Monster Democratic Direction Post
Inspired from Dev @ FD.org
People are seeming to get it finally, be it Hillary, Yglesias, or guest blogger Michael Lind on TPMCafe. Many elites believe that moving to the center requires giving up the authoritarian/populist leanings of your party, and being a libertarian moderate. The media loves the socially liberal Republicans (Giuliani, Spectre) and the economically libertarian Democrats (Clinton). And among educated well-to-due professionals, it may be easy to believe that libertarian-moderate means moderate means the key to winning elections.
Except as our good friends at The Economist should know, the masses can be crude and more interested in specific policy-goals, than the ideal of limited government. “I wish this could be done, but it’s wrong for the government to make that law” just doesn’t play well. Those politicians may be successful in some areas they weren’t previously, but their appeal only slows overtime. Whereas, the more successful politicians lately have run strongly on the authoritarian aspects of their party (Bush, Edwards, Dean), and been rather friendly to the populist instincts of the other side (Bush and NCLB, H. Clinton and GTA, Harry Reid).
And I’d recommend to Matt or my friends at Freedom Democrats, that sometimes they have to accept that what is the best policy, isn’t the best way to win elections. Few people are naturally libertarian, especially compared to how many are populist, especially on their specific issue, and the proper way to appeal to swing-voters is not necessarily good policy. (Although if you’re dishonest, you’ll try to convince politicians that your policies will win elections even if though won’t, because you need to get your policies implemented).
But Michael Lind goes too far in his hypothesis as well. He certainly doesn’t look at how this can specifically play out. It’s one thing to switch on an issue, it’s another to give off the “attitude” of populism. In fact, I believe the evidence has shown quite well that the more populist special interest groups have little interest in working with politicians who have joined their side for one issue. Pro-Life Democrats do not get endorsed by Pro-Life organizations. Anti gun-control* Democrats do not get a pass form the NRA. No liberals have cheered Santorum on, despite his rising concern for minimum wage, healthcare, and lower-class income. This is pretty partisan, compared to libertarian issue-organizations, which are generally happy to cross the aisle to support a politician that backs them on abortion rights or tax cuts.
Why is this? It may be because the communitarians are more emotional, and so find themselves more convinced by partisan fidelity. The Democrats will always be pro-choice, the Republicans will always be anti-healthcare, and the populists of each party who are involved enough to run organizations will always believe that. Whereas the libertarian organizations seem to rapidly pursue just their one interest, and are always looking for cross-party alliances. This is all speculation however, and the activity on these specific issues could just be result of coincidence and a small data-set. Certainly Bob Casey in PA could prove me wrong. Just simply, while libertarian-moderates don’t seem as great idea as the media makes out, populist-moderates also face uphill battles.
Which brings us to my larger feelings about all this advice being lobbed towards Democrats: use numbers! Lind doesn’t use any numbers (except some imaginary ones about what adds up to 51%), but look at the election results (exit polls, balanced for what the real election were):
Every political advisor should have this grid written on the inside of their eye-lids. Kerry won the self-described moderates. He won them big (especially when considering that no failing candidate has ever won the moderates). All discussion about whether Kerry tacked to the center, or whether it was worth it needs to consider that he won the center (and probably, not based on his personal appeal or message). The problem was that 38% of the country that showed up was self-described Conservative. This was relatively unprecedented (due to growing suburbia, gay marriage ballots, Iraq War, war on terror, etc.) and while to some degree it is a growing paradigm in the country, other factors for it should lessen over time (specifically: 9/11). Now, political advice for national elections takes 5 forms:
1. Increase share among the liberals.
2. Increase share among the moderates.
3. Increase share among the conservatives.
4. Increase the number of liberals.
5. Decrease the number of conservatives.
Most pundity has focused on #2, like there are great grounds to gain, and if Kerry had won only 30% of the moderates I’d say that’s plausible. But with his win there, it seems we’re not going to get a lot of growth (although it’s important to keep the moderate policies that got those voters in the first place). And, partisan-ness being what it is, I think it’s hard to accomplish #1, without getting the opposite from #3 (which has been Rove’s goal actually). I simply don’t think goal #3 is viable either. 20% is a pretty good level for opposite ideology to vote for you, and there’s no reason to believe switching on a few issues is going to convince that side to dislike their guy enough and like you enough to vote for you in large numbers.
In which case, real cultural shift that results in #4 and #5 seems the best idea. Some of this is simply to wait for current passions to die down. Some of this is coming up with more attractive policies. And some of this is convincing the culture to believe that which we hold true (gays deserve equal rights, universal healthcare is a fiscal priority). Which is why I tend to side more with Dean than I naturally would, I feel the demographics are actually at his side (even if he wouldn’t change positions if the numbers weren’t). But this is just off-the-cuff thoughts, more serious analysts should turn to more numbers.
On a positive, numbers related note, I’m sure many readers are sorry about the loss of Paul Hackett in my congressional district. He was a huge underdog, and his 48%-52% loss was amazingly close (compared to the 76% Bush got in the district in 2004), but it’s easy to feel that “a loss is a loss” and such percentage gains aren’t even superficial. Many Democratic-optimists argue that if the whole country is swinging in the anti-Republican direction that this special election just went, it’s a huge gain for Democrats, that if in the next election that’s the sort of support the GOP gets then Democrats can finally win. I’ll do you one better:
If OH-2 had voted for Kerry in the percentage that it voted for Hackett, Kerry would now be in the White House, even if everything else stayed the same. It’s true, Kerry lost Ohio by 15k votes, and so went the electoral college. His margin of loss in OH-2, the strongest Republican district, was near 100k. It’s easy to forget how close the Republican victory was, and what small things could change it.
*I consider the NRA socially authoritarian, even though they are fighting new laws, because they seem much more about an attitude towards crime than specifically interested in guns. Liberals believe crime should be lessened by removing violent weapons. Conservatives believe crime should be lessened by tougher policing and better social mores.