Everybody's Got One
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Wednesday, July 23, 2003


Finally got around to reading Susanna Cornett's valuable and painstaking transcription of the Beating Bush in 2004 symposium last week. Despair for the Democrats arises as I notice how many activists can't seem to look beyond the next news cycle, much less the next election cycle.

Inflection points matter, but so do the actions and strategic long-term choices of parties. Goldwater may have led the GOP into the wilderness and begun the resurgence of the right, but it wouldn't have taken hold or had such a firm base to build on if the quite unconservative Nixon hadn't attracted disaffected Southern Democrats into the party after the Civil Rights struggles. Reagan simply completed the migration of these Jacksonians to the GOP. Who is going to be out there, I wonder, for the Deanistas to entice into a revitalized post-debacle progressive Donkey party?

One could expand Mead's taxonomy by distinguishing between hard and soft adherents, weak and strong forms of the four tendencies. Hard Wilsonians want to export democracy at the point of a gun, and soft Wilsonians at the negotiating table. Hard Wilsonians today are in the National Security Council and the Pentagon; soft Wilsonians at State. And the New York Times. Soft Hamiltonians (the still-homeless descendants of Rockefeller Republicans) are split between Robert Rubin Democrats and RINOs, but they haven't completed the transition to the left; they - like many - suspect that Democrat deficit-hawks are talking out-of-power tactics rather than new-found religion. Hard Hamiltonians really are all about the oil, these days – and disabling Kyoto. Hard Jeffersonians tend to be social/economic libertarians and anti-immigrant nativists, and I can't see PC Progressives making common cause with either of them. And there are no soft Jacksonians in wartime. Afterward, Yes – but not now.

Looked at this way, it appears that Clinton attempted to do a Nixonian realignment by drawing the weak form of all four types into the Democratic party. A tricky balancing-of-interests act, requiring the skills of a consummate bullshit artist like Billy Jeff to pull off, but it showed signs of restoring the party to a 45-50% market share (unlike the low-40% it tracked in the 80's, or the 30-35% it seems in a rush to claim now). Absent 9/11, the evolution of the Democrats into the mommy party might have continued apace, and even provided an extended period of alternating caretaker administrations with the GOP daddies. But, the best laid plans ...

Here's the line-up now (excuse the pointless whitespace):

DemocratIn playRepublican
Hard & Soft Jacksonians
Soft WilsoniansHard Wilsonians
Soft HamiltoniansHard Hamiltonians
Soft JeffersoniansHard Jeffersonians

Bush may well continue to alienate small-government and fiscal conservatives and civil libertarians, but those are the only groups the left can legitimately attempt to pick off at this point. Long after the war is over, even soft Jacksonians are not likely to forget the Democrats' fundamental unseriousness about homeland security and national defense. (And any hopes that nominating Wesley Clark for veep is a silver bullet inoculation against that perception ignores the last time Democrats ran a general as a peace candidate in wartime: McClellan.)

I just don't see where the new pieces to build a coalition are going to come from. (Other than the continuing chimera of non-voters-who-think-just-like-we-do.)

Then again, objective external reality may not really be an issue here.

posted by Kelly | 8:58 PM link