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November 25, 2006

Blast From The Past

The latest Tom Edsall column manages to be really wrong for no reason other than it lacks a single, obviously accurate element. Apparently, "to stay in the fight," Democrats will have to abandon "organized labor, minority advocacy organizations, reproductive- and sexual-rights proponents," and just about anyone else traditionally associated with Democrats. The reason? The Republicans made fun of the midnight basketball appropriations in the 1994 Crime Bill. I swear I'm not kidding about this.

Edsall strikes me as someone who never recovered from the mid-90s, or possibly even the late-80s. He's terrified of interest group liberalism. Obsessed with the emergent political center. Worried about Republican talk radio. Unsettled by sclerotic unions. Terrified by the crime wave.

Some of that, of course, is fair. Some is not. But all of it's outdated. He's handicapping elections from over a decade ago and simply changing the dates. Soon he'll finish criticizing Democrats for the politics of evasion and call for some sort of centrist Democratic organization to arise and pull the Donkey rightward..Maybe we'll call it the Leadership Council? The Liberal Leadership Council? The Democratic Leadership Council?

Yeah. That sounds right.

November 25, 2006 | Permalink

Comments

Apparently, "to stay in the fight," Democrats will have to abandon "organized labor, minority advocacy organizations, reproductive- and sexual-rights proponents," and just about anyone else traditionally associated with Democrats.

I see from the excerpt at the link that Edsall speaks of "abandoning a decades-long willingness to indulge pressure groups on the left that no longer command broad popular allegiance." What does he mean by "abandon willingness to indulge"? He accuses the groups you quote him listing of "reliving battles of a decade or more ago, not the more subtle disputes of today. Public sector unions, for example, at a time of wide distrust of government, are consistently pressing to enlarge the state." Hard to tell from this what he's getting at. Hard to tell if he means we should just abandon everyone or if we should just support them in a new way that recognizes the changing conditions. Guess I'd have to subscribe to find out.

Posted by: Sanpete | Nov 25, 2006 7:00:00 PM

What does Hillary Clinton know that the far left doesn't?

HOW TO WIN!

She does it by moving toward the right, just like Bill did. If you think that America has embraced the commondream, think again. The base abandoned Bush. If the Democrats wish to continue to lead, they will have to be where the voters really want them to be. Doubtful that would include gun control, a push for homosexual activitism, feminism (or what passes for it today), huge tax hike or socialist programs.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Nov 25, 2006 7:01:45 PM

"Some of that, of course, is fair. Some is not. But all of it's outdated."

Of course.

Everything in politics is different now.

Because we won a mild election victory while the other side was visibly losing a fucking war, all of the structural electoral problems facing the Democratic coalition since 1968 have magically disappeared.

I expect this kind of tripe from Stoller, who operates free of the constraints of intellectual honesty. But I expect more from our host.

Posted by: Petey | Nov 25, 2006 7:09:07 PM

Don't. If you think the problem for the Democratic Party is that we're insufficiently trusted on crime...I don't know what to tell you. There are a wide array of legitimate, current issues for the Democratic coalition, encompassing everything from perceived hostility to religion to national security. But Edsall is focusing on problems that were, largely, rendered obsolete by the Clinton years. Politics does change.

Posted by: Ezra | Nov 25, 2006 7:33:07 PM

Petey,

Yes, yes, we know, the Democrats didn't win, the Republicans lost.

And if we make any gains in 2008, it's the same story. If we get the presidency, it's the same story. If we had 87 Senators and 410 Representatives, 45 governors, the presidency and 47 state legislatures, you would show up here and there, spewing your baseless bullshit.

That, plus your vendetta against Kos, Stoller and especially Armstrong are getting really stale. About as stale as the tragically pathetic mewling and bleating from various conservative and "liberal" pundits about how this election was a victory for conservatives, or whatever it is they want to say in order to make themselves feel better.

Those weird spam comments that just were posted, all in Chinese, had more substance than you. And I don't read Chinese.

Posted by: Stephen | Nov 25, 2006 7:45:30 PM

Ezra:

Remembering all the muttered accusations against Kos, the current pretense about having been against the war, and the like, it strikes me that Petey may mean something different by "intellectual honesty" than you believe. Might as well wait for him to be more specific before objecting. Or maybe he meant to compliment you.

Posted by: somecallmetim | Nov 25, 2006 7:55:46 PM

Edsall's comments would be wrong even if we had lost the election. They remind me of Democratic strategists suggesting that if we could just run a pro-life candidate, that would neutralize the right-wing. And there are states where that works at times (see Pennsylvania). But in reality-land, a huge number of Democrats vote Democrat because the Party is pro-choice (which is part of why they still voted Dem in PA). It's one thing to be able to challenge your base. It's another thing when you're incapable of realizing that you can't simply adopt the other side's positions on everything, split their vote, and retain the base through magic.

Democrats gave up on gun control. I wish they hadn't had to do it, but they did, and it was a good choice. But you can't give up everything. Seriously - people are not obsessed with crime. The Democrats have proven their economic stewardship to a lot of people. People do support government entitlement programs - there's a reason Republicans couldn't cut them. Privatization is viewed with such skepticism as a concept, the Republicans who invented the word are running from it. Now, we need to work on National Security. We need to work on Labor. And we need to work on a lot of stuff, but these aren't the problems.

And one final note - why not make decisions on whether or not long-term it works? Republicans retained the house for 1/4 of the time the Democrats did, because Democratic policies have generally been successful and Republican policies are not. Have faith in the goals and the methods. If you disagree with them, fight them on that. But don't constantly back down on the policy fights for politics, or else what's the point?

Posted by: MDtoMN | Nov 25, 2006 7:56:44 PM

"Don't."

Sorry, but I do. There's no way you fall into the soft bigotry of low expectations category like the Stollers and Bowers of the world.

"But Edsall is focusing on problems that were, largely, rendered obsolete by the Clinton years. Politics does change."

I don't pay for TimesSelect, and I haven't bought the Sunday NYT yet, so I can't argue individual points. Or to put it another way, his piece could be unbelievably wrong and I wouldn't know it.

But based on past performance, I have an immensely high regard for Edsall's opinion. I'd expect him to not suddenly start spouting nonsense.

To operate off the quote you provide - "organized labor, minority advocacy organizations, reproductive- and sexual-rights proponents" - well, if you change "organized labor" to "public sector unions", then I'd agree entirely that Dems have to be very wary of getting too closely tied in the public mind with those groups.

More broadly, of course the politics of 2006 is different than the politics of 1988. Unions are more popular. Crime/Negrotude is less of a public worry. But it's a mistake to let the very real differences obscure just how much of the underlying structure remains the same.

Dems are in a bit of a bubble right now. The other side is visibly losing a war, and we could thus come out in favor of death camps for all the dog and cat pets in America and still win elections. The trick here is leaving ourselves in a position to win elections after the war bubble bursts.

Posted by: Petey | Nov 25, 2006 8:03:37 PM

It's one thing to be able to challenge your base. It's another thing when you're incapable of realizing that you can't simply adopt the other side's positions on everything, split their vote, and retain the base through magic.

If it's the latter he's arguing for rather than the former, could you please provide a quote where he says that more plainly than he does (or doesn't) in the excerpts given at the link? I really wonder what he means. I'm almost sure he doesn't mean what you imply, that no one means that.

Posted by: Sanpete | Nov 25, 2006 8:07:05 PM

Ah, the Edsel Edsall. Recall the toilet-seat front grill on Ford Motor's car of the future. Nostalgia is so sweet.

Here's an idea: fixed-term slots (3-6 years) for reporters at WaPo and NYT and other major media outlets, then back to the real America outside NYC and DC for an update on the current decade for, say, five years.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Nov 25, 2006 8:11:51 PM

The amount of verbiage related to this can be summed up thusly: "he's an idiot stuck in the past, let's ignore him."

Posted by: akaison | Nov 25, 2006 9:01:12 PM

I agree with with Ezra here, not Petey here. Maybe this is a generational thing. As is Petey's hostility to Kos, Stoller, Bowers, et al.. The problem with the "old Democrats" is that they don't think in big picture ways, but assume the ideological alignments of the recent past are always with us. This is a fundamental mistake. Its what the Reaganites/Goldwaterites understood when they made a concerted effort to change the nation's discourse in a way that favored them, starting in the 50s.

Edsall's arguments - in his columns, and in Building Redstate America - seem in many ways quite dated. His emphasis on race conservatism, anti-feminism, and unions while downplaying issues like national security (which is almost absent from his recent book) seem odd. If anything, the Democrats are slowly, but surely winning pretty much every domestic policy question. Even gay marriage will be a long term winner. Also, my sense is is that Bush administration has made being Republican "not cool" for a lot of Americans under a certain age - a recent survey showing a very heavy advantage amongst under 30 voters.

Where he is interesting is in his discussion of the "infrastructure' of politics - of corporate finance, K Street, gerrymandering, et al. Here, I think he has something to add. But ideologically speaking, he's stuck in 1989.

Posted by: Ben P | Nov 25, 2006 9:06:45 PM

Because we won a mild election victory while the other side was visibly losing a fucking war, all of the structural electoral problems facing the Democratic coalition since 1968 have magically disappeared.

I don't think you could say it was a mild victory. The Democrats lost NO incumbent seats. That has happened in something like 80 years. They also won 6 senate seats from the other party, which is a great amount historically speaking. Finally, while their House gains are historically not phenomenal, in the era of the heavily gerrymandered seat, I think 29 seats is a big gain.

Finally, I think the big point you miss here is that this is the first time ever the Democrats have had a House majority since probably the 1964-66 Congress that isn't dependent on the votes of very conservative Dixiecrats (and of course, in 64-66, there were still a lot of these around, it was just LBJ's landslide was so big it didn't matter). Hence, the Democratic majorities are nowhere near as ideologically splintered as they were in the past. This is very significant.

Posted by: Ben P | Nov 25, 2006 9:13:31 PM

The amount of verbiage related to this can be summed up thusly: "he's an idiot stuck in the past, let's ignore him."

I find myself wondering who you're referring to here. By my count, there's two candidates for this thinking.

Posted by: Stephen | Nov 25, 2006 9:28:30 PM

Democrats Won ...here is Stollar on Edsall.

Yeah, we won. We will see how much we won if Pelosi can bypass the Republican Jane Harman, get past the Washington foreign policy establishment and put someone reasonably independent as chair of Intelligence. Then we watch the next battle, and the next. They will try to co-opt whom they can't destroy. They will bribe, and threaten, and whatever it takes to maintain power.

We won. But obviously Edsall has not yet surrendered. This war is just barely beginning, it is not between Republicans and Democrats, but between progressives and everyone else. Seats have changed parties, we will see if the PTB loses anything actually valuable.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Nov 25, 2006 9:30:05 PM

I used to be a DLCer, but somehow I don't see the point in arguing that if the Democrats just abandon all of our core principles, then we can win.

Sure, if we become a small-government, pro-rich, pro-life, anti-gay, anti-union party we'll win some Republican votes. That's because at that point we will be Republicans.* Winning power just for the sake of winning power is what Republicans do--they want the power so they can have it and do stuff.

Democrats--most of us, anyhow--want power so we can actually effect positive change. I'm not an absolutist who thinks anyone with less than a 98% score from NARAL should be purged. Indeed, I think it's great that a few pro-life Dems won here and there. But this is a pro-choice, pro-gay, pro-union party--and if that changed, I'd be one of the first ones to the door.

*And actually, I still don't think this is a winning strategy; the GOP will always just move to the right and demonize the left. If the Democrats give up on abortion, it will be birth control we're fighting on; if we give up on gays, it will be premarital sex. As for a "smaller government," if the GOP couldn't deliver one in four years of absolute lockstep power, I'd say that's a strong argument that it can't be done in any non-politically-suicidal way.

Posted by: Jeff Fecke | Nov 25, 2006 9:30:56 PM

2 quick rejoinders/Comments:

1) "The other side is visibly losing a war, and we could thus come out in favor of death camps for all the dog and cat pets in America and still win elections. The trick here is leaving ourselves in a position to win elections after the war bubble bursts."
I don't entirely disagree, but I can't help but note how quickly the viewpoint on this changed. In less than a year, we went from old common wisdom - the war hurts democrats - to a new one - democrats win, because of the war. I think this highlights that policy really needs to come first - because bad policy will often come back to roost. P.S. I had nightmares in 2000 that Bush would require that all dogs owned by gay men be exterminated (originally proposed by Santorum in my dream). Thankfully, that did not come to pass.

2) Sanpete - I was engaging in some exaggeration for rhetorical flourish. At the same time, I stand by my basic point. It is always very tempting to see the middle ground or opposite side and believe you can capture them through X & Y change. The problem is that your own partisans vote for you BECAUSE of NOT X & Y. I think this is particularly true for his critique of “reproductive- and sexual-rights proponents” – these groups actually can turn out 1 million people to protest Republicans in Washington, DC. It’s really easy to downplay the importance of the Democrats pro-choice plank. And it’s not at all clear they “no longer command broad popular allegiance.” Lots of strong Democrats are pro-choice, and we can’t ignore their importance. Finally, his embrace of Hoyer and Emmanuel strikes me as very odd. Not that they’re bad, but I don’t see any evidence that they actually have their finger on America’s pulse. However, I agree with you that it's not clear what he's proposing here. I'm sure it's not a complete reversal, but whenever someone advocates that Democrats move away from minority rights, reproductive rights, and labor, you should ask them what they're going to stick to - particularly since lots of unlisted items are also arguably "pressure group" things - support for Israel, environmental regulation, minimum wage, etc.

Posted by: MDtoMN | Nov 25, 2006 11:12:32 PM

If anything, the Democrats are slowly, but surely winning pretty much every domestic policy question. Even gay marriage will be a long term winner.

That's great, and when it's actually accomplished, I'm sure Edsall will be as happy as you will be. How about 2004, though? How did we fare then? How about 2006? A number of the new Democrat majority didn't adopt very liberal positions, and several races were very, very close. Few came out in favor of same-sex marriage. So, what of 2008? Now that "we won," should we just push for same-sex mariage, on your theory? Or might Petey have a point?

I used to be a DLCer, but somehow I don't see the point in arguing that if the Democrats just abandon all of our core principles, then we can win.

It's so much easier to decide whether a view is correct or has any substance when it's interpreted as complete absurdity.

It is always very tempting to see the middle ground or opposite side and believe you can capture them through X & Y change. The problem is that your own partisans vote for you BECAUSE of NOT X & Y.

Very true, but everyone agrees about this. The standard analysis of those who advise caution about trying surge left is that there are some areas in which we can afford to be fairly quiet, such as abortion rights, or where we should change tactics, as (perhaps) on free trade. On abortion, for example, everyone who cares knows where we stand as a party, and how our Justice nominees will tend. I'm not sure exactly what Edsall means by saying abortion rights activists are "reliving the battles of a decade ago," but he might be referring to those who aren't as quiet as he wishes, or something like that, rather than that we should abandon our pro-choice position. The obvious advantage is that by focussing on other issues you can more easily draw in some moderately pro-life voters, or not turn off moderate pro-choice voters who have qualms about abortion. In electoral politics, it's argued, this doesn't really have much of a down side. But I don't know the details of Edsall's views. In this debate, it's the details that matter.

whenever someone advocates that Democrats move away from minority rights, reproductive rights, and labor, you should ask them what they're going to stick to

Sure, but what's at issue with Edsall? Is he advocating moving away completely, or only in some ways, and maybe only in terms of style? As you say, we don't know what he meant in this case. Hard to tell if you really disagree, then. Too much of this debate is carried out on the broad rhetorical level without being tied to concrete ideas.

Posted by: Sanpete | Nov 25, 2006 11:58:59 PM

the amount of verbiage concerning the old guard and what they believe is what I am referring to.

I will convey a stories to you that sum up my feelings. In 2004, Kerry was asked during the debate did he consider himself 'liberal.' He said no, and gave the standard Kerry'esque blah, blah, blah (what was the quesiton?) verbiage.

Polls were done right after the question was raised. Most voters didn't care one way or the other. The conversations that people think are important, aren't always important except for the 20 to 30 percent that Fred and etc represent. I find most of the left are like battered spouses- they are still fighting old fights, and apologizing for winning or losing them. Move on.

But, I have noticed, most of the conversation is still obsessed with that 20 to 30 percent rather than the rest of America. I have talked to conservative/moderates who are apolitical (except for voting), and I am often amazed by what people who are political think of as important, versus what the apolitical think of as important.

This is maybe an age thing - I am in my 30s. As someone else mentioned, and especially true of my age group or younger, a lot of the domestic issues that people here take as big deals really, outside of certain cultural circles, aren't big deals. that's why even bill bennett admits that gay marriage is inevitable.

I don't know too many people left, right or moderate who are apolitical and who spout some of the crazy shit I hear out of the right on say healthcare. Most of them are in agreement that "damn, I pay too much for health insurance, and why am I having to wait so long for crappy service."

When I discussed the Kramer situation with a moderate guy at work, a white associate in a law firm, he and I were in a lot of agreement-- ie, that Kramer did act in a racist manner, but that he could be forgiven if he apologized for it in a legitmate way (I am sorry for being a bonehead) versus illegimate way (the mel gibson "the booze made me do it, and by the way it's your fault that I called you that name" defense).

I come here, and I read all this crazy shit about how it's really not racist, and about white people not celebrating being white, and on-and-on. None of this reps where the American people really seem to be. In fact, I think this is more like a freakshow circus to them, and people like this guy who wrote the editorial are looked on as ring leaders.

Posted by: akaison | Nov 26, 2006 12:43:23 AM

That's great, and when it's actually accomplished, I'm sure Edsall will be as happy as you will be. How about 2004, though? How did we fare then? How about 2006? A number of the new Democrat majority didn't adopt very liberal positions, and several races were very, very close. Few came out in favor of same-sex marriage. So, what of 2008? Now that "we won," should we just push for same-sex mariage, on your theory? Or might Petey have a point?

True, on this issue. But my point is much bigger. What I'm saying is that the kind of issues Edsall emphasizes are the same ones he was basically emphasizing when he wrote chain reaction in '91 (which I read in college in about '98 and agree is a great work). But politics and society has changed since then, yet Edsall still is trying to ram new issues and perspectives into old categories. This works to an extent, but it also tends to ring some quite false notes, especially for people who were too young to have actively participated in politics in the 70s and 80s (and even the 90s).

Posted by: Ben P | Nov 26, 2006 1:34:46 AM

But politics and society has changed since then, yet Edsall still is trying to ram new issues and perspectives into old categories.

You could be right, or wrong, but without some specifics it's pretty hard to tell. Maybe others have noticed that this is pretty much what he accuses the old pressure groups of doing.

Akaison, your vague advice to move on doesn't really convey anything.

I come here, and I read all this crazy shit about how it's really not racist, and about white people not celebrating being white, and on-and-on. None of this reps where the American people really seem to be.

This particular crazy shit was in your head. No one here was saying Richards' remarks weren't racist, quite the opposite, and you just refused to even understand the simple point about whites not celebrating being white as such (as opposed to being, say, Irish). So it's no wonder you don't see how that point relates to where Americans are; i.e. whites are still defensive about race, to the point that they're reluctant to celebrate being white, while other overall racial/ethnic groups don't have a similar reluctance.

Posted by: Sanpete | Nov 26, 2006 2:28:36 AM

actually sanpete, it conveys more of the truth than your pseudo intellectuallism ever will- namely life has past this generation of thinkers by, and that what he says has no relationship to someone like me in my 30s, no more than your pseudo intellectualism about teh Krammer did. I had to go to people who like me are young enough to get it.

Posted by: akaison | Nov 26, 2006 2:53:30 AM

incidentally- I told quite a few people about this conversation- all of them white, who were around my age what you said- most found you funny.

Posted by: akaison | Nov 26, 2006 2:55:04 AM

From what I gather (I also can't see behind the TimesSelect Iron Curtain), Edsall's basically saying that for continued electoral success, Democrats should shy away from its less popular planks. This shouldn't be the sort of observation that warrants column space in the slightest (though considering the two ideas to get the most play in the media since the elections have been the draft and "Don't ask don't tell", maybe you could make a case in the opposite direction?)

Edsall's clearest error is probably his nostalgic appraisal of what interest groups are currently ruling the Dems with an iron fist - but it kind of seems that the debate he's been sparking has been more along the lines of the one we're all sick of now - how liberal does our liberal party get to be, and how loudly, and how proudly?

With regard to that particular issue, I'm a no more authoritative voice than anyone else, except to say that I think it's the wrong question to ask. Generally across the US, Democratic economic policy (and here I mean everything from SS to minimum wage to universal health care) is something that sounds really good to people, and definitely an area where we should make something of our advantage. On national security, we've been weak for some decades now, but the utter foolishness at the helm in this war so far shows a chance to make this another Democratic issue in the long term rather than the short term.

The only way in which I'd argue Edsall has any point at all is with regard to social issues - generally the group of issues on voters are most often motivated to vote against Democrats. Even so, I guess I can only hope that he's not telling Dems to move right on social issues - the motivating factor for a large portion of their base. That's doing something in response to wedge issues, but not consistently an effective method. (If anybody has data opposing this that doesn't come from CT-SEN '06, let me know.)

Edsall's piece appears to be asking the wrong question about something he no longer understands, and when his response is relevant at all, it's inaccurate. Aside from that, though, I'm sure he's really got his finger on the pulse of the country.

Posted by: Jon O. | Nov 26, 2006 3:11:38 AM

I had to go to people who like me are young enough to get it.

During the 60s the age limit for understanding the world was supposed to be under 30. Don't you worry you're getting a little old to understand these things?

Keep in mind that some voters that we must consider in politics are even older than you, so old fogeys like Edsall could conceivably have something useful to say.

Posted by: Sanpete | Nov 26, 2006 4:07:36 AM

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