« Why I hate the inheritance tax | Main | Let's help out ABC »

Are Democrats crazy? (check yes or no)

What's the problem with the Democratic Party? According to my conservative friends, it's that the party has been taken over by wild-eyed, left-wing lunatics. According to my liberal friends, it's that the party is too centrist, and has traded in its liberalism for a Clintonian/DLC-styled "third way."

For the record, I think they're both right. The discrepancy lies in the fact that conservatives are basing their opinions on liberal bloggers, PACs, and 527s. Liberals are basing theirs on Democratic politicians.

To the liberals' point, the party's elected representatives have moved considerably toward the center over the past two decades. Democratic politicians are much more palatable to me now than they were back during the 80's. They're less hostile to wealth and the pursuit of such, less hostile toward guns, and (Iraq notwithstanding) less averse toward military action.

Let's face it -- Hillary Clinton is no Walter Mondale. Neither is John Kerry. Hell, neither is Howard Dean, for that matter. The ideological extremists are not sitting in the houses of Congress. They do, however, comprise much of the party's activist core -- and yes, I'm talking about MoveOn.org, the Kossacks, and who-the-hell-ever keeps posting in Atrios's countless "open threads." These folks are, increasingly, the heart and soul of the Democratic Party -- but they also tend to be barking moonbats. (The most recent example being the fact that Kos anathematized The New Republic as "just another cog of the Vast RIGHT Wing Conspiracy." Yep, I'm sorry, but that qualifies you for membership in the "loony left.")

In other words, there is a real disconnect between the party and its base. Peggy Noonan observes this phenomenon in today's Wall Street Journal.

I got a sense of the distance between Democratic leaders and the base a few years ago when I met up with a Democrat who was weighing a run for the party's 2004 nomination. He hadn't announced but was starting to test the waters, campaigning out of state.

I mentioned to him that the press gives a great deal of attention to the problems of Republican leaders and their putative supporters on the ground in America, but I was interested in the particular problems a D.C. Democrat has with his party's base.

His eyebrows went up in the way people's eyebrows go up when they're interested in what they're about to say. He said--I write from memory; it was not an interview but a conversation--that he was getting an education in that area. He said when he spoke before local Democratic groups they were wildly against the war in Iraq and sometimes booed him when he spoke of it. It left him startled. He had supported the president for serious reasons: He thought Saddam a bad actor who likely had weapons of mass destruction. He wanted to talk about it, but they didn't want to hear him. They were immovable.

But there was something else. He didn't say it, but something in his manner suggested he thought they were . . . just a little crazy.

I thought of him the other day when I saw Howard Dean say something intemperate on TV. I actually can't remember what it was, one intemperate Dean statement blending into another as they do. I was standing near a small screen with recent acquaintances, all of them relatively nonpolitical, and as I watched Mr. Dean speak I blurted, "Why does he say things like that?" A middle-aged woman--intelligent, professional--answered, "Because he thinks they're stupid."

He thinks who's stupid? I asked. The press? "His party," she said. We both laughed because it sounded true.

But today I'm thinking that's not quite it. Howard Dean is actually the most in touch with his base of all D.C. Democrats because he speaks to them the secret language of Madman Boogabooga. Republicans are racist/ignorant/evil. This is actually not ineffective. It's a language that quells the base and would scare the center if they followed it more closely, but they can't because it's not heavily reported because "Dean Says Something Crazy" is no longer news.

It's hard to know exactly how this divergence will play out. On the one hand, Democrats can't cater to their base without losing the center -- and losing elections. On the other hand, they can't ignore their base without risking the "Joe Lieberman" treatment.

I don't know what the answer is, but this dissonance is a real and fundamental problem. It remains to be seen whether growing frustration over GOP leadership will be sufficient for them to overcome it.


Party membership should be determined by lottery. Every registered voter's ticket goes into this big drum, then representatives from each party take turns drawing the tickets from the drum. If your ticket is drawn by Howard Dean, then you are a Democrat; Ken Mehlman, you're a Republican; Ralph Nader, you're a Green; Pat Buchanan...you're issued an M16 and sent to the border.

Then, if you want to be on the winning side, you have to come to some kind of accomodation with everyone else in your party. If the lefties carry the argument in your party, then you're a lefty -- at least for that election cycle. If the conservatives make the most compelling argument in your party, then you are a conservative. Middle-of-the-roaders still come out road-kill.

I haven't decided yet if party affiliation should be for life or if your ticket goes back in the drum every four years, or whatever.

Even if the Dems can win the majority of either House or Senate, won't we have a repeat of the Republican years, with their indiciveness and infighting? Opposing Bush is the only thing Dems can unite on but that's not moving the country forward.

The ideological extremists are not sitting in the houses of Congress. They do, however, comprise much of the party's activist core -- and yes, I'm talking about MoveOn.org, the Kossacks, and who-the-hell-ever keeps posting in Atrios's countless "open threads."

Wow...I just realized that I qualify as an "ideological extremist". Cool. I feel much better now :)

They all drink from the same trough, BNJ.

Post a comment