Restore Vanity

Mickey Kaus claims Democratic strategists may have known that firing up the leftist base would also fire up their opponents, but failed to realize that it would also alienate the Democratic middle. "It's not just that rousing the Dem base also rouses the GOP base (which can hardly be roused more than it already is anyway). It's that rousing the Dem base alienates the middle." It made the publicists resort to brutal, unvarnished, socialist appeals that were unmistakable even to those wished to avert their gaze.

The middle hated welfare. But Dems could always soft-pedal and hide their cash-dispensing programs in the fine print while pretending that they were requiring work—and then relying on other issues to mobilize the base. On immigration, it seems as if the only way to rouse the Dems' Latino base, Obama-style, is to shout your support for an immigration amnesty from the rooftops, where the middle can also hear it.

The other problem that Kaus may have forgotten to mention is that once a politician start pandering to the Left, it goes all confrontational and strange on you like it can't help it. The Washington Post's accounts of Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity makes for interesting reading. "But with its Capitol backdrop, exuberant crowd and clever placards, the Stewart-Colbert rally began to look like an ironic version of the political theater it sends up. At some point, do those mocking such hubris actually exhibit hubris?" Translation: at what point is all this counter-cultural stuff offensive? At what stage does an event featuring Yussuf Islam look less than mainstream?

With all the trouble it took to get to the Mall, some attendees chose a more unusual mode of transportation: a 70-foot-long, 30-foot-tall copper-colored dragon on wheels. The vehicle, favored by anti-nuclear-weapon activists from the counterculture festival Burning Man, echoed down Irving Street. Along 14th Street NW, people held signs reading "Free the Gays" or "The Sky Is Falling." Scores of people dressed in wigs and costumes, in part because the rally coincides with many Halloween celebrations. One man dressed as Abe Lincoln. Another went as a tea party activist (tea bags dangling from his hat's brim).

But if this fails to appeal to working class, what choice was there? The turn to the Left, as Rich Lowry notes, came far earlier, during the Health Care vote. For Nancy Pelosi's "cannon fodder" it is too late back out now, although they are trying. "Since Labor Day, the Democrats who have included health care in their advertisements have tended to be the 'nay' votes touting their opposition."

Vulnerable Democrats can’t run away fast enough. Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi says he won’t vote for Pelosi for speaker again. Neither will Rep. Jim Marshall from Georgia. Even Bill Keating, a Democrat running in a heretofore safe district in Massachusetts, doesn’t want to say whether he supports her or not. Taylor complains that the speaker “veered” to the left, but if Pelosi were really to veer to the left, she’d end up in the Socialist Workers party.

Well, why not? Posters at sites like Firedoglake are arguing the President has failed because he hasn't gone far enough Left. Paul Krugman regards a possible Democratic loss not as a turn away from the Left to the middle, but as a swerve to the extreme right. He warns, "if the elections go as expected next week, here’s my advice: Be afraid. Be very afraid."

The subject of this Left turn, AKA "energizing the base", will be the main topic inside the Democratic Party after the elections. It would be ironical if the 2010 election was less about Republicans vs Democrats than about the future of the Democratic Party itself.