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Friday, May 16, 2003
It's been discussed to death elsewhere, but if you're here for the politics, you really sould go read the actual DLC memo that seems to be basically trashing Dean (and, to a lesser extent, Gephardt), but which might be more accurately seen as a warning to activists to keep their eyes on the prize while voting in the primaries. It's weird--seen from that angle, I actually agree with a lot of their points, since they're coming at an issue I have a lot to say about (the apolitical politics of lefties) from a good angle. A brief sample (and, again, try to avoid seeing this as just an anti-Dean thing):

Roosevelt's 1932 platform called for "reciprocal trade agreements with other nations, and an international conference designed to restore international trade and facilitate exchange." At home, it promoted "an immediate and drastic reduction of governmental expenditures by abolishing useless commissions and offices, consolidating departments and bureaus, and eliminating extravagances to accomplish a savings of not less than 25 percent of the cost of the Federal Government." Roosevelt's last platform, in 1944, said that Democrats had "saved our system of free enterprise" and built "the best trained and equipped army in the world, the most powerful navy in the world, the greatest air force in the world, and the largest merchant marine in the world."

Kennedy's 1960 platform put national security first, and went on for 19 sections before even getting around to the domestic agenda. It accused the Republicans of losing America's position of military pre-eminence and pledged to restore it.

Not only is the activist wing out of line with Democratic tradition, but it is badly out of touch with the Democratic rank-and-file. In 1996, a survey by the Washington Post compared the views of delegates to the Democratic convention to those of registered Democratic voters. The delegates perfectly mirrored the Democratic electorate in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender. But they could not have been more different when it came to class and education. Democratic delegates were nearly five times more likely than Democratic rank-and-file to have incomes over $75,000, three times more likely to have a college degree, and over four times more likely to have done postgraduate work. No wonder that when the New Yorker recently asked Karl Rove to describe the Democratic base, he said, "somebody with a doctorate."

It's a good historical view, but that last paragraph is pretty willfully stupid--delegates of both parties are more affluent and extremist than the rank-and-file. It's the nature of political parties.

Clinton understood what too many others are prone to forget: most Democrats are doers, not ideologues. They don't vote to make a statement; they vote in hopes of getting things done. They want social progress, but they're not on a social crusade. Most Democrats aren't elitists who think they know better than everyone else; they are everyone else. They don't swoon when they hear a candidate say it's time for Democrats to dream again. What they want is the American Dream, where everybody who works hard and plays by the rules has the chance to get ahead.

Well, yes and no, but a good point there.

I dunno. There's a lot of good historical bits in the memo that are worth considering, and the stuff about caucuses v. primaries and independents voting in open primaries moderating the outcome are gold. They're right--a lot of the most vocal Democrats right now seem far more concerned with "fixing" the party than winning the election, with nominating the perfect candidate for them instead of nominating one who can capture broad enough support to get elected. And yeah, it matters. Nominating a centrist candidate when they can win is a compromise, but I think the lesson of the Bush administration so far is that it's pretty much always better to have a Democrat in office than a Republican, at least if you're a lefty. They just represent your interests better.

That said, we are talking about politics, and from a political point of view, this was a dumb, dumb, dumb move. It's the same arrogance that drove a lot of people away from the Gore campaign in 2000 and to the Greens. True, a decent bit of blame should be placed on the Greens for all that, but the reports of the way the Gore campaign treated Nader's reps seem not unlike the attitude this memo takes towards activists, who are, it's worth mentioning, some of the Democrats' strongest supporters. You don't want to alienate your base, and I think that's what this is going to do. Oh well.