Towards A Good Samaritan World

Sunday, September 18, 2005

A Matt Yglesias post (hat tip Andrew Sullivan) sets off an interesting discussion about the future of the Democrats. Some of the comments are just your usual potty-mouth Democratic bile, but some are interesting, like this one:

Aha. Is not the key to not being in minority status is to keep in mind some kind of majority in everything you have in your "program." Getting out of minority means getting a majority, very simple...

Dems are not unified in much of anything, as evidenced every day in the blogosphere. Sounds to me like we have a socialist wing and a capitalist wing, and a we-must-fight-terrorism wing vs. terrorism-is-a-lie-created by the Bushies wing, and an anti-Patriot Act wing, also supported by libertarians, and a somewhat-pro-Patriot-Act wing concerned about terrorism, a withdraw-now wing vs. stay-the-course wing, etc.

We are still simply the "anti-Bush" party that Kerry lost enough middle votes with to lose. That's the only thing that unifies. There's no there there. It's a bunch of minorities fighting each other.

Oddly, this writer also makes the following claim:

in opposition, we have: Rove makes message, people stay on message. Rove says you can talk now Dobson, he talks; Rove says shut up Dobson, Dobson stews but has no where else to go.

It's strange to hear Democrats talking about how on-message and unified the Republicans are; my impression is that the Republicans are in the midst of a sort of civil war, with the neocons hated by the paleocons and libertarians, theocons also hated by libertarians, and with Bush in his own big-spending conservative camp that everyone is disgruntled with. Libertarians and paleocons (typically) disdain Bush and hate the neocons much more than they hate anyone in the Democrats' camp. And they're not afraid to say so. Who's "on message" here?

The writer concludes:

I see only two ways to get a majority back: go for votes in the middle, or if you want more ideological than that form a new strongly-libertarian-on-personal issues and stay-out-of-culture-wars-issues coalition with libertarian conservatives. To do the latter, one must give up on the social engineering plans and go more pro-small-business et. al., and have a few Sister Souljah moments with radicals, like Clinton did. Funny to do the former, you have to do the same thing! But no, the DLC is evil, no Republican lite fur us, we just know that if we revive the tax-and-spend big-Federal-government-dream that a new socialist majority will rise to the barricades out of the ashes. Believe it and it will be true? :-) [sarcasm]

This suggests that "go for votes in the middle" is an alternative to the "form a... coalition with libertarian conservatives" option, but I wonder if the author really meant that. The Democrats already "go for votes in the middle," and so do the Republicans. Bush did it through programs like the Medicare prescription drug benefit and No Child Left Behind, which put him to the fiscal left of America's center. As long as the Democrats stay on the fiscal left of Bush, Republicans will have the upper hand on the size-of-government debate. Their only hope is to get the votes of misguided clever libertarians like Andrew Sullivan, who think that the solution to an over-large government is to vote for the greater of two evils.

Of course, Andrew Sullivan really switched sides because of gay marriage. The Democrats maybe can pull some libertarian votes from the Republicans on cultural issues even if they are at odds with libertarians on amount-of-tax-and-spending issues. Trouble is, they'll lose other votes-- and they'll probably lose more than they'll gain.

So if Democrats really want to "go for votes in the middle," they'll have to do get to Bush's fiscal right. Convincingly. And that's hard, because the Democrats are not very credible: the long retreat from Great Society liberalism has left them in a position where most of their leadership (John Kerry being a recently outstanding example) is out of touch with America, and so can't run on his real beliefs. Democrats can fudge and mask their beliefs in various ways, but Americans are pretty good at detecting this insincerity and don't like it.

So I agree with the writer who answers another writers remark that "We won't be able to send a unified message out until there is more respect for the party leaders from inside, and tolerance for more variety in those leaders," with the terse rebuttal,
"Or they [the Democratic party leaders] are replaced with people who don't suck." Except that the Dem reinvention, via an alliance with libertarian conservatives, would have to be underway before better leaders would be likely to surface, because right now the signals about what the party is and stands for are either weak or wrong.

This post, meanwhile, was brilliant:

[T]he McGovernite wing has to die off, or lose a substantial amountof its influence. That's going to take 25 years, at least. But all those salt-and-pepper haired, Angry People who think the 60s are unfinished business, and who thrust a moving target onto the national stage over his position on one issue, are a ball and chain that keeps the party unable to move nimbly. They aren't going anywhere, and they are taking the party with them, so to speak. As long as a substantial portion of middle America sees those people as what the DP is about, the party is going to struggle.

And that's what the Sister Souljah moments are for: blasting those people off the stage. ("Sister Souljah" is a rapper whom Bill Clinton denounced for the values she was peddling, like the Dems should have done for Michael Moore last year.)


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