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October 07, 2005

Hatching new Democrats

There's already been some response to a new report by Dem analysts William A. Galston and Elaine C. Kamarck (the latter of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government), which says that Dems need to "move to the center" -- wherever the hell that is these days -- to achieve majority status.

On defense and social issues, "liberals espouse views diverging not only from those of other Democrats, but from Americans as a whole. To the extent that liberals now constitute both the largest bloc within the Democratic coalition and the public face of the party, Democratic candidates for national office will be running uphill."

... Their basic thesis is that the number of solidly conservative Republican voters is substantially larger that the reliably Democratic liberal voter base. To win, the argument goes, Democrats must make much larger inroads among moderates than the GOP.

Well, the Republicans are having trouble with their own grassroots wing at the moment -- the religious right. And those folks don't have any more claim to ideological majority status than I do, on any number of issues, abortion rights being the most prominent.

As for the importance of making inroads among moderates, I think that's undeniably true. But you can do that two ways:

  1. Grow your coalition through ideological compromise, as Galston, Kamarck, and DLC-types recommend, or;
  2. Grow your ideology, with these means:
    1. real and substantive leadership on issues, including and especially Iraq/defense for national leaders
    2. Opinion-media (hell, it's propaganda -- call us what we are): blogs, Air America, etc.
    3. Social capital and one-on-one relationships: Leading by example in one's own neighborhood: participating responsibly and compassionately in PTAs, churches, civic groups, etc. In other words, making it cool to be liberal.

I don't share the mechanistic view of the DLC hackocracy that you always have to follow the voters. Voters will accept strong, well-spoken and principled progressives: Look at the success of Russ Feingold, Paul Wellstone and Barack Obama over the years.

And when it comes to Massachusetts, I think Deval Patrick could well fit in that mold. I'm skeptical of my co-blogger David's skepticism about the Patrick campaign -- I still think things are way too fluid to evaluate what his poll numbers "should be" right now. As Michael Forbes-Wilcox comments on Fred Clarkson's blog, Patrick is starting a major publicity push on October 17, at which point we might expect to see the name recognition numbers nudge upwards.

But David properly wonders "whether his campaign is gaining any traction outside the small circle of activist/progressive types who are the core of his campaign." Indeed, that is the question that all Democratic activist types should be asking themselves. In '04 we didn't have enough to get 51% nationally, or in any number of critical races nationwide.

Patrick's campaign manager has said, "Give me a couple thousand volunteers and I can beat the money." Mike Dukakis has railed against the national and local weakness of the party on the ground; hopefully Howard Dean's 50-state grassroots-tending will bear fruit in '06. But just as one can waste money, the '04 election showed that volunteers can be wasted, too, if they're not put in a position to succeed.

So, Howard Dean and Deval Patrick have a similar strategy: They are cultivating the grassroots first. How do they then grow throughout our state and nation?

Posted by Charley on the MTA at 04:23 PM in Massachusetts, National | Permalink


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A little bit of this happened at a Trinity Church softball game. It was on the Common, and there was some sort of marijuana festival going on at the same time.

Somebody said, essentially "it's kind of funny to have a pro-pot group next to a church softball game. A couple of us said, why, there's nothing particularly Christian about drug prohibition---especially if marijuana can help cancer sufferers etc.

I don't think we changed her mind just then, but we may have planted a seed.

Posted by: Abby | Oct 7, 2005 7:15:40 PM

The problem is not liberal policy. Issue after issue, liberal positions turn out to be majority positions--universal health care, stem cell research, concern for the environment, partial to full withdrawal of troops from Iraq. All of these enjoy over 50 percent support in polls. The problem is not liberal policy, it's Democratic Senators, Congressman who are afraid to embrace these policies who are the problem.

Posted by: Schwompa | Oct 8, 2005 10:19:16 AM

Political parties exist to win elections. You can't govern if you don't win elections. As easy as it is to glamorize the coalitions that FDR or LBJ built, they were both coalitions that included wide ranging social, cultural, and other views.

I'm not standing up for either "side" here. In fact, as Barack Obama has said, I think the whole "center" vs. "left" debate is a ridiculous aside that distracts progressives. The problem is not us, the problem is what is being done to our country and we should unite to stop the backsliding and move forward.

But I can't say it nearly as well as the Senator from Illinois (sorry Dick Durbin, but I wouldn't mind playing second-fiddle to this guy either)


Posted by: Ben | Oct 8, 2005 12:15:01 PM

The thing I like about Deval is that policy comes first. He's not formulating policy positions to decide what would be best for the state, and after that he will fight for them. He will do something few other politicians in this state do: lead. Fight for what you believe in. If the polls say the people don't support your position, you fight for it. Rather than changing your opninion to match the public's, you change the public's opinion to match yours.

Posted by: Ken | Oct 8, 2005 3:00:50 PM

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