Monday, May 23, 2005

Sociology of Special Interest Groups

Isn’t the horse-racing for the 2006 Senate cute? As someone in favor of the “permanent campaign”, I of course like it. But it is a bit absurd how much the blogsphere is already discussing the 2006 elections. But why shouldn't I join in the fun. As Yglesias is discussing, one of the more interesting things that has come up is the question of where powerful issue-advocacy groups should fall. Cases in point, NRA 2000 and 2004, NARAL 2004 and 2006.

-Clinton and Gore were strongly pro-gun control and used gun control as an electoral issue. When Gore lost his home state Tennessee in 2000, it was partly due to fierce fighting-back by the NRA. Democrats noticed this, and completely dropped gun control as an issue to raise (admittedly their power was lesser to raise issues, but not gone, and it still has a public majority). This would seem to be a blinding success for moving gun control off the table, and would encourage the NRA not to keep punishing Democrats.

-Come 2004, the two primary leaders Kerry and Dean, are both entirely about keeping gun control with the states. Certainly as conservative as the proposed positions of Bush. Instead of sitting back and being glad at the consensus, the NRA campaigned incredibly aggressively against Kerry. What could be the various reasons for this?

-In 2004, much was made of NARAL endorsing pro-choice R Sen. Spectre in Pennsylvania, instead of moderate D Hoeffel. At the primary level this probably helped Spectre’s bare win over an extremist challenger, and did not sway Hoeffel’s loss (but we have to assume a world where it did). Spectre went on to become Chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate, and represents probably the biggest hurdle to an openly pro-life nominee going to the SCOTUS (but hasn’t stopped somewhat covert pro-life federal judges), whereas even if Hoeffel won the Senate would still be Republican. A lot to analyze in that instance.

-In 2006, The Penn Dems will run pro-life congressman Casey against Santorum, one of the most extreme Republicans (a galling Senatorto the left because Penn went rather blue in 2004). Casey is expected to do very well. What should NARAL do regarding an endorsement in Penn then? Endorse Santorum to encourage Dems to stay loyal and stop wussing out? Endorse Casey because a vote for Democratic leadership is always better than one for GOP leadership? How much money and effort do they spend in the former scenario. They could completely not spend money out of disgust for both candidates, or they could spend everything because of the broader picture of Senate control. Most readers would probably endorse the last option.

-The even more controversial case is RI 2006, where the incumbent Republican Chaffee is a moderate GOP whose pro-choice. The Democrats are choosing currently between pro-choice and pro-life candidates, the most popular being Representative Langevin, the prolifer. NARAL has pre-emptively endorsed Chaffee.

A lot of datapoints. What are the possible motivations and incentives here?

-Telling their members and people looking for issue-based advice and honest takes on the very specific issues, and the credibility that goes with that.

-Keeping tax-exempt status.

-Creating leadership and committee majorities that will favor them in many ways the layperson never considers, and it would be pedantic to try to list here (but suffice it to say, this is likely a larger consideration than everything else).

-The donors and staff of these organizations do not exist in a vacuum. The extent to which pro-choice Republicans or anti-gun control Democrats exist is mostly for political posturing and opportunism (which I approve of, of course). They do not form the base and the passionate active people here. People who spend their time and money focusing on the right to abortion, are pretty passionate about party politics in general. If anyone understands the complex utilitarian reasons to support a disagreeable candidate of a party that is in general sympathetic (and cares about a lot of other issues that the party stands for), it is them.

Chaffee voted for John Bolton to be UN Ambassador, Santorum has insulted gays, I do not think either of these things endear themselves to pro-choice activists and thus makes compromising on the issue de nomine rather easy.

-Creating ties and connections to the party leaderships, so they can get respect and influence.

-Primary races trying to bolster support against challengers from the extremes, or general elections where candidates grapple for the center.

-Individual circumstances (such Spectre’s chairmanship, what party will actually hold power) wreak merry havoc with such judgements.

-Getting a respectful treatment by one side or the other (wooed by the normal enemies contrasted with arrogant assumption from the normal allies… vs. the general rhetoric each party and their allies use).
-Convincing the opposing party to accept your side, while convincing your side to stay in line.

-Making complicated decisions taking all these factors into account, vs. having a set rule that cannot be attacked or looked upon as unethical. (Interestingly, what you want to avoid isn't the appearance of complexity, but the appearance of a simple but corrupt rule. NARAL may have complex reasons if it were to endorse Langevin instead of Chaffee, but it would look like a simple reason of: always vote Democrat.)

So in the end? I think it would be a safe rule to simply act like an arm of one political party, except for extremely clear circumstances (see my thoughts on when torture is expedient). And under-publicized decisions, such as how much money to spend, will almost certainly always favor the largely-friendly political party.

However, I’m much more willing to see all issues as being ably dealt with by a proper two-party governing system. Do people have any other thoughts? I’d be most interested in any comments what of these specific reasons groups have for defection. Or are there any other strong reasons?


At 6:49 PM, Anonymous little_e- said...

on the whole, i think they're better off endorsing democrats. that being said, it seems to me that most such groups (and to be honest i don't know what NARAL's numbers are) have limited resources. therefore it seems like they ought to concentrate on the races whre they can make the most difference. How that actually works out is another matter.

it seems to me that having pro-choice people in the republican party is important. not to keep the democrats in line or on the pro-life platform, but to push it into the mainstream and make it more bi-partisan. while obviously if we were looking at a 50/50 senate split where a pro-life democrat would give the democrats a majority and a pro-choice republican would give the republicans a majority, we'd be better off with the dem because in either case, i doubt the ability of a single individual to go completely against his party on this matter. However, given a situation where you aren't tipping the balance, then i'd prefer to skew the republicans more towards the middle and make the extremists more extreme in their own party than to skew the democrats towards the middle.


At 6:51 PM, Anonymous little_e- said...

... seems kind of like a classic rule vrs. act utilitarian kind of dilema, really...


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