Belmont Club

Tipping Points

George Monbiot, a British journalist who won the UN Global 500 Award for “outstanding environmental achievement” and tireless campaigner for climate controls lamented that interest in Global Warming had fallen so low that “the best outcome anyone now expects from December’s climate summit in Mexico is that some delegates might stay awake during the meetings.”  He believes the reason why the wheels have come off the Global Warming bandwagon is the loss of political momentum. “When talks fail once, as they did in Copenhagen, governments lose interest. They don’t want to be associated with failure, they don’t want to pour time and energy into a broken process.” The villain, as ever, are the unhinged members of the Tea Party.

Hanging over everything is the growing recognition that the United States isn’t going to play. Not this year, perhaps not in any year. If Congress couldn’t pass a climate bill so feeble that it consisted of little but loopholes while Barack Obama was president and the Democrats had a majority in both houses, where does hope lie for action in other circumstances? Last Tuesday the Guardian reported that of 48 Republican contenders for the Senate elections in November only one accepted that man-made climate change is taking place. Who was he? Mike Castle of Delaware. The following day he was defeated by the Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell, producing a full house of science deniers. The enlightenment? Fun while it lasted.

Enlightenment has definitely fallen on hard times. TV Newser report that ABC, CBS and NBC lost 739,000 viewers this year,

“Nightly News with Brian Williams,” which finishes at #1 for the 14th season in a row, lost the least: -138K Total Viewers (8.698M in 08-09 v. 8.560M in 09-10), while Katie Couric’s CBS program, lost the most: -343K (6.053M in 08-09 v 5.710M in 09-10). “World News” which saw Charles Gibson anchor the first few months of the season, and Diane Sawyer picking up in December, lost the most younger viewers: -221K (2.351M in 08-09 v. 2.130 in 09-10).

The messaging systems of the elite may be in disarray, but as David Paul Kuhn of Real Clear Politics reminds us, they still have the fundraising and machinery stick. “The establishment no longer reigns, but it remains an influential force. Many tea party movement candidates will rely on the conventional Republican apparatus for assistance in fundraising, organization and strategy in the general election.” Yet even here their reign is not assured.

But, on the shoulders of Howard Dean before him, it was online fundraising that allowed Obama to so quickly channel the surge in enthusiasm into megabucks. This is how Obama’s fundraising operation so quickly competed with, and eventually overtook, the far more conventionally connected Clinton campaign. In time, the last phalanx of the political establishment, super delegates, fell in line with voters.

Technology was the tipping point. The Internet does not mean the people feed politics. But fundraising is now no longer the province of big money alone. Campaign communication can now be sent online for free. Digital cameras, YouTube, have made producing advertising cheap. And like all advertising, political marketing is increasingly micro-targeted online. Minority ideological coalitions can also rapidly unite and influence the party through web-social networking.

Bill Clinton has enough standing among liberals to warn them of the impending obsolescence of their institutions of control. Sarah Palin he says, is “a compelling, attractive figure” and “it’s always a mistake to underestimate your opponent.” But even he doesn’t quite get it. Palin is part of something; the tea party is not an extension of herself. In Bill Clinton’s world, Palin is the new Goldwater, but as Kuhn pointed out, “the tea party movement’s purge of moderates echoes Goldwater’s coup. But today’s conservative movement is occurring without a Goldwater.”

The Democrats have not yet developed an insurgency equivalent to the Tea Party within their ranks. Their base is consequently forced to respond to the economic crisis by pulling the same old establishment levers which only serve to increase their poverty. For example, the New York Times reports that black voters, who have suffered most under the recession, chose the ‘blacker’ candidate Vincent Gray over Adrian Fenty in the DC Mayoralty elections party because Fenty’s schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee was bent on firing incompetent teachers. This was “disrespectful”.

Mr. Fenty was cheered by whites for bringing in the cold-blooded Michelle Rhee as schools chancellor. She attacked D.C.’s admittedly failing school system with an unseemly ferocity and seemed to take great delight in doing it. Hundreds of teachers were fired and concerns raised by parents about Ms. Rhee’s take-no-prisoners approach were ignored. It was disrespectful.

Blacks responded last week by voting overwhelmingly for Mr. Fenty’s opponent, Vincent Gray, who is also black. This blowback undermined whatever Ms. Rhee and Mr. Fenty had hoped to achieve. Thanks to their ham-handed approach to governing and disregard of the sensibilities of their constituents, both of them will soon be gone. But the children they claimed to care so much about will still be locked in a lousy school system.

And there the children will remain locked until the Democratic Party constituents develop ways to pursue their economic interests outside the framework of ward politics, patronage and handouts which are the only levers they are allowed to pull. Until that constituency frees itself from dependency on the Left, the troubles of the Democratic party are likely to express themselves in increased tension between a side which sees its entitlements threatened and a side which is no longer willing to pay the cost of those entitlements.

The status quo is clearly in trouble, but it will not collapse completely until its dependents realize that it can no longer deliver the goods it falsely promised them. A revolt within the Leftist constituency led by the constituency itself, rather than their traditional patrons will sound the true death knell for the old system. The Tea Parties can only heighten the issue. But a revolt by the Democatic minority and blue collar constituents will be the coup de grace.