NOONAN NAILS IT: The strategy du jour to salvage the Democrats is “go left young man” (actually, “go left young hermaphrodite” would probably closer to their rococo spirit, but it just doesn’t have the same historic alliteration). But that could leave the Democrats out in the wilderness for a very long time. Why? Peggy Noonan nails it:
The Democrat’s base is left-wing. It is a worse problem for the Democrats than the Republicans’ base is for them. The Republican base is simply essentially conservative; Republicans in power are conservative too but less so; they live in what they call the real world. They achieve what they can, explaining to the base what is possible. Sometimes the base gets balky, but mostly it follows. After all, they’re all conservatives together.
The problem the Democrats have with their base is that it isn’t liberal in the way the Democratic leadership in general is liberal. It is left-wing, and some parts of it are way left-wing. The last socialists are there, the warriors of race and class; there are environmentalists who want to set loggers on fire, people who think George W. Bush killed Paul Wellstone, activists whose only concern in the world is abortion rights, and people who support capital punishment for only one crime, smoking in public. Soon they will demand the death penalty for smoking in private. (Are there radicals and nuts in the Republican base? Sure. But 20 years of observation tells me there aren’t as many and they don’t have the same clout. Moreover, Republican candidates are somewhat protected from them. The protection comes from the media, which hate nutty right-wingers more than they dislike Republicans.)
Reporters rarely ask Democratic candidates about the price their base extracts, but it is big. The base determines primary outcomes. The base changes the shape of policy.
This is fundamentally a very conservative country–it may be balkanized in terms of social policy as a result of the sexual revolution and other trends that developed in the 1960s and ’70s, but there’s a reason the country as a whole isn’t as screwed up as Europe has become. Why gun control was a dud of an issue. Why (unlike say, France) we take the war on terrorism seriously. And while going to the far left will help gin up that Democratic base, it’s going to alienate far more people on the other side than Ronald Reagan did when he ran for president in 1980.