I read an extremely
fascinating article in the NY Times today - Wiring the Vast Left Wing Conspiracy
(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.