Saturday, November 16, 2002

My archives are back online, but now having problems with permalinks.
Oh, well.....

Will also be making a few changes to blogroll soon.

Thursday, November 14, 2002

Read This Now

Can the Democrats Be Revived (unnecessarily incendiary title courtesy of It's a dialogue on the future of the Democratic Party between Robert Reich and Joe Klein.

The first week of self-flagellation has been predictably banal. Some say move left. Some say move right. Both are right and both are wrong. If we're to have a vaguely interesting national debate, the Democrats have to move forward—away from the boring, tiny, and tactical issues, and language, and interest groups that the party has championed in recent years. This will mean a change in style as well as content. Above all, it will mean an extremely risky change in focus from the beloved and reliable geezers to the edgy, cynical, apathetic young people. The electorate has to be expanded. But the most valuable cache of votes isn't to be had in the poor neighborhoods—as admirable as such efforts may be—it is to be found on the college campuses, where the next generation of activists lives.

Joe, your criticisms of the Democratic Party presuppose the existence of a Democratic Party. But the fact is, as Gertrude Stein once said about Oakland, there's no there there. Millions of people call themselves Democrats, and several hundred thousand show up at Democratic state and national conventions. A Democratic National Committee raises money. But there's no real Democratic Party. Nothing like what the Republicans have. They have a network of conservative think tanks, a boatload of money to market the ideas that emerge from them, and spokespeople to sell them. They recruit and train prospective candidates. And they have discipline. My God, do they have discipline. They decide on a party line and stick with it. They even have oligarchs—the Republican Powerful who gathered together in 1996 and decided George W. Bush was going to be their candidate in 2000. What do Democrats have? Conferences on "The Future of the Democratic Party."...............

.............So, the first thing we need is a real party. Something with grass roots, with the capacity to think new ideas and market them. We need a movement that embraces all the people who have been left out, who have been screwed both by big corporations and big government—people who are working their asses off but aren't earning much more than they did a dozen years ago, who have grown cynical about every institution in American society but still love America with all their hearts.

But we can't have a movement unless we also have conviction and courage. Democrats used to have these things. Republicans have no monopoly on being tough against tyranny or hard-headed when it comes to domestic policy. For almost a century it was Democrats who waged war (Wilson, FDR, Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson), and it was mostly the kids of Democrats who fought in and got killed in wars. And for 60 years it's been Democrats who have managed the economy well—spending more than revenues and cutting taxes when the nation needed these things done to prevent the economy from sinking, and cutting deficits when they get out of control, as in 1993.

It takes no conviction and no courage to move to the Center. You want to be president, you campaign from the Center. But if you want to be a true leader, you define the Center. You don't rely on pollsters to tell you where the Center is, because you can't lead people to where they already are.

I don't agree with everything they say (I don't agree with everything anyone says), but this is well worth reading (even though Klein's dead wrong on the Dept of Homeland Security regarding Civil Service protections).

It's much more important to be talking about where we should be in 10-20 years than how we should position ourselves in 2 years (not that the short term isn't relevant, just that it sure as hell isn't the only thing that matters).

My own take on the short term:
Obstruct like hell on judicial nominations and anything else likely to be permanent
Raise hell whenever Bush sticks it to the little guy on economic issues, and have viable alternatives to talk about
Make sure regulatory agencies and R&D don't die on the vine from lack of funding
Give the Republicans enough rope to hang themselves on their social issues (which are really unpopular with lots of urban and suburban GOP voters)

My take on the long term:
Coming an interminable series of posts that should take until Thanksgiving to get online at a rate of one per day.

And read Jonathan Chait for his truly depressing take on what the Dems were facing last week and will face every election from now on:
The fact of the matter is the Republican Party enjoys certain basic advantages when it comes to getting its message across. One is that it has substantially more money for TV advertising. (Republicans touted this advantage while talking up their prospects prior to the election. Now that they've won, they ignore the impact of money completely.) The GOP also enjoys allied media outlets like Fox News and talk radio, which disseminate its message to its base in a way that Democrats can't duplicate..............

..............But, for the foreseeable future, Democrats will continue to lose, and the notion that smarter tactics or better leaders or even a sweeping strategic reconceptualization can rescue them from their predicament is little more than a comforting delusion.

Not that I'm nearly as pessimistic as Chait, but the Democrats do face some massive structural impediments in the media and in fundraising that shouldn't be overlooked. That's why GOP-style top down campaigns only work for the Corzine-Dayton set in the Democratic Party. The rest of us need to rely on old fashioned door knocking and grassroots organizing (a la Paul Wellstone).

Step By Step

1) The Democrats have absolutely no power to push an agenda right now

2) Because of this, they have no responsibility to push an agenda

3) Their only duty is to block the bad shit that Bush wants to do to our country

4) Blocking stuff is better done by fighters than by compromisers

5) Nancy Pelosi is a fighter, neither Martin Frost nor Harold Ford is

6) Therefore, I think Pelosi is a good leader for the House Democrats right now

7) If the Democrats actually had control of the House, I'd rather have Martin Frost in charge (but they don't)

8) For related reasons, I'd rather have Bob Byrd as Minority Leader in the Senate than Tom Daschle (but I'd rather have Daschle as Majority Leader)

9) This is why Gingrich was a much more effective Minority Leader than Bob Dole, but not as good in the driver's seat (Newt = Fighter, Viagra/Pepsi = Compromiser).

10) Remember, the Democrats have no power right now. So we can blame every single bad thing that happens in the next two years on the Republican Party. Everything.

UPDATE: Not having to push an agenda is not the same as not having to have an agenda. They just don't have any duty to go down swinging in a quixotic fight (since they have no way of pushing anything through Congress and getting it signed into law).


My good buddy South Knox Bubbaand the New Republic have both taken issue with what they see as a leftward lurch by the Democratic Party, as represented by the election on Nancy Pelosi as Minority Leader in the House of Representatives. They argue, rightly, that the Democrats must win moderate voters to be competitive in 2004, and draw the conclusion, wrongly, that Pelosi's election will prevent this. Let me explain.

You cannot win an election against a fairly popular incumbent by agreeing with him on every issue of substance. The Democrats became their own worst enemy in 2004 by deciding to play it safe. They knew that Bush was popular after Sept 11th, and decided that they would work with him whenever possible and wouldn't go out of their way to criticize him. Even on issues where the public resoundingly disagrees with Bush's positions (such as the environment and regulation of corporate behavior), the Congressional leadership refused to pick fights with Bush, and they bent over backward to agree with him on foreign policy even while his Party was comparing them to Saddam Hussein.

It's very difficult to run a campaign as a Democrat with its theme being how much you agree with the Republican President. It's virtually impossible when that President is campaigning for your opponent. Most of the Democrats who did this lost (not that they would've necessarily won any other way, but it would've been nice to give voters a choice). The Democrats who picked up Republican seats in the House (several) and Senate (Pryor) and those who defended vulnerable Democratic seats (Harkin, Lautenberg, et al) did so mainly by running against Bush's policies, not by cozying up to them.

Many Democrats attempted, unsuccessfully, to defuse large disagreements over taxes and other controversial topics and make this a micro-election about issues that mostly affect seniors. The Republicans were able to blunt this strategy by putting forth their own toothless prescription drug plan and disavowing their previous stand on Social Security. Once these issues were off the table, they were left hoping that minority turnout and a bad economy would sink the Republicans of their own weight, without bothering to make a strong case against Bush's economic stewardship. As a result, not only was the most recent election fought in states friendly to Republicans, it was fought mostly on issues that favored Republicans (as they had no scruples about picking fights with Democrats on national security, etc). Given the circumstances, the Democrats didn't do so badly (but they certainly could've done far better).

The last thing the Democrats need right now is a leader who wants to work with Bush and paper over the differences between the two Parties. That's the recipe for another lost opportunity. What the Democrats need is a smart, ideological leader with a safe seat who isn't afraid to pick fights with Bush on issues where there's true disagreement. Pelosi and Tom Daschle won't be able to push an agenda of their own. They only have the power to pick fights with Bush over his agenda and point out when it's wrong for America. To do this job you need people who don't have higher ambitions of their own and are willing to be demonized as "obstructionist" by the Republicans. They also need the wisdom to pick their fights carefully, but above all they need the gumption to fight. Let's hope Pelosi has the spine that Gephardt sorely lacked.

BTW: Daschle is off to a bad start by agreeing to do Lott's bidding in the Lame Duck session of Congress. The Democrats would be better served by forcing the Republicans to do the all the heavy lifting on their own, and then waiting in ambush for '04. The Republicans have complete control of all branches of government, make them do every ounce of fucking work to get stuff done (especially since most of what they want to do is bad for the country).

No GOP Tidal Wave

If you don't believe me that last week's election was much closer than it's been spun, read professional Charlie cook on the subject (as posted by The Daily Kos):
So what happened in the House was a really good night for Republicans, but it hardly reached the magnitude of a wave. Indeed, a switch of approximately 42,500 votes nationwide would have resulted in a Democratic-controlled House instead.

In short, very, very few upsets took place on Election Day. Most of the closest races simply broke Republican at the end, with Republicans winning a number of close races by very small margins in seven out of our final 10 toss-up Senate races.

...and please don't insist that Republican gains give Bush the legitimacy he lacked after being appointed by five members of the Supreme Court, you only get that by actually winning elections yourself. Whatever Bush is right now, legitimate ain't it.