April 01, 2003
Moderation in defense of extremism

If we do not hang together, then we will surely hang separately. -- Benjamin Franklin

I suppose I ought to join in with pretty much everyone else and comment on Kevin Drum's piece about extremism versus moderation. There's already been a whole lot said (see here for some links to responses, plus some other responses from Left in the West, Ezra Klein, and Unlearned Hand), so I'll keep this brief.

I included that Ben Franklin quote here because I want to keep everyone's eyes on the prize here, which is sending Team Bush packing in 2004. It ain't gonna happen unless we're all pulling in the same direction. The set of people who agree completely with Kevin's post can't unelect Bush without the full cooperation of the set of people who think Kevin has his head up his butt, and vice versa. Once we've got a President we like and more control of Congress we can argue passionately about all the stuff we disagree on. Until then, we're just making it easier for the guys we really disagree with to do the things we really dislike.

A point that several people have made is that the conservative fringe works with the conservative mainstream, while the liberal fringe works against the liberal mainstream. That's true to a certain extent, though it's easy to get bogged down in definitions over what's "mainstream" and what's "fringe" to see it all clearly sometimes. What is clear is that the conservatives have a well-defined set of values that pretty much all of them believe in and support, regardless of what their primary mission is. It doesn't matter if you're talking about the Christian Coalition, the NRA, Grover Norquist, the Heritage Foundation, whatever, they all believe in and advocate the same things: Lower taxes. Second Amendment rights. Free market deregulation. School vouchers. The death penalty. Abortion restrictions. Religion in the public square. They all work together to achieve results that they like.

Conservatives do two things really well that liberals need to focus on. One is supporting each other through a set of shared core values - what I call a brand identity that makes it easy to transfer support from one group to another. Liberals (and this is just my opinion, I have no actual data at hand to back this up) tend to focus more on their own individual causes. The other is making all their positions sound mainstream whether they are or not, as Kevin noted here.

In terms of transforming their beliefs into legislation, conservatives have the advantage of being in total control of the Republican Party. Oh, sure, there are some "moderate" and even maybe sorta "liberal" members of the Republican Party out there, but when was the last time any of them defied Tom DeLay on a vote? Kos has noted this several times, and I'm starting to agree with his conclusion that Democrats ought to target "moderate" House Republicans since they never vote with us on any issue of substance anyway. Liberals, on the other hand, are forever competing with DLC types for the "soul" of the Democratic Party. Except, of course, for those who've bolted for the Greens on the illusion that this will somehow make the Dems see things their way. We can't even figure out what our messages are supposed to be, let alone communicate and implement them.

We'd better figure it out, though. 2004 will be here before you know it. And with all due respect to our Green friends, 2004 had better damn well be about winning elections. So please, let's hang together. The alternative is too gruesome to contemplate.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 01, 2003 to Election 2004 | TrackBack

If the Democratic party is anyone's hope, then you might as well give up now. They were embarrassed last fall by losing seats in that election. They are now so confused on their policies that some Democrats are arguing that we should apply the pressure to North Korea, not Iraq. What's wrong with that you say? Well, what happens when we finally do take a hard line stance with North Korea? Are those Democrats going to support that? Probably not because they never really meant it in the first place. They only wanted to take a stance that was different from the Republican stance.

The Democratic Party only know what they oppose, not what they support. It is very similar to how the Republican party was during much of Clinton's administration. Republicans were so busy telling everyone what they stood against that people forgot what they stood for.

Posted by: Joshua Hoover on April 2, 2003 9:17 AM

I think many of us are forgetting our history when we claim that Republicans just happen to be more coherent than Democrats. In the early to mid-80's, Republicans did it the old fashioned way. They had a purge.

Not a big fan of abortion restrictions? No RSCC campaign funds for you, Lowell Weickert. Not so happy about deficits in a non-recessionary economy, or even in a somewhat recessionary one? Don't let the door hit you on the way out, Mac Matthias (sp?). They decided to recruit conservative Dems with whom they agreed (Phil Graham being the most famous) and kiss off those with whom they didn't (the above are only two that came off the top of my head, but there were many more).

Then, and only then, did they start spouting a coherent ideology. So of course they were more ideologically pure. They got rid of those they didn't agree with.

We can discuss why they were willing to do it and the Dems were/are not. My own theories include a comfort with being in the legislative minority, and the realization that they had nothing to lose, as well as being less dependent on the sorts of campaign contribution that only goes to the majority party from business, since they had a larger fundraising base to begin with. But acting as if it just happens is simply forgetting history.

Now, for the real questions. Are the Dems willing to do something similar? And would it be a good idea?

Those Dems willing to do something similar are the Nader voters. They (I suppose I should say we, given that, living in CA, I felt comfortable voting for Nader, but wouldn't have in anything like a competitive state, so I still keep my distance) believe that the only way to save what is important (to them) in the Democratic Party is by blowing it up. They recognize that, in the process, they are probably ceding 20 years of Republican rule, but don't think, given the results of the last 20 years, that they have anything to lose.

Is it a good idea? I'm not so sure. I was never a Clinton fan, but he held the line on a lot of things. The first 2+ years of the Bush Presidency have certainly shown us how much there is to lose. (Think of this war however you do, but do you really think that President Gore would currently be discussing the best way to take Baghdad? Or that we'd be back to discussing drilling in the ANWR, or revoking the inheritance tax, or any of the other issues currently up for grabs?) But it may also argue the other way. To wit:

Say what you will about Gore's campaign, the only states it was rational to think he might win that he didn't were Tennessee and Florida. That would have been enough. But it would have been barely enough. A Southern moderate Democrat, running toward the center, with the best black and labor get out the vote drives I've seen in my 20+ years in electoral politics, and running against a candidate people didn't trust, while a sitting vice president, well funded in the best economy in 50 years. And he could have barely squeeked by. Hell, Clinton never got a majority, and probably would have lost in '92 without Perot, and he's the best campaigner I've ever seen.

So how much is there to lose? Really?

I'm trying not to be bitter in this post. But I live in an era where a man who lost 3 limbs on a battlefield can lose for being soft on defense. Where Wesley Clark is widely pooh-poohed as being ignorant of warfare by the likes of Ann Coulter. How bright and shiny can I be?

Ahh, forget it all anyway. Sorry, Kuff, but I seem to be a better bridge player than political analyst, and I'm a pretty lousy bridge player...

Posted by: Ron Zucker on April 3, 2003 1:07 PM