leninists” here.

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  12:41 AM
  30. If the Dems want to win they need to get out of the “politics/policy” biz and move into the leadership biz. If you take a moment to listen to the Republicans you can see the never talk explicitly about politics. Instead they talk about every thing else; things overworked people hear and understand. Simply put, the repubs play politics better than the Dems and everyone knows it!

    Know don’t get me wrong here, I’m not a Righty Repub or a Demoralized Democrat. I just want some freakin’ movement towards solving the vast, REAL problems we face. Not least of which is the American War on Iraq!

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  11:55 AM

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