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Author Topic: Which branch of the Democrat party is more to blame for its failures?  (Read 7195 times)
Beet
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« on: September 05, 2005, 01:02:26 am »

Use this thread to discuss how either the liberal or centrist wing has hurt/helped the Democrats. Last year I was an Edwards supporter, but I will make the case that the centrists have hurt the Dems:

I have to disagree with you about Clinton's centrism being appeasement.  The miserable failure of the Democrats in more recent years honestly comes from having abandoned the Clinton approach and taking a more hard-left approach.

1) How exactly was Gore "hard-left"? I don't think he was "hard-left" at all, if he distanced himself from Clinton in the campaign it was only because he was foolishly afraid that some of the Lewinsky fatigue would rub off on him. That's also why he picked Lieberman. In retrospect it's so dumb but that's how it was. We had a big surplus then and Gore proposed an $800 billion tax cut. Bush proposed a $1.3 trillion tax cut. So the size of their tax cuts differed, but I don't exactly see that as being a 'hard-left' position. Certainly Gore did not in any way resemble Howard Dean nor did he have anywhere near the record of John Kerry. Plus, the economy was the best that it had been in 35 years. Many baby boomers no doubt were surprised that things could ever have gotten so good again. Nixon may have narrowly lost as VP in 1960, but the economy was in recession in 1960. Recession!

strike 1 for the DLC.

2) The Democrats kept up the centrist charade in 2002. The Senate leadership made a calculated decision to support Bush's war resolution. And once again, they suffered a historic loss, this time because no party had lost seats in both chambers of Congress in an off-year election since 1934. Later it turned out a lot of the WMD intelligence was crap, and maybe we should have questioned it more vigorously.

strike 2 for the DLC.

3) That was the stage for 2003, and Howard Dean's grassroots campaign, the first truly grassroots Democratic campaign since probably when Jimmy Carter took the nomination in 1976. Even then the 'hard left' did not win. Since Dean peaked too early the nomination instead went to a 'compromise' candidate who was the guy the DLC originally wanted from the very beginning.

Kerry had a liberal voting record to be sure, not the most liberal in the Senate once you account for missed votes but pretty liberal. On the other hand he voted in favor of the war, and continued to stand by that, leading to a pretty awkward campaign whose only message was "I'll manage it better." Not exactly the most overwhelming reason to replace an incumbent president in a time of war, especially the president who guided us through 9/11. That visionless 'message' lost.

Strike 2.5 for the DLC.

Strike 0.5 for the 'hard left', due to Kerry's voting record.

4) Add to that the fact that Gephardt and the congressional Dems had embraced the Clintonian "New Democrat" model after 1994 but they continually failed to re-take congress, that is 3 strikes for the DLC.

The 'hard left' has only one election where it plausibly hurt the Democrats (2004), and even that is unclear due to Kerry's support of the Iraq war. Now how is it that the "hard left" is responsible for the Democrats' current condition, and not the visionless DLC?

----------------------------------------------------------

There is the empirical evidence. Now let's turn to the theoretical evidence.

1) The best centrist argument is that you have to be moderate to win. It's a utilitarian naked appeal to power with no pretense at conviction. People can see through this and do.
 
Example: Kerry as a flip-flopper. The main idea here is that Kerry really has no principles and that he'll say contradictory things to win in politics. This is believable because he had a solidly liberal voting record yet he tried to run as a moderate. Similiar things are said or thought about other Democratic 'centrists' including Clinton.

2) A centrist puts very little at stake. In the 2000 election it was perceived that you had two centrists running, a lot of people complained there was no difference between the two parties. That's hardly the way to excite the base, and therefore a poor strategy for increasing turnout. It also makes you vulnerable to defection by "principle" voters (i.e. Nader voters). Bottom line is, people have got to care enough not only to turn out, but to work and contribute for your campaign. It's hard to do that when you don't sharply define yourself on issues.

3) People respond to elite signals, and when strong signals are coming only from one side, people will gravitate towards that side.

i.e., if Peter says "Red is better than blue!" and Paul says "Blue is better than red!" people won't know what to think. But if Peter says "Red is better than blue!" and Paul says "Well, I'm not really sure, but I think that maybe, in some cases, blue may have its advantages..." then people will tend to believe red is better.

Over the long term, if liberals dither and equivocate while conservatives come out strongly, the public will become increasingly conservative.

Note: I also think there are strong arguments for the centrist view, but I'm wondering how centrist supporters will respond to the issues raised above.
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dazzleman
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« Reply #1 on: September 05, 2005, 06:49:40 am »
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Beet, I'll go back to something I said earlier -- that the party that best controls its extremist elements usually wins the election, all other things being equal.

In 1992 and 1996, Democrats controlled their extremists better, while Republicans either offered only stale and negative reasons to vote for them, and had extremists who were motivated by hatred for Clinton (more 1996 than 1992).  Clinton used his "Sister Souljah" moment to control the radioactive left wing of his party, and it worked, largely because the Democrats were sick of being locked out of the White House, and the extremists agreed to shut up.

The whole Lewinsky issue had certain subtle effects on the political scene that may not have been apparent at the time.  First, they reignited the hard left, who rallied to the defense of Clinton.  This is when moveon.org was founded.  In the short run, this was a good thing for the Democrats, or at least for Clinton.  But once the hard left was re-mobilized, they became difficult to control.  Second, Clinton's behavior in the Lewinsky matter caused a deep cleavage in the American populace that I believe made a large contribution to the red state-blue state divisions today.  I believe that the Lewinsky matter, and Gore's strong defense of Clinton in that matter, is largely what caused him to lose all the southern states.  Voters in those states were further repelled by the resurgence of the left wing of the party.  It wasn't so much Gore's position on the issues, but his strong defense of Clinton's Lewinsky behavior, that alienated him from southern voters.  I think that many secular Democrats and liberals who argue that the Lewinsky affair was nothing fail to understand how offensive it is to religious voters that a president was having sex with a woman his daughter's age on the floor of the oval office.  Association with, and defense of, this behavior definitely cost Gore in the south.  Gore in effect inherited Clinton's liabilities, without his assets.  Not fair, but often happens in politics.

That's why I have never agreed with the argument that Gore should have embraced Clinton and not distanced himself from him.  Either way, quite honestly, he was screwed.  As a VP running for the top job, it is a very risky strategy to embrace your predecessor even if he is not controversial.  And while voters thought highly of Clinton's performance as president, their opinion of his personal behavior was quite low as Clinton's term wound down.  So there were significant risks to embracing Clinton, as well as keeping him at arm's length.  Also, with Clinton being the egomaniac that he is, the fear was that Clinton would turn his campaign appearances for Gore into a defense of the Clinton record rather than support for Gore.  In sum, I think more active involvement by Clinton would have helped Gore largely in places that he won, and hurt him in places that he lost.  That doesn't sound like a net gain to me.

In the 2002 mid-term elections, the Democrats would have lost either way.  It was too soon after Sept. 11th, with the nation rallying around Bush, for the Democrats to be able to craft an effective opposition strategy.  This happens sometimes to both parties, and the best thing to do is ride it out.  I don't think you can draw conclusions about a strategy based on the outcome of the 2002 election.  As far as the WMD intelligence goes, the Democrats believed it just as strongly as Bush, and had been talking about the issue long before Bush was president.  It wasn't something that Bush cooked up and foisted onto gullible and unsuspecting Democrats, as many on the left suggest.  Clinton and Kerry were making very strong statements about the need to rid Iraq of WMDs back in 1998; in fact, the whole Desert Fox operation of late 1998 was based upon the belief that Iraq was moving forward with WMD development, and needed to be set back in that pursuit.  Kerry strongly supported the Desert Fox operation.  So the initial Democratic support of the Iraq war was not a result of their being duped by Bush, as some have suggested.

In 2004, the Democrats were hobbled by having a candidate who was a liberal, and who had very confused positions on the Iraq war, which was one of the more important issues.  Couple that with his having joined the anti-war movement after he got back from Vietnam, and you have a very confused situation.

One thing to say in Kerry's defense -- nuance just doesn't sell well in politics.  That is why it is so hard to discuss and solve complex issues.  If you look at the affirmative action thread, you can see that in action.  My position there is "nuanced," and therefore subject to attack from both sides.  It is also difficult to satisfactorily explain in a couple of sentences.  In a world in which the sound byte is king, a nuanced position will often lose out to a simple hard-line position.

But if the Democrats had gone with Dean, do you think they would have done better?  Clearly, they would have done worse.

Sometimes, parties have to await changes in political conditions to be able to win elections.  Generally, Democrats are at a big disadvantage in any election where national security is an issue.  Where it is not, Republicans are at a disadvantage.  That is how Democrats won easily in 1992 and 1996, and essentially tied the 2000 election.  In those years, national security was not deemed an important issue.  In 1992 and 1996, Republicans floundered without this issue in their arsenal.  They further floundered when the welfare issue was removed by the signing of welfare reform in 1996, another example of Clinton keeping the left wing of the party under control.  Just as Nixon initiated detente, unilaterally withdrew from Vietnam and visited "Red" China, and kept conservative support, Clinton signed a law getting rid of one of the liberals' most cherished policies, and still kept their support.  And he won the election.  In 2000, I believe the Democrats would have clearly won were it not for the Lewinsky matter.

[continued in next post]
« Last Edit: September 05, 2005, 10:38:12 am by dazzleman »Logged
dazzleman
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« Reply #2 on: September 05, 2005, 06:51:55 am »
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But after the Sept. 11th attacks, national security reasserted itself as an issue.  Without a "Sister Souljah" moment on national security, it will be quite difficult for the Democrats to cobble together a majority when national security is an issue.  Even when Bush screws up, he is perceived as stronger on the issue than the Democrats.  I don't think a lot of Democrats recognize or really understand how strongly some voters are repelled by their perceived attitude on national security.  Like with the religion issue, it's not a matter of adjusting policy prescriptions here and there; many voters just believe deep in their bones that Democrats are hostile to national security, just as they believe deep in their bones that Democrats are hostile to religious values.

Of course, there are countervailing issues for the Republicans too.  The party's identification with the religious right costs it many votes in certain sections of the country.  But the Democrats' problem right now is that their coalition falls just short of 50% of the electorate, no matter how they slice it.  It's kind of like a business that is still attracting a good number of loyal customers, but falls just short of having enough business to make a profit.  The business has maximized the potential business with this base, and faces the difficult choice of (a) possibly alienating the base by changing its product in an attempt to draw in new customers (which is always more difficult than holding onto the ones you have) or (b) redoubling efforts to attract more business with the existing base, which has the risk of producing diminishing returns.  Businesses face this choice all the time, and so do political parties.

In terms of what is best for the Democrats, I fall on the side of emphasizing moderate positions on issues that can appeal to people who are now reluctantly voting Republican out of disgust for the Democratic party.  There are many of them, and the Republicans are quite vulnerable to this approach, in my opinion.  Many people vote Republican simply because they hate the Democrats, not because they really like the Republicans that much.  I think it's quite possible that the extreme positions of the Democratic base repel more voters than they add to the party, which is why the extremists need to be kept under control, not made the centerpiece of the party's strategy.  Do you think the Republicans would win if Pat Robertson were their standard bearer?  By putting people like George Soros, Michael Moore and the whole kooky Hollywood crowd at center stage, that is effectively what the Democrats are doing.

I also think the racial divide could be the ultimate undoing of the Democratic party.  Right now, the Democrats require 90% of the black vote to win a presidential election.  This means they must pay lip service to certain ideas and people that are deeply unpopular with many Americans.  The black vote is also largely a "top down" vote, meaning that unlike most whites, blacks tend to take their cues on how to vote from certain community leaders such as ministers, civil rights leaders, etc.  The danger to the Democrats is that black leaders will escalate their demands for what they should receive in return for delivering such a large percentage of the black vote.  This issue is starting to really hurt Democrats at the local level in certain places, with New York as an example.  This is the issue that has caused the Democrats to lose the mayoral election in a heavily Democratic city three straight times, and probably a fourth.  Essentially, politics in New York has reached a point where a white Democrat who challenges and beats a black/minority candidate in the party's nominating process will not receive sufficient support from minority voters to win the general election.  And Democratic candidates must adopt such extreme positions to placate minority voters that it repels in large numbers working class white voters who are otherwise Democrats, but who switch to the Republican candidate in these elections.  Racial animus is surely part of this in New York, but it is not the whole story.  And the danger (or potential, depending on how you look at it) of this happening on the national level is a great one for the Democrats.

Ultimately, I think there has to be a political realignment of sorts.  Democrats are going to have to take a gamble of giving up some of a certain constituency in order to attract more voters from another constituency.  This is what the party did in the post-World War II period, when it effectively expelled the communists and the "fellow travelers" from its ranks.  The communists had been ordered by their masters in Moscow to support the New Deal, and while they turned against Roosevelt during the period of the Nazi-Soviet pact, they came back into his camp once the Nazis turned and attacked the Soviet Union.  But after the war, when the Soviets became an enemy rather than ally, the communists and the fellow travelers became a major political liability.  The Democrats effectively expelled them from the party, and Truman in 1948 won the election despite being challenged by Henry Wallace, who represented the element of the Democratic party that had been effectively expelled.  Had Truman tailored his policies toward keeping this wing in the party, he might have prevented a Wallace challenge, but he would have lost more votes than Wallace got due to the unpopularity in the general population of a weak position vis-a-vis the Soviets.  A latter day version of the fellow travelers -- those who are vaguely or explicitly hostile to the assertion by the US of its national interests -- came back into the party in the wake of Vietnam, and the Democrats need to recognize that holding onto certain constituencies is costing them more votes than it is gaining them.

I guess I have written enough, Beet.  I hope you have the fortitude to read it all. Smiley
« Last Edit: September 05, 2005, 07:39:10 am by dazzleman »Logged
dazzleman
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« Reply #3 on: September 05, 2005, 07:01:32 am »
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Over the long term, if liberals dither and equivocate while conservatives come out strongly, the public will become increasingly conservative.


The problem here is that a significantly higher percentage of Americans support conservative views than support liberal views, as currently defined.  I agree that dithering and equivocating is not the answer, but changing certain positions, and redefining the ESSENCE of what it means to be a liberal, could be the answer.

Liberals have effectively been painted, in the eyes of many Americans, as being soft on defense, hostile, even to national security, favoring never-ending tax increases, being apologists for the criminal element, being hostile to traditional values, and gearing their policies solely to "oppressed" minority groups (and gender groups) at the expense of the general population.

You can argue whether these assessments are correct, but the fact is that large numbers of Americans believe this, and act upon those beliefs in the voting booth.

Either change the perception, or change the reality.  But I don't see how reinforcing these views will win more elections, given the current political alignment.
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« Reply #4 on: September 05, 2005, 07:26:41 am »
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A long reply by me got eaten up by my computor Angry

Anyhow my basic argument is that's it's the fault of six of one and half a dozen of the other...

Personally I think one little talked about problem the national Democrats have (and I'll write a longer piece on this soon) is the fact that they've sort of managed to lose the Party's soul; it's almost as if Party has sold it to various special interest groups (both hard left and centrist), doesn't care, hasn't noticed or can't be bothered to buy it back.

Just one part of a long rant I've been plotting for a while...
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dazzleman
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« Reply #5 on: September 05, 2005, 07:32:04 am »
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A long reply by me got eaten up by my computor Angry


Mine almost got eaten, so I know how you feel.
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dazzleman
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« Reply #6 on: September 05, 2005, 07:34:06 am »
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Personally I think one little talked about problem the national Democrats have (and I'll write a longer piece on this soon) is the fact that they've sort of managed to lose the Party's soul; it's almost as if Party has sold it to various special interest groups (both hard left and centrist), doesn't care, hasn't noticed or can't be bothered to buy it back.


You make a good point.  A political party is more than just the sum of a number of disparite and unconnected positions on separate issues.  There has to be an overarching theme.  The Democrats may have one, but they are not articulating it.  Or maybe they are afraid that it will be unpopular with voters, so they're attempting to suppress it.
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« Reply #7 on: September 05, 2005, 10:28:08 am »
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It's not about the traditional left-right stance.  I agree, we should comprimise little ground as far as rhetoric on economic issues.  Yet we need to stay with the mainstream on social issues.
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« Reply #8 on: September 05, 2005, 11:05:14 am »
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Simply put, what was the George McGovern wing, that turned into the Mondale wing that shifted to back Dukakis and then turned into the Kennedy wing until Michael Moore opened up. Now it can be referred to as the Cindy Sheehan wing. These people drive Americans away with their hyper-partisan, extreme anti-war stances and those that preach unfetteref abortion rights, radical social revolution, and that criminals should be treated better than a fetus simply make it worse. Some Democrats have simply kicked the party left on key cultural issues and have caused the Democrats to be known as the abortion party or the anti-war party. Whether that's a fair depiction, I don't know. It's what Americans think though.
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« Reply #9 on: September 05, 2005, 12:43:07 pm »

Hmmm, wow. Shocked . I did have the fortitude to read it all, but I'm not sure I can respond to it all. Smiley

I'll just say one brief thing, that no doubt a lot of the perception that Democrats are "weak" on national security is

1- A myth created by by the right. One of their biggest issues which they repeat all the time is how Clinton "gutted" the military. They never mention how military spending kept falling throughout all of George Bush Sr.'s term, and that the end of the Cold War combined with an even worse budget situation thatn we have today more than anything else contributed to the closing of a lot of bases. Another charge they keep repeating is how Clinton did "nothing" against terrorists. This is both untrue and reflects an unfair projection of post-9/11 mentality onto pre-9/11 situations. Clinton responded to every single terrorist attack that happened on his watch and gave far more money and attention to terrorism than any previous president. The Egyptian mastermind of the 1993 WTC attack which Clinton supposedly "ignored" was arrested within two years. You never hear Reagan getting chewed out for pulling out of Lebanon after the Marine barracks bombings.

2- An almost unavoidable aspect to opposition of the war in Iraq. "Opposing the war yet supporting the troops" is one of those difficult nuanced positions you're talking about.
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« Reply #10 on: September 05, 2005, 12:47:08 pm »
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In 1976, 1980, 2000, and 2004, the more moderate guy lost.
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« Reply #11 on: September 05, 2005, 12:52:00 pm »
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Hmmm, wow. Shocked . I did have the fortitude to read it all, but I'm not sure I can respond to it all. Smiley

I'll just say one brief thing, that no doubt a lot of the perception that Democrats are "weak" on national security is

1- A myth created by by the right. One of their biggest issues which they repeat all the time is how Clinton "gutted" the military. They never mention how military spending kept falling throughout all of George Bush Sr.'s term, and that the end of the Cold War combined with an even worse budget situation thatn we have today more than anything else contributed to the closing of a lot of bases. Another charge they keep repeating is how Clinton did "nothing" against terrorists. This is both untrue and reflects an unfair projection of post-9/11 mentality onto pre-9/11 situations. Clinton responded to every single terrorist attack that happened on his watch and gave far more money and attention to terrorism than any previous president. The Egyptian mastermind of the 1993 WTC attack which Clinton supposedly "ignored" was arrested within two years. You never hear Reagan getting chewed out for pulling out of Lebanon after the Marine barracks bombings.

2- An almost unavoidable aspect to opposition of the war in Iraq. "Opposing the war yet supporting the troops" is one of those difficult nuanced positions you're talking about.

Support the troops - bring them home to safety.

Insert comment about Lousiana National Guard here.
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dazzleman
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« Reply #12 on: September 05, 2005, 01:48:21 pm »
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Hmmm, wow. Shocked . I did have the fortitude to read it all, but I'm not sure I can respond to it all. Smiley

I'll just say one brief thing, that no doubt a lot of the perception that Democrats are "weak" on national security is

1- A myth created by by the right. One of their biggest issues which they repeat all the time is how Clinton "gutted" the military. They never mention how military spending kept falling throughout all of George Bush Sr.'s term, and that the end of the Cold War combined with an even worse budget situation thatn we have today more than anything else contributed to the closing of a lot of bases. Another charge they keep repeating is how Clinton did "nothing" against terrorists. This is both untrue and reflects an unfair projection of post-9/11 mentality onto pre-9/11 situations. Clinton responded to every single terrorist attack that happened on his watch and gave far more money and attention to terrorism than any previous president. The Egyptian mastermind of the 1993 WTC attack which Clinton supposedly "ignored" was arrested within two years. You never hear Reagan getting chewed out for pulling out of Lebanon after the Marine barracks bombings.

2- An almost unavoidable aspect to opposition of the war in Iraq. "Opposing the war yet supporting the troops" is one of those difficult nuanced positions you're talking about.

Dude, once again, you have to look further back.

The attitude that Democrats are weak on national security goes back to the Vietnam era.  Anti-war forces took over the Democratic party, and along with the anti-Vietnam attitude was the attitude that it was somehow wrong to defend the interests of the United States (not that I'm equating that with the Vietnam War).  There was an element in the Democratic party that, while maybe not anti-American, was somehow embarrassed by the projection of American power for any reason, and that believed, essentially, in moral equivalence between the US and Soviet Union.

These elements still have a great deal of power in the Democratic party, and have a lot to do with the perception that the party is untrustworthy on national security.  I personally have always considered the Democrats untrustworthy on national security, and that is a big factor in my declining to support Democratic candidates for federal positions.

So I don't think that the perception of the Democrats being weak on national security is a myth that has been created by the Republicans in the last 4 years.  It's been around for more like 35 years, and if it's a myth, the Democrats need only prove it wrong in order to lay it to rest.
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« Reply #13 on: September 10, 2005, 01:24:33 pm »
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The rules say that every post has to be at least a 100 words.

On the issue...I think a lot comes down to mixing it a little. You need to avoid issues that are highly damaging to you electorally and push through some of your principal issues "under-cover". If you look at Reagan, the last successfull radical, what he did was basically using the economy twice as his main campaign theme. He did the "Are you better off than you were 4 years ago" stunt twice - first as a challenger and then as an incumbent. This, combined with his personal charisma and optimism was what people were voting for. Once in office Reagan was able to pull off a pretty power-full conservative agenda AND linking this agenda to the economic success during his administration. I think that being able to link your ideas to a positive message and an atmosphere of success is the key here, not the actual radicalism of your stands.

Needless to say, Democrats should avoid defending gay marriage, which is a non-issue, or get into Roe v Wade. Those are issues where they lose, plain and simple.

I strongly agree with Dazzleman on minority politics. This is a key problem, just look at Democrat percentages of the white vote in the South. Not very promising...
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« Reply #14 on: September 16, 2005, 03:43:14 pm »
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In 1976, 1980, 2000, and 2004, the more moderate guy lost.

Erase 2000 and 2004, and add 1992 to that
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« Reply #15 on: September 16, 2005, 04:00:38 pm »
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I have to disagree with thefactor's essay.

Al Gore was most certainly a hard left candidate on a number of issues, mainly economics.  If you were to distill the Gore campaign down ot a single sentence, what would that sentence be?  The sentyence would be the refrain Gore uttered over and over again: The people versus the powerful.  This is a base populist message, telling voters to reassert their economic interest against various corporations and the wealthy.  The entire campaign was based on liberal class warfare.  While there was a token tax cut thrown in (Gore's commitment to the tax cut was highly dubious), the heart and soul of the platform, the portions Gore emphasized were expansions in Federal health and pension programs.  I do not consider this a failure of centrism, and the case fro the Gore 2000 campaign being a failure of centrism is far weaker in my view than the case for the Clinton 1996 victory being a win for centrism.

In fact, I think 2000 is a case of centrism defeating liberal populism if anything.  George Bush has not run a centrist administration, but its easy to forget that his 2000 campaign was a centrist campaign.  He ended Republican orthodoxy that favored abolishing the Department of Education, endorsed a Rx Drug Benefit for Medicare, and his proposed tax cut was 1/3rd the size of the tax cut proposed by Bob Dole four years earlier.  If there was a centrist candidate in 2000, it was most certainly not Al Gore.

As for retaking or not retaking the House.  It is true, and you establish this beyond doubt, that the DLC did not succeed in retaking the House in 1996, 1998, 2000, or 2002.  You have established that centrist Democrats could not beat conservative Republicans.  But what you don't establish is that liberal Democrats could beat conservative Republicans.  I think the evidence supporting the liberals is paper thin.  Nancy Pelosi cannot be considered a centrist, yet in 2004 she failed as badly as Gephardt to retake the House.  Was there some ideological gray area between her and Haster/DeLay?

One last thing, you strike me as someone who does not have a first hand memory of 1980s politics.  The identity politics/nuclear freeze/soft on crime Democratic Party of Mike Dukakis, Jesse Jackson, Mario Cuomo, and Ann Richards.  Can anyone imagine the Democratic Party nominating a candidate for President who endorsed weekend furloughs for murderers like Dukakis did?  Of course not, they'd be smashed!  Yet this is the liberal position on crime that Clinton abandoned.  You won't convince me that what happenned in the 1980s with Democrats is the way to win national elections.
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« Reply #16 on: September 16, 2005, 04:13:39 pm »
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I have to disagree with thefactor's essay.

Al Gore was most certainly a hard left candidate on a number of issues, mainly economics.  If you were to distill the Gore campaign down ot a single sentence, what would that sentence be?  The sentyence would be the refrain Gore uttered over and over again: The people versus the powerful.  This is a base populist message, telling voters to reassert their economic interest against various corporations and the wealthy.  The entire campaign was based on liberal class warfare.  While there was a token tax cut thrown in (Gore's commitment to the tax cut was highly dubious), the heart and soul of the platform, the portions Gore emphasized were expansions in Federal health and pension programs.  I do not consider this a failure of centrism, and the case fro the Gore 2000 campaign being a failure of centrism is far weaker in my view than the case for the Clinton 1996 victory being a win for centrism.

In fact, I think 2000 is a case of centrism defeating liberal populism if anything.  George Bush has not run a centrist administration, but its easy to forget that his 2000 campaign was a centrist campaign.  He ended Republican orthodoxy that favored abolishing the Department of Education, endorsed a Rx Drug Benefit for Medicare, and his proposed tax cut was 1/3rd the size of the tax cut proposed by Bob Dole four years earlier.  If there was a centrist candidate in 2000, it was most certainly not Al Gore.

As for retaking or not retaking the House.  It is true, and you establish this beyond doubt, that the DLC did not succeed in retaking the House in 1996, 1998, 2000, or 2002.  You have established that centrist Democrats could not beat conservative Republicans.  But what you don't establish is that liberal Democrats could beat conservative Republicans.  I think the evidence supporting the liberals is paper thin.  Nancy Pelosi cannot be considered a centrist, yet in 2004 she failed as badly as Gephardt to retake the House.  Was there some ideological gray area between her and Haster/DeLay?

One last thing, you strike me as someone who does not have a first hand memory of 1980s politics.  The identity politics/nuclear freeze/soft on crime Democratic Party of Mike Dukakis, Jesse Jackson, Mario Cuomo, and Ann Richards.  Can anyone imagine the Democratic Party nominating a candidate for President who endorsed weekend furloughs for murderers like Dukakis did?  Of course not, they'd be smashed!  Yet this is the liberal position on crime that Clinton abandoned.  You won't convince me that what happenned in the 1980s with Democrats is the way to win national elections.

The problem was essentially Gore wasn't seen as a populist.  He was seen as a blown-over DC politician, that's also perhaps why he lost his home state. 

I also think that Gore didn't necesariliy run as a populist.  He went through several stages before he became "populist" Gore, and didn't really stick with that for an extended period of time.  Sure, he did use economic populism, but he was also seen by many as a social liberal, who would take away their guns and excessively support abortion rights.  Thus, his economic populism was overwhelmingly overshadowed by huge social populist movement against him.

You have to admit, if he did really convey himself as a populist successfully, he most definitly would have won at least West Virginia.
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Beet
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« Reply #17 on: October 09, 2005, 01:28:18 am »

Ok, it's been more than a month. It's taken some time to digest these posts, to avoid some kind of a knee jerk response. Now comments on this topic...

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Voters in those states were further repelled by the resurgence of the left wing of the party... It wasn't so much Gore's position on the issues, but his strong defense of Clinton's Lewinsky behavior, that alienated him from southern voters.

In this paragraph you have two theses, both of which are a bit hard for me to follow. You claim that the "hard left" rallied to the defense of Clinton during the Lewinsky affair. This was around the time I was first beginning to follow politics, but I don't seem to remember any groups rallying to his defense, except in the sense that in regard to the impeachment affair, public opinion polls at the time showed large majorities of both independents and Democrats, and large majorities of the public overall, opposing impeachment. Large majorities also approved of Clinton's job performance, and his approval on this matter kept rising. On this account, and the results of the 1998 elections, the Republican impeachment process unsurprisingly stalled in the Senate. However, further than this, I don't remember any revival of what is now called the "hard" left in the late 1990s. You mention moveon.org, but many people had no inkling of the existence of this site until it was catapaulted to prominence in the wake of its fundraising efforts for Howard Dean's insurgent campaign.

On the point of Gore defending Clinton, again I do not remember the account you give here. Gore was portrayed in the media as being one of the more critical Democrats because he had publicly rebuked Clinton; while on the other hand he did not call for Clinton's removal from office (though ironically it would almost have guaranteed him victory in 2000). His self-distancing from Clinton and his choice of Lieberman, indeed all of this was directed solely to separate himself from the taint of the Lewinsky affair. From a reasonable perspective, since the nature of Clinton's impropriety was of a very personal nature, this should have been more than enough to neutralize any negative fallout. Where I argue was that the fallout was indirect, in that Gore did not gain some of the benefits that he might have accrued from campaigning more explicitly as Clinton's successor.

With regard to John Ford's comments, as Kramer mentioned, his (limited) populism was a rather late development in his campaign and arguably helped him close the gap with Bush. Spring and summer polling was showing Gore being absolutely crushed in a complete blowout. I distinctly remember an early poll that year showing Bush up by some 25 points. Gore never took the lead in polls for longer than a few days and his election night performance in 2000 was a surprise.

Now, I may be wrong on this, but IIRC his health care and pension programs, did not include anything like "Hillarycare" but did include a prescription drug plan something like the one passed by the GOP house in 2003, and did include a "lockbox" to protect funding for social security. If this is "hard left", given where things stand now, then you will have none other than George Bush and Tom Delay as the nation's most prominent leftists.

I believe that one of the (admittedly numerous) deciding factors in 2000 was not the position-taking of the candidates at all but the intangible air of "excitement". While both candidates gravitated towards the center, I believe some voters, who had no strong convictions either way, voted for Bush simply because his ideas--school vouchers, social security privatization, bigger tax cut-- sounded more exciting. In essence, Gore was the conservative candidate. Most probably thought he was competent and centrist, but he was just too boring, and we were riding so high as a country back in 2000 that people felt secure enough to look favorably on Bush's bolder, more "exciting" plans. In a way, this is also how someone in 2000 could, maybe, have suspected what kind of president Bush would end up being. There was a revolutionary whiff beneath the centrist facade of the Bush campaign. Excitability is also the main reason why so many voted for Nader-- Nader made you feel much better about being a leftist than Gore the Bore.

Therein lies one of the dangers of centrism. Centrism is dull, and the dullness can rub off.

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In the 2002 mid-term elections, the Democrats would have lost either way.  It was too soon after Sept. 11th, with the nation rallying around Bush, for the Democrats to be able to craft an effective opposition strategy.  This happens sometimes to both parties, and the best thing to do is ride it out.  I don't think you can draw conclusions about a strategy based on the outcome of the 2002 election.

This is hard to say. To some extent, the Democrats offered nothing in 2002. They offered no reason to vote for them because they were doing little except supporting Bush. This election was more devastating than merely the numbers suggest because it shattered some kind of unproven, invisible assumption that might have been defensible before the election, but was indefensible afterwards--the notion of the 50/50 nation. The media saw the results of the 2000 election as an accident (as one might reasonably conclude) and played it off as such by creating the 50/50 meme (which has suffered a rather quiet death). In doing so they did a disservice to Democrats.

The nation was about as 50/50 in 2000 as it was in 1960. That is, not 50/50 at all. For the first time since 1930, the GOP had won control of all three branches of the government. Jim Jeffords' defection was a sign of how close that control was, but does not invalidate the achievement, because it was not an electoral result. Neither does the fact that more people went to the polls in Florida intending to vote for Gore, because again, under regular voting methods, Bush had a majority of some 2,000 votes, and in a regular case, hanging chads would not even have been an issue. The same goes for civil rights violations in Florida, which did occur, but which fairly or not were signs of the GOP's institutional strength.

For someone atuned to the intangible dynamics of American politics in the year 2000, the Democratic party was clearly in trouble. Nonetheless, it was possible to maintain an illusion of accidentality until 2002. After 2002, the DLC's failure became crystal clear, and since their overwhelming justificaton for their dominant position within the party was electability [and after 1994, specifically presidential electability], you might say they lost their "power base". In such a vacuum, the revival of the left was no surprise. This is a case of the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.
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« Reply #18 on: October 09, 2005, 01:30:13 am »

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But if the Democrats had gone with Dean, do you think they would have done better?  Clearly, they would have done worse.

In the long term or short? How many people might a Dean presidential campaign have brought into the fold of the Democratic party or into political activism in general that were turned cold by the Kerry campaign? Sure Dean might have lost, but what long term benefit is there to having been able to say "we ran a candidate we could be for" as opposed to just being against Bush? And how many progressives who because of the closeness of 2004 do not change their ways, who might have realized more completely how they are a minority in the face of a clearer rebuke? In the end these things might matter more than the difference between 250 and 150 electoral votes.

But after the Sept. 11th attacks, national security reasserted itself as an issue.  Without a "Sister Souljah" moment

...

and the Democrats need to recognize that holding onto certain constituencies is costing them more votes than it is gaining them.

I guess I have written enough, Beet.  I hope you have the fortitude to read it all. Smiley

Again, I'm reading two main points, one on national security, the other on blacks. On the former, you've said that Democrats have had a problem here since Vietnam. You may be correct.

Part of the problem is that the things that build national security credibility the best come from being in power at a time when national security is salient. The GOP probably picked some up through Bush after 9/11. Clinton on the other hand was president at a time when it wasn't such a big issue, so in a sense he had no chance to prove himself. Clinton responded adequately to the challenges that he was faced with. He did not respond to the 1998 African embassy bombings as if the World trade center and the Pentagon had been destroyed by hijacked airliners, but he did respond with measures strong and firm enough to be comparable to the acts which inspired them in the context of that particular time.

But there is a deeper problem with Democrats' credibility and national security, I must admit. Some liberals unfortunately, because they have become so accustomed to thinking of the U.S. as a conservative power, are always wishing to constrain it. This is an extremely negative and self-defeating way of thinking, especially if one is attempting to win the right to govern, and liberals in general would be disabused of it if they could learn to think of the U.S. again as a liberal power, which it originally was, and which was how Kennedy saw it. The same goes for the relationship between liberalism and patriotism/American nationalism in general. Today there is no space for the followers of Patrick Henry...

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This means they must pay lip service to certain ideas and people that are deeply unpopular with many Americans.

... "people that are deeply unpopular with many Americans."  In extrapolating the New York example to national politics (where blacks obviously do not demand black candidates) in the context of switching constituencies what you've argued here could be read as "many Americans are racist, so the Democrats should abandon blacks like the GOP did and try to pander to racist whites instead, because evidently they are more numerous". Distastefulness does make it necessarily untrue. But this is one way to interpret your argument here and it should be noted.

The deeper problem here is the whole notion of identity politics. We should consider why these civil rights leaders have so much power and why the black vote (and the southern white vote) is homogenized in the first place. This is one of those things that never entirely goes away. However, in order to attack identity politics, one must first point it out, and in pointing it out, one gets accused of creating it. This forms a Catch-22.

The role of identity in politics has declined through history as the racial divide, while still large, has nevertheless shrunk considerably, mainly due to the efforts of liberals. Yet these days it is liberals who get accused, paradoxically, of creating it. The reasons are understandable... in order to ensure a society where race is neutralized as much as possible, one must first point out and try to address it. But in order to do that, one must speak within the context of "identity". Speaking within the context of identity gets people thinking about their identity, and this tends to perpetuate "identity politics". What a paradox!

Yet the work in this area must continue. As long as race remains such a salient fact of life, blacks will continue to vote homogenously. As long as that is true then there will always be your Jesse Jackson or your Al Sharpton. Diversification of the black vote--and of the southern white vote-- will be one critical measure in this century of success in moving beyond identity politics. And that is not done by ignoring the issue of race and racism.
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« Reply #19 on: October 09, 2005, 07:15:00 am »
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I want to clarify one thing, Beet.  When I say "people and ideas deeply unpopular..." I don't mean black people in general.  I mean certain black leaders, who more likely than not, do not necessarily reflect the thinking of many or most black people.  But because of monolithic black voting, these "leaders" are the face of black America.  I think that is strong factor in reenforcing racism.

The race situation is very dicey, and not as simple as many make it appear.  I don't believe there is this uncompromising, unremitting hostility toward blacks that many talk about.  That is overly simplistic.  What there is is a general anger toward many aspects of black behavior (i.e., prevalence of out-of-wedlock births) and a sorrowful belief that the black position will never really improve until many aspects of black behavior change.  There is also a resentment of being forced to deal with the negative consequences of this behavior, such as high taxes, crime, urban decay, bad schools, etc., and a resolve to remain as separated from it as possible.

This doesn't mean that whites are irredeemably hostile toward blacks.  I think most whites would be thrilled to hear some good news about blacks; that the family structure is strengthening, out of wedlock births dropping, etc.  I think there is only a small minority that actually WANT blacks to do poorly and be miserable, if only because enough whites have finally woken up and realized that a policy of keeping blacks down hurts the overall society as well as blacks. 

So I have to take exception to the implication in your post.  It is a typical Democratic implication, to ignore causation and simply say that refusal to pander to destructive black "leaders" is prima facie evidence of racism.  The issue is much more complex than that.
« Last Edit: October 09, 2005, 07:59:25 am by dazzleman »Logged
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« Reply #20 on: October 09, 2005, 07:23:30 am »
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Beet, I think you also oversimplify the whole Clinton issue.  It is more complex than you suggest.

The hard left were Clinton's staunchest defenders in the impeachment case.  That is why moveon.org was originally formed.  Just as rock-hard conservatives were Nixon's strongest defenders in Watergate, hard-left liberals were Clinton's staunchest defenders.

On the day Clinton was impeached, Gore called him the greatest president ever.  I think this went overboard, and came back to haunt him.

It is true that voters approved of Clinton's performance as president.  From an immediate perspective, why wouldn't they?  There was peace and prosperity, and the fact that he wasn't really addressing developing problems wouldn't become obvious until later.

But here again, you have to look below the surface.  Many voters were deeply offended by Clinton's personal behavior, even if they liked the way the economy was going then.  This is much more true in the south than in other parts of the country.

It is also a fact of human nature that less personable people get punished for things that more personable people get away with.  Clinton skated on all his transgressions largely because of his personality, which Gore lacked.  Because Gore had strongly defended Clinton at the time (his more critical stance came later, when he was running in 2000), some voters, especially southern voters, punished him by voting for Bush.

At least that is my take.
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« Reply #21 on: October 09, 2005, 08:01:36 am »
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As long as race remains such a salient fact of life, blacks will continue to vote homogenously. As long as that is true then there will always be your Jesse Jackson or your Al Sharpton. Diversification of the black vote--and of the southern white vote-- will be one critical measure in this century of success in moving beyond identity politics. And that is not done by ignoring the issue of race and racism.

True, but who imposed political correctness?  Who made honest discussion of why the races remain separated something that must be avoided at all costs?  Mounting anger at political correctness -- a feeling among whites that their legitimate concerns are simply denied and swept under the rug -- will not ultimately help to end racism or identity politics.  And I agree with you that identity politics is a cancer.
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« Reply #22 on: October 10, 2005, 06:57:56 am »

This is all mostly reasonable. My point with moveon is that it was mostly an unknown site until 2003, I can't imagine that it had much of an impact on anything up until then.

Gore said "one of the greatest presidents", not exactly the same as "the greatest" which is a significant difference. But it's true that Gore failed to distance himself enough from Clinton.
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« Reply #23 on: November 05, 2005, 04:15:41 pm »
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 If you were to distill the Gore campaign down ot a single sentence, what would that sentence be?  The sentyence would be the refrain Gore uttered over and over again: The people versus the powerful.  This is a base populist message, telling voters to reassert their economic interest against various corporations and the wealthy.  

And Alas.....it was this message that tallied more votes by .05%. (ie By most standards the more effective mesage).....
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« Reply #24 on: November 05, 2005, 10:53:54 pm »
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 If you were to distill the Gore campaign down ot a single sentence, what would that sentence be?  The sentyence would be the refrain Gore uttered over and over again: The people versus the powerful.  This is a base populist message, telling voters to reassert their economic interest against various corporations and the wealthy.  

And Alas.....it was this message that tallied more votes by .05%. (ie By most standards the more effective mesage).....
Read my posts above
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