Posted by: Cube Jockey Jul 24 2004, 11:03 PM
I read an extremely fascinating article in the NY Times today - http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/25/magazine/25DEMOCRATS.html (registration required -- or just check out bugmenot.com).
The central question that the article posits could be summed up thusly:
But whether the Democrats win or lose in November, what will happen -- to put a twist on the old Engelbert Humperdinck song -- after the hating? Four years from now, in 2008, these same Democrats will come together again, in Miami or Phoenix or Las Vegas, perhaps to renominate President Kerry or perhaps to give the stage to Hillary Rodham Clinton or John Edwards or to some now-obscure governor. Either way, Bush will be receding into history, and the party's left and center factions will again be wrestling over free trade, social programs and tax cuts for the middle class. The questions that will loom over the Democratic Party will be the same ones that have resurfaced regularly since the end of the Great Society: what, beyond a series of disconnected policy proposals, is the party's reason for being? What does it stand for in the era after big government?
The article offers a sobering look at reality as far as political power is concerned:
When measured in terms of electoral success, the growing imbalance between the parties is quantifiable. From the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 until the Republican takeover of 1994, Democrats never lost control of the House of Representatives for more than one election before regaining it, and that only happened twice. They have now failed to control the House in five straight elections. Similarly, for 46 of those years, Democrats ruled the Senate by a margin of at least 10 seats. In contrast, they have spent most of the last decade in the minority, and during that time they have never enjoyed a majority of more than a single vote. More sobering for Democrats, the realignment that began in the 1960's -- when the battles over civil rights and Vietnam began to drive white men and rural voters away from the party -- has finally begun to erode the party at its very foundation: the state and local level, where it was dominant for decades. Thirty years ago, Democrats could claim outright control of 37 state legislatures, compared with only 4 for Republicans; Democrats now control just 17.
The people seeking reform have a tough tactical question that needs to be answered, would it be better in the long term if John Kerry lost this election?
Given how desperately the activists behind the Phoenix Group want to dispatch Bush this November, the paradox is that their longer-term goals, from a purely tactical standpoint, may be better served if he wins. Millionaire Democrats are being driven to act by a perception of powerlessness and deterioration. If Kerry wins, some of the passion will likely drain away, and a lot of Democrats will tell themselves -- like gambling addicts after a hot streak at the blackjack table -- that everything is just fine and that, despite the statistics and the polling, the party remains as vibrant as ever. Raising $100 million for a bunch of think tanks might no longer be so easy.
But if Kerry does not ascend to the presidency, and Democrats fail to make significant gains in Congress, then the party and its various factions will be as close to debilitating disunity and outright irrelevance as they have been in almost a century. Leftist investors will see their opening -- a chance, at last, to swoop in and save the party from empty centrism. The struggle for control in 2008 will begin almost immediately.
Finally the article concludes there are two possible political outcomes (based on some of the background activities is describes as ongoing):
Perhaps the New Age, liberal analogue of this can already be seen in a group like MoveOn.org, which has leveraged its big donations to create a remarkably committed and democratized membership; in April, the group raised $750,000 from its followers in a national bake sale. As a reactionary force, it also demonizes Republicans with an apocalyptic fury. MoveOn was castigated by its critics for displaying on its site an amateur ad comparing Bush to Hitler. Lately, MoveOn has called, repeatedly, for Congress to censure Bush and for Donald Rumsfeld to resign.
Every time I talked with someone about the Phoenix Group, I posed these questions: even if you succeed in revitalizing progressive politics, might the Democratic Party, like the G.O.P., be pushed toward extremism? And if so, might that make it all but impossible to repair the party's standing in huge swaths of the country -- the South, the West -- where Democrats are fast becoming a permanent minority?
''Deep down, that question is in the subconsciousness of all the people who are involved in this, if not in their consciousness,'' Stein said. But he didn't have an answer. Perhaps the most illuminating reply came from Robert Boorstin, a former White House aide who now works on national security at the Center for American Progress. ''Everything has risks,'' he said. ''I would rather take that risk than keep it the way it was.''
When I suggested this to Stern, the service employees' union president, he thought about it for a moment before answering. ''There is an incredible opportunity to have the infrastructure for a third party,'' he said. Stern assured me that he himself has no interest in that, but, he added, ''Anyone who could mobilize these groups would have the Democratic Party infrastructure, and they wouldn't need the Democratic Party.''
We tend to think of the two political parties that have ruled American politics for the last 150 years as being cemented into the framework of the Constitution. In fact, parties, like the political movements that sustain them, have shelf lives. In the 1840's and 1850's, the Whig Party, at various times, controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. By 1860, at a loss to coherently address slavery, the defining debate of the time, the Whigs vanished from the planet like a bunch of pterodactyls, replaced by Republicans. It is not unthinkable that the privatization of Democratic politics is a step toward institutional obsolescence. People like Andy Rappaport and Jonathan Soros might succeed in revitalizing progressive politics -- while at the same time destroying what we now call the Democratic Party.
''When you go out and talk to them, people are much more interested in something like MoveOn.org than in the Democratic Party,'' Ickes said. ''It has cachet. There is no cachet in the Democratic Party.
So, at 11 pages, this article is extremely long, but also very informative -- I would highly recommend reading it in full because I couldn't quote every important point here. I'll draw on the questions for debate directly from what I posted above, although some of the supporting details are not quoted.
Questions for debate:1. What, beyond a series of disconnected policy proposals, is the party's reason for being? What does it stand for in the era after big government?2. Could the interests of the Democratic party be better served in Kerry did in fact lose in November? Would this force the party as well as independent groups to really rethink the vision for the first time instead of just thinking about the next election?3. As far as predicting the future goes, which scenario do you see as more likely -- scenario 1, scenario 2 or a third scenario? If you believe it will be something other than 1 or 2 please explain.Note
: I don't necessarily agree with everything in the article, I just thought it made for an interesting discussion. I'll post my responses after several people answer.
Posted by: Rancid Uncle Jul 25 2004, 01:50 AM
1. What, beyond a series of disconnected policy proposals, is the party's reason for being? What does it stand for in the era after big government? When you think about the democrats core issues they all relate to certain rights we all believe we should have. A right to an abortion, a right to an education, a right to health care and a right to privacy. Sure, democrats favor higher taxes but that's to pay for more rights. Despite what the right may say democrats don't enjoy high taxes. The more recent issues like gay marriage and the patriot act are also along these lines. Republicans on both of these issues are for less personal freedom. Republicans are always going to be for monetary freedom but when it comes to the most vital freedom, we democrats are always there protecting people. Look at the senior prescription drug plan, republicans want to protect drugs, democrats want to protect seniors. Even on non-cash based issues like gay marriage democrats protect gay people and republican protect the afterlife. Thatís how itís working out in 2004, democrats are now the party of Lincoln, the republicans are the party of the $5 bill.
2. Could the interests of the Democratic party be better served in Kerry did in fact lose in November? Would this force the party as well as independent groups to really rethink the vision for the first time instead of just thinking about the next election?Thatís a little too much gloom and doom. Weíre really close in the senate and the main reason weíre down in the house is the last time the electorate got tired of the incumbents there were more incumbents who were democrats. Once the people get tired of incumbents again weíll regain control of the house. One the presidential side weíve got an incumbent on the run and about to be kicked out of office in November. On the state side the Democratic Party, I admit, is falling apart in the south but who needs the south? All we need is Florida. In the other states like Arizona though the Democratic Party is getting stronger thanks to demographic shifts and Internet organizing. To me rethinking the democratic vision basically accepts defeat. If there were another vision that was so great there would be a viable third party.
3. As far as predicting the future goes, which scenario do you see as more likely -- scenario 1, scenario 2 or a third scenario? If you believe it will be something other than 1 or 2 please explain. I think scenario one makes more sense. The democrats arenít going to disappear in a country with so many liberals. What the democrats have to do some guts and say what they believe and avoid the politically correct, monotone, drone of Al Gore and the failure wing of the democratic party. Itís just crazy enough to work. That doesnít mean get more liberal. It means going out and fighting for what you believe will make this country better, not get you tolerated by the most people. Sort of like what President Bush says but never does. That will win a lot more respect and accomplish a lot more than running you political life on public opinion because public opinion changes and when it does we democrats too often get thrown off the deep end.
Posted by: still Jul 31 2004, 12:50 AM
1. What, beyond a series of disconnected policy proposals, is the party's reason for being? What does it stand for in the era after big government?
I couldn't say that the era of big government is over. I don't have a real problem with big government as long as it's smart government. The main purpose of government should be to protect its citizens from capitalism. If they need a big infrastructure to do so, that's fine with me.
I've been a Democrat most of my life because Democrats tend to protect personal freedoms and provide assistance to those who need it. Republicans tend to limit personal freedoms in favor of some collective "morality". Democrats have no such imposed morality agenda, favoring the idea that morality should be societal. President Clinton was my ideal Democrat, fiscally conservative with liberal morals.
2. Could the interests of the Democratic party be better served in Kerry did in fact lose in November? Would this force the party as well as independent groups to really rethink the vision for the first time instead of just thinking about the next election?
If Bob Dole or John McCain was in the White House I would say maybe. But the current administration is too dangerous to take that view. After winning and shoring up their power base in the next election, which regulation do you think they will roll back first? Which sector of the industrial superstructure gets another subsidy? Which country will get whomped next by an efficient military and bumbling diplomatic policy? That's 4 more years that will be tough to get out from under. I don't want to spend the next Democratic administration trying to fix everything that our current one has broken.
If nothing else, there will probably be two or three vacancies on the Supreme Court in the next administration, and I don't want to risk that.
3. As far as predicting the future goes, which scenario do you see as more likely -- scenario 1, scenario 2 or a third scenario? If you believe it will be something other than 1 or 2 please explain.
Scenario 1 is more likely. Ask someone like me, from California, if the current administration has had success while ignoring and even actively disparaging a certain part of the country. But most liberals, though pie-in-the-sky, are smart enough to understand pragmatism when it's necessary and progress when it's warranted.