January 29, 2005

IN RESPONSE TO MY EARLIER POST, lefty reader Joe McReynolds emails:

You rightly point out that we liberals must do our best to shout down, disassociate ourselves, do everything we can to make ourselves no longer the party of Michael Moore, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, et al.

And as you noted, the Right does do a better job of quieting its ‘idiotarians’. The only problem is, they essentially do it with the “bribes and promises” approach. Jerry Falwell, even when muzzled, knows that to some degree he and the people he represents will get a hearing from the White House and congress, the American seats of power.

On the left, we are a minority in all branches of government. How can we cast off the extremists if we have nothing to offer to placate them, nothing to drive them away with? It makes it harder to easily dismiss them, and as we get drawn into a serious debate with them (which we’d handily win), the Republicans will simply say, “Look, the Democrats can’t even stop their circular firing squad, how can they run the country?” and we’ll lose more seats in Congress.

I’m with the College Dems at my school, and the reactionary extremism is so thick you could cut it with a knife. What’s the solution for people like me? What *can* we do? Casting out the extremists seems an awful lot like putting salt on a bird’s tail.

You’ve got a big pulpit. Help show us Dems how to make a party that’s sane, but doesn’t believe that America is a Christian nation or homosexuality is a sin or that all the poor are poor because they deserve it.

Well, I don’t believe any of those three things — I don’t even think this is a “pulpit!” — but I confess that I don’t know how to save the Dems. I think that the “silent majority” — those genuine moderate Democrats/Liberals that I keep hearing about, but don’t hear a lot from on the national stage — needs to realize the damage that the kooks do — as the Republicans figured out — and quit regarding extremism as evidence of “commitment” or “passion.” I tried to sketch something like that alternate approach here, but though it’s not hard to imagine, I think it would be hard for the Democrats to do.

I do think, though, that many people (me included) would cheer the Democrats for trying to make those changes, and while there might be a little bit of sniping from Republicans, that sniping would actually help the Democrats by calling attention to what was going on.

The alternative is for the Democratic party to get smaller as it gets angrier, and angrier as it gets smaller, until it just doesn’t matter anymore. At some point the Republican Party will then likely split into a social-conservative wing and a libertarian wing, and I can join the latter, I guess. I’m not ready to call the Democrats the new Whigs, but it’s not impossible for me to imagine.

The question is, will the Democrats be willing to do to Ted Kennedy, for his remarks on the war, what Republicans did to Trent Lott, for his remarks on Strom Thurmond and the 1948 election?

UPDATE: Reader Maria Gordon emails:

I read your posting from Joe McReynolds with a sinking heart. I voted for George W. because I felt he was the better candidate (not ideal, just better). Having said that, I would most willingly vote Democratic if they could field someone that would reflect those that are middle of the road. The Democrats continue to dish up candidates so left of center they fall off a cliff. (caveat, we just moved from SF (to Virginia) where the politics go beyond the pale; if you don’t agree with them you must be wealthy, wicked and evil. So much for healthy debate to challenge ones views; which by the way, we are not wealthy, both have MBA’s and have never considered ourselves non-charitable) The Democratic Party today reminds me of the Tories after John Major. Their biggest problem is the Tory Party. Today, the Democratic Party’s biggest problem is the Democrats themselves. Heaven help us if they can’t figure this out as I for one, do not wish to have a one party system. It makes me uncomfortable to have all three branches of government in one party’s hand but what can we do when not given a true choice?

I agree. Hugh Hewitt can have a slogan calling for the end of the Democrats’ power on his site if he wants, but I’d much prefer seeing a functioning two-party system. It does seem to me that Karl Rove wants to do to the Democrats what Tony Blair’s Labour has done to the Tories. And it also seems to me that the Democrats are helping Rove a lot, just as the Tories helped Blair. I don’t think it’s a good thing in either case, but what can I do besides point it out?

Read this, too. And here’s an older piece saying that the “Sandbox Left” is killing the Democrats.

Meanwhile, Jeff Jarvis asks: “are we on the left really reduced to the Mr. Blackwell party?”

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Eric Hall has a different British example in mind:

For the Dems to win, they need to muster the balls to split from the hard-left. This is both the means to the end, and the end itself.

A moderate centrist party that pulls in the majority of independents and also saps the harder edges of the spectrum simply would not be beat. What we need is a party that: avowedly embraces the many benefits of capitalism and industry while also protecting investors and labor; that understands how foreign policy depends on negotiating from a position of strength instead of a position of weakness; that personal libertarianism has to be balanced with the need for communities to be able to define their own laws and norms according to their social systems and beliefs, and most of all, that America is already a force for good in the world and not a font of evil.

That could be the Democrats, but for them to get there they have to become the centrist party. This means, primarily, that they need to encourage the establishment of a more powerful “true left” party (eg, the greens or the socialists), and force the hard-left elements into that party. They would also have to recruit centrist republicans and independents so that they could grow the center into an actual majority (or a sizable plurality anyway). Since this strategy necessarily dictates that the Democrats would become smaller before they became larger, it is not likely to happen on purpose, of course. However, since they are already on track to becoming smaller anyway, this may happen on its own, just as Blair rescued Labour after it had been destroyed by itself.

I hope that this happens. Single-party dominance doesn’t make for great government, at least from my perspective.