[Note: this is cross-posted from TPMCafe.com, as part of a discussion of Todd Gitlin’s new book about the Democratic Party, The Bulldozer and the Big Tent.}
There’s another important reason for Democrats to maintain a “big tent” party beyond those already discussed in this conversation about Todd’s book: if we want to prevent conservative “bulldozers” in the future, we need to embrace traditions and institutions that empower diverse points of view, sometimes at the expense of quick or thorough progressive policy achievements.
It was no accident that Bush-era conservatives steadily descended into thuggish, scofflaw behavior at home and abroad. Building their “ bulldozer” required them to brush aside a vast array of traditional limitations on the exercise of raw power, ranging from international agreements and alliances to the U.S. Constitution itself, along with basic respect for facts and reasoned debate.
Reviving these barriers to “bulldozing” is a task for progressives as urgent as the pursuit of any specific policy goal, however worthy. But we can’t limit the other side without in some respects limiting ourselves.
In his post, Matt Yglesias expressed a widely-held sense of frustration that a “big tent” party may have to tolerate people who don’t share his priorities, or maybe even his values, and who enjoy disproportionate power in Congress. Barring a constitutional reformation of how the various branches of the federal government operate, that will often be the case, no matter how energetically progressives “whip” Democratic elected officials or seek to draw a sharper definition of what it means to be a good Democrat.
And in her post, Digby eloquently explains the reflexive hostility of many netroots activists to “big tent” rhetoric, particularly when deployed by self-appointed “gatekeeper” elites with a poor record of effective opposition to the “bulldozer.” But when the final gate is crashed, and the last Beltway pundit has shuffled off to self-absorbed retirement, there will remain legitimate differences of opinion among Democrats on subjects large and small that can’t be dismissed as representing cowardice or corruption.
Indeed, you hear those differences of opinion every day in the progressive blogosphere, which, despite all the talk about movement-building and Noise Machines, is itself a “big tent.” The only “compromise” really required of netroots activists in the maintenance of a “big tent” Democratic Party is to extend their own community’s implicit code of open debate in which no one, whether it’s a U.S. Senator or Markos Moulitsas, gets to pull rank and squelch diverse points of view.
Every time I get into one of these “who’s a real Democrat” arguments, I think of an apocryphal tale many years ago of a sociologist whose research into the “Protestant work ethic” led her to Wrigley Field on a summer afternoon, curious about the 30,000 or so fans who didn’t appear to have a day job. She asked one grizzled Bleacher Bum about his apparent defiance of the “Protestant work ethic,” and he replied: “Look, lady, I’m a bad Catholic. Sometimes I’m even an atheist Catholic. But I’m no goddamned Protestant.”
There will always be a few self-identified but self-exiled Democrats who have to be ejected from the flock, but by and large, those who are clear that they are “no goddamned Republican” should be embraced. And a big part of being “no goddamned Republican” is to eschew the “bulldozer” tactics of the latter-day GOP, and its assault on principles and institutions necessary to restrain raw power and give democracy a fighting chance.
Just as fall is the start of the Oscar movie hunt — when the studios shelve their popcorn features and roll out their character dramas — September marks the return of the serious book. While much of the literary buzz will be focused on bright, new novels, the autumn calendar is loaded with political nonfiction. Among the highlights this month: Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush by Robert Draper. In late 2006 and early 2007, Draper — a journalist with GQ and a former writer for Texas Monthly— was granted six hour-long interviews with the President. During the writing of this book, he also interviewed more than 200 source close to Bush. What emerges is an attempt to give an intimate view of the Bush White House from the perspective of an outsider without an ax to grind. Excerpts from the book are already running on Slate. Early reviews say that the general picture is familiar to readers of the Woodward books (Bush at War, Plan of Attack, etc.) but that the details are fresh and revealing. Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes by Mark Penn. Any kind of book by Hillary Clinton’s chief strategist and pollster released this close to the 2008 elections is intriguing for reasons beyond the particular content. But Penn’se ffort to identify the national cultural trends in religion, leisure, politics, and family life is interesting on another order of magnitude. He uses decades of research to produce the data and numbers which make up his trends, and much of what he writes is fascinating (for instance — he notes that 57 percent of journalists are women, and that in the fields of public relations and the law, gender proportions are trending the same way). If that sort of thing isn’t your cup of tea, you can always read every page looking for insight into Sen. Clinton’s campaign strategy, and if I’m a high-level guy for Obama or Edwards, that’s exactly what I’m doing this week. Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World by Bill Clinton. We all know that President Clinton’s current gig is philanthropist-in-chief, and Giving is a call to action for individuals to develop creative solutions to combat the problems of the world. It will be fascinating to see how the publicity for this book develops. Remember, Clinton’s memoirs set a worldwide record for single day non-fiction book sales, and he won a Grammy for the audio-version he recorded. You can be sure that each of his media appearances (starting with his appearance earlier this week on Larry King Live) will be closely coordinated with his wife’s campaign. My guess is that you can start queuing up for the book signing at the Barnes & Noble in Des Moines now. The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgement Inside the Bush Administration by Jack Goldsmith. This weekend, the New York Times Sunday Magazine will publish a profile of Goldsmith, former chief of the White House Office of Legal Counsel, charged with telling the president what he is legally allowed to do. In 2003. In his first weeks on the job, Goldsmith came across the infanous “terror memos.” For the rest of his tenure in the White House, he tried to bring the administration back under what he saw as the rule of the law, fighting entrenched Bush officials on everything from trials of suspected terrorists to domestic surveillance. The preview of the NYT Magazine piece is already on the paper’s Most Emailed Articles list, and Goldsmith’s book hits the shelves on Sept 17th. Given that this thing comes out after Gen. Petraeus gives his report, I suspect it’s going to be in the news — a lot. Big Con: The True Story of How Washington Got Hoodwinked and Hijacked by Crackpot Economics by Jonathan Chait. Big Con, by the LA Times columnist and New Republic veteran Chait, is already getting debated on economics and politics blogs all over the Net. The book’s hypothesis is that reverse-Robin-Hood economic policies have been the most consistent feature of the Bush-era GOP. Chait offers a history of supply-side economists and a study of the baleful influence they’ve had on the Republican Party and public policy. The book is being excerpted on TNR’s web page, and the first sentence begins, “American politics has been hijacked by a tiny coterie of right-wing economic extremists, some of them ideological zealots, others merely greedy, a few of them possibly insane.” While I’m not sure Big Con will convince any card-carrying Club for Growthers of the error of their ways, for the rest of us, I imagine this will be a good introduction to a subject we could all know a little more about, delivered in Chait’s trademark acidic style.
It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the Iraq debate in Congress later this month will revolve around a big political strategic question: which party will split?
The Democratic congressional leadership, having abandoned a bipartisan approach during the last Iraq debate, seems now inclined to return to it. It’s unclear at this point whether this calculation is aimed at producing a Republican split (via a non-binding resolution urging a change of strategy in Iraq and an immediate drawdown of troops), or avoiding Democratic defections from a more hard-line stance of denying appropriations without a withdrawal commitment and timeline.
Whatever it represents, the leadership strategy is producing some serious blowback among antiwar Democrats generally and the progressive blogosphere specifically, as the Kos post linked to above reflects.
And the question wll inevitably be reflected in the presidential contest, though last time around, four of the five candidates who had to vote on the May Iraq suppmental appropriations bill (a.k.a. in blogger parlance, the “Iraq capitulation bill”) voted “no,” with Joe Biden the conspicuous exception.
Perhaps because this issue isn’t producing much clash in the presidential debate, wary antiwar Democrats continue to focus on a separate issue: how many “residual” troops do Democratic candidates plan to leave in Iraq even after the conventional combat troops are withdrawn?
In that connection, Chris Bowers at OpenLeft has put up two very useful posts, the first slicing and dicing the Democratic candidates’ positions on post-combat-troop-withdrawal “residuals,” and the second analyzing a poll showing that rank-and-file Democratic perceptions of the candidates’ Iraq withdrawal plans aren’t necessarily accurate. But aside from their informational value, Chris’ posts will help reinforce an emerging blogospheric CW that Bill Richardson’s rise into double digits in IA and NH is attributable to his obsessive talk about the “residuals” issue, and could produce a shift towards a more categorical get-out-of-Iraq posture from Edwards and Obama, if not HRC.
Getting back to the congressional debate, the growing netroots anger at the congressional leadership’s bipartisan talk about Iraq is complicating the “Bush Dog” campaign–begun by OpenLeft’s Matt Stoller–to isolate, intimidate, and in certain cases “primary” Democrats unwilling to challenge Bush to the maximum extent on Iraq and on FISA. Will Harry Reid eventually be labeled a “Bush Dog?” Will Nancy Pelosi? And if so, then what does that say about the authority to identify party orthodoxy and heresy?
Here’s hoping the Iraq debate does not go in this direction. As most Democratic commentators would agree, all but a few Democratic Members of Congress, and all of our presidential candidates, would deal with Iraq in a decisively different way than Bush or any of the Republican presidential candidates (other than Ron Paul). Just last night, we saw a GOP candidate debate in which one of the decisive moments was an argument as to whether the Bush “surge” was simply improving the security situation, or instead portended Final Victory. And the Final Victory advocate was adjuged as winning the debate.
Within the limits of acknowledging the basic and abiding differences of Ds and Rs on Iraq,, it’s obviously legitimate to choose between Democratic presidential candidates on their specific Iraq plans, which do differ.
But whatever Democrats can do to keep this month’s Iraq debate focused on Bush and the GOP, rather than themselves, would be very helpful in the fight to rid America of its horrific current management.
Last night Fred Thompson skipped the Fox News candidate debate in New Hampshire in order to finally announce his presidential run on Jay Leno’s show. And today we learn, via Garance Franke-Ruta, that word’s getting around Iowa about a blog post penned last month for The Hill last month by the deputy communications director for Fred’s campaign, suggesting that the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses were, well, basically unpatriotic.
With the subtle title “Put America First: Make Iowa Go Last,” Karen Hanratty accurately says Iowa’s political power has helped preserve federal ethanol subsidies. But she goes on to argue that money currently spent on these subsidies might better be used for infrastructure construction and repairs. Given the date of the post (August 10), it’s pretty clear Hanratty is alluding to the Minnesota bridge disaster. So her message is really this: the Iowa Caucuses Kill.
Hanratty wasn’t officially aboard the Big Fred Machine when she wrote this toxic little love note to Iowans, but you have to wonder if it came up in her job interview. Here’s guessing she won’t be chowing down on corn dogs in Des Moines any time soon.
The Democratic candidate boycott of the outlaw Michigan and Florida presidential primaries that was negotiated last week theoretically takes those states off the table. But as Robert Novak notes in a column today, the vote will still be held in MI and FL, and the results are likely to reflect the national standing of the various candidates, absent any personal campaigning.
The Dark One, quoting Bob Shrum (who is also being boycotted by the presidential candidates, and thus gets plenty of exposure as a “neutral” pudit), goes on to suggest that could help Hillary Clinton offset possible losses in IA and NH, which are still certain to move their dates back to the first week of January, in part because there is at this point no Republican boycott of MI and FL.
What Novak and Shrum seem to miss, oddly enough, is the extraordinary impact that results in the first two states typically have on the national standing of presidential candidates, most notably in 2004, when John Kerry went from single digits in national polls to an overwhelming lead after NH. If Edwards or Obama or Richardson, or some combination of the three, beats Clinton in IA and NH, then her current big lead in national polls is likely to vanish, and the perfect mirror of the national race offered by a campaign-free Michigan will reflect that. FL is also likely to reflect the cumulative state of the race after SC.
The larger issue is whether anyone will care what happens in these two pariah states. It will be an interesting test for the chattering classes: if Republicans do compete for MI and FL, it will be impossible to simply ignore them, as unauthorized “beauty contest” primaries have sometimes been ignored in the past. And it’s also likely that the Democratic candidates will find some way to run surreptitious under-the-radar campaigns in IL and FL, even as the candidates themselves stay aloof.
To follow up on yesterday’s post on the need to build some bridges of cooperation between environmentalists and labor, can we have a lusty “Amen” to the point made in the concluding couple of sentences? For many years, not a few environmentalists seemed to be saying, in essence, to workers “The bad news is that your particular job would be toast as a result of the reforms we advocate. But take heart, good fellow, the good news is that there will be net job creation.” Tough sell, that one.
Jock Young’s Kos post touched on one such highly difficult conflict — between the advocates of tougher CAFE standards and auto workers. This conflict is especially troublesome because of the central importance of America’s auto industry in our economy, and also because stricter CAFE standards can help cut our addiction to mid-east oil and thereby reduce the propensity of knuckleheaded political leaders to get bogged down in military quagmires in oil-rich countries. Not incidently, it’s also one of the key reforms needed to reduce air pollution and global warming. This conflict HAS to be resolved in a way that both protects America’s auto industry and it’s workers and drastically reduces U.S. oil consumption. The science has arrived. Now it’s time for the best thinkers in the Democratic Party to do their part to resolve the conflict, and there isn’t a hell of a lot of time.
“Energy Independence” is a great rallying cry. But somebody’s got to take the lead. One possibility is Al Gore, who deserves a lot of credit for raising the level of environmental concern in the Democratic Party, as well as in America and worldwide. It’s bitterly ironic that the Green Party’s presidential candidate prevented Gore from winning the presidency, according to one popular analysis of the 2000 election. But as grown-ups, we have to face the fact that the Green’s constituency didn’t come from nowhere, and Nader’s Florida vote wasn’t all about Nader. The Democrats’ track record on environmental concerns has not always been impressive — that’s why there is a Green Party.
But Gore’s emergence as one of America’s preeminent environmentalists, along with his savvy as a seasoned political leader who understands Labor’s agenda and just grievances, affords an opportunity to strengthen the Dems’ claim on Green votes. Gore isn’t running for President, but he can nonetheless play a pivotal role in building a bridge of solidarity between unions and workers on the one hand and environmentalists on the other — all under the banner of the Democratic Party. Give Dems a sharper profile as protectors of the environment, as well as jobs, and we will win the votes of Americans concerned about environmental degradation, including many Green Party members, Independents, swing voters — and even some Republicans.
Anyone paying much attention to comparative politics has probably noticed that organized bloggers and their readership–i.e., the core of the “netroots”–has played a much more prominent role in U.S. politics, especially on the left side of the spectrum, than in other highly “wired” countries. There are numerous possible explanations for this example of “American exceptionalism,” including the relative weakness of institutional parties in the U.S., which creates a more decentralized political environment.
One explanation may be derived from differences in the legal regimens affecting the blogosphere. While there have been plenty of political efforts to marginalize bloggers in the U.S. (most recently by Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, who tried unsuccessfully to make the YearlyKos event radioactive), the one truly significant action restricting blogospheric expression has been the U.S. military’s decision to block service members’ social networking sites and blogs due to security and bandwidth concerns
This relative freedom from regulation may be the exception rather than the rule.
Allison Hayward, a Professor of Law at George Mason University, has posted an unpublished manuscript of her research on government regulation of political blogs. Hayward compares the regulatory regimes of the United States and Germany for clues as to how the legal foundations of political speech may affect the development of internet advocacy. She sees this cross-national study as essential to understanding the present and future of the internet as a political tool because of enormous growth in foreign web traffic ( almost 70% of all content is now written in a language other than English), as well as the international nature of the web as a medium that transcends geographic and political boundaries.
As one of the more enduring conflicts within the Democratic Party, environmentalists and unions have been mired in polarizing disagreements over the employment effects of proposed environmental reforms for decades. Timber workers, auto unions and oil industry employees, to name a few, have all butted heads with greens over environmental policy reforms, and sometimes the fallout has had negative political consequences for Democrats.
Jock Young has a post on “Labor and Climate Change” over at The Daily Kos, discussing some of the sources of the conflict in the 21st century and a possible approach for healing the brach. Says Young:
As an environmentalist, I am keenly aware of the need for making Common Cause with Labor, and with the attempts by business and free-market idealogues to drive a wedge between our groups with the “jobs vs. envirnoment” trade-off myth. At no time will the need to bridge this gap be greater than in the coming debate over climate change policy.
To start with a simple example, auto workers (and the Michigan politicians they elect) are convinvced that raising fuel-economy standards will cost jobs. On the surface it seems ridiculous that building better cars that more people want to buy should require fewer jobs. But apparently the assumption is that raising CAFE standards will increase the price of cars and people will buy fewer of them, even though there seems to be little evidence for either part of that equation. Nevertheless, we can’t just wave off such concerns and claim everything will be fine. We need to work through the problem together and work out policies to mitigate any costs that do actually turn up.
…A more fundamental, economy-wide concern is that reducing carbon emissions will require reducing energy use, and this will translate directly into lower economic productivity in all sectors. This is a much more complex concern to address, and may require some careful framing along with thorough research and information sharing. We need to really sell the fact that if we “do it smart” through increased energy efficiency and the use of only the most cost-effective renewable energy sources, the long-term effect will be a streamlined economy and increased competitiveness. Renew the faith in American Ingenuity, and the fact that American Ingenuity requires American jobs.
…The more we can sit down with Labor groups and go through specific calculations showing the expected net result on job creation from these policies, the faster we can build a strong coalition. Even better if Labor is included in the coalitions writing up these policy packages in the first place.
Young rolls out some basic principles of environmental reform he feels can win Labor’s support, and quotes from Eban Goodstein’s book, The Trade-Off Myth: Fact and Fiction About Jobs and the Environment about the importance of guaranteeing job security as a prerequisite for meaningful environmental reforms. All well and good to know that environmental reforms produce net job creation. But it is critically important that workers know that their employment will be secure when reforms kick in.
With Congress on the cusp of a major fight over Iraq policy, in which an important data point will be whether or not any action short of a funding cutoff can convince the Bush administration to change course, there appears today in Slate an excerpt from a book by Robert Draper based on a series of recent interviews with the Decider himself. Today’s piece features an interview just after the 2006 elections.
It’s a chilling interview, frankly. We’ve all known for years that George W. Bush is unreflective, stubborn, and unwilling to admit mistakes. But what comes across in the exchange with Draper is something far more dangerous; a conviction that policy failures and repudiation by the public somehow demonstrate Bush’s Higher Wisdom:
His hot dog arrived. Bush ate rapidly, with a sort of voracious disinterest. He was a man who required comfort and routine. Food, for him, was fuel and familiarity. It was not a thing to reflect on.
“The job of the president,” he continued, through an ample wad of bread and sausage, “is to think strategically so that you can accomplish big objectives. As opposed to playing mini-ball. You can’t play mini-ball with the influence we have and expect there to be peace. You’ve gotta think, think BIG.
The thought of “thinking big” led Bush directly into a discussion not of Iraq, but of Iran:
“The Iranian issue,” he said as bread crumbs tumbled out of his mouth and onto his chin, “is the strategic threat right now facing a generation of Americans, because Iran is promoting an extreme form of religion that is competing with another extreme form of religion. Iran’s a destabilizing force. And instability in that part of the world has deeply adverse consequences, like energy falling in the hands of extremist people that would use it to blackmail the West. And to couple all of that with a nuclear weapon, then you’ve got a dangerous situation. … That’s what I mean by strategic thought.
It certainly sounds like Bush internalized the now-forgotten (if not ridiculed) assessment of him by the Right just after the initial invasion of Iraq as some sort of World-Historical Figure whose primary responsibility is to ignore adversity and controversy and do what he thinks best in a “big” way. And while I’m a bit skeptical of the talk around the blogosphere that the administration is seriously planning military action on Iran, it does bear noting that such an audacious move would comport well with the self-image he conveys in this interview.
The primary season opens in earnest with a fun challenge from NDNblog‘s Peter Leyden. How many times have you watched a political ad and scoffed “I could do better than that?” Well, it’s time to put up or shut up.
Leyden reveals a nifty idea being applied by the Romney campaign — empowering supporters to create their own ads. The Republicans in general may be behind in using internet resources, but Leyden gives due credit to the Romney campaign for “Enabling the Creativity of the Crowds in Politics.” As Leyden describes it:
The campaign is using Jumpcut, which Yahoo bought last year, as the tool for “mashing up” video, audio and photos in creative ways. The campaign provides a base of content to use, but they also encourage people to upload their own material to remix…Mash-ups” refer to repurposing material meant for one thing to communicate another. It’s similar to the more familiar “remixing” of music from original songs into new creations. The mash-up technique has been used somewhat in politics, though not in official campaigns. The most famous example is the “Vote Different” remake of the Apple 1984 done by a person who remained anonymous for several weeks earlier this year. Moveon blazed a trail in the 2004 campaign by creating a contest to create a TV ad about “Bush in 30 Seconds.” However, all the submissions were original and there was no material provided to create the ads via a mash-up.
The downside is that there is a certain potential for abuse. But the bet is that most users will use the technology in a positive way. (To see how it works, click here.) On balance, says Leyden:
Despite the risks, Romney is going down the right path. The most successful candidates will be those who can harness the energy and creativity of large numbers of American citizens. No one candidate or small team of consultants can pull off an election victory these days. They need the ideas, passions and efforts of many, many people working together for a long, long time.
A worthy challenge for Democrats with creative ideas for ads.
Late in the evening of the special election in PA-18 Tuesday night, before it was clear Democrat Conor Lamb had won, I offered some reflections at New York
While we don’t yet have a clear winner in this election, we do have a clear loser: the Republican Party. This was, as I argued some time ago, the “no-excuses” special election for the GOP. This congressional district is strongly Republican and strongly pro-Trump. Saccone wasn’t a perfect candidate, but he wasn’t a disaster like Roy Moore, either: He had enough outside money and enough get-out-the-vote help from the national party and conservative groups to counteract anything Lamb could throw at him. Plus, he had massive support from the president, his family, and his administration, in an iconic Trump Country district that almost perfectly typified the Rust Belt areas that decided the presidency. If Lamb wins, it will represent a historic disaster for the GOP. If Saccone wins, it will still send a stark warning sign to the majority party in the House as we head toward November.
Republican message-meister Frank Luntz put it plainly this evening:
Whatever the outcome tonight, #PA18 is an extremely bad omen for the @GOP.
Make no mistake: It is a leaning Republican district that is leaning no more.
Yes, this is a special election; some might imagine that in a regular election, such as the one in November, more Republican voters will show up. The problem with that hypothesis is that turnout today was at full midterm levels. There’s no reason to think turnout patterns in November will be more favorable for the GOP, particularly given the massive Trump administration attention that this district got during this contest.
Another Republican rationalization we have already heard from the Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito is that Conor Lamb is not a real Democrat (because he was nominated by a convention and didn’t have to win the votes of left-bent primary voters), and thus his performance does not show how real Democrats will do in November. But, by any standard, Saccone is a real Republican who ran more than ten points behind the normal GOP vote in Pennsylvania’s 18th district. And Lamb was lifted to parity with Saccone by the very same labor movement — battered and diminished as it is — that will be fighting for Democrats in swing districts all over the country. Dismiss labor, dismiss energized rank-and-file Democrats, and dismiss the ability of the Donkey Party to find suitable candidates like Lamb, and you’re well on the way to underestimating the likelihood of a Democratic wave in November.
Yes, a lot of things can change between now and then. But we are now seeing a regular pattern of Democratic over-performance in special elections — whether they ultimately win or lose — spanning the entire Trump administration so far. This election may just be another data point among many, but put them together and they unambiguously show big trouble for Trump and his party. To paraphrase Frank Sinatra, if they can’t make it there (in southwest Pennsylvania), they can’t make it anywhere. And it’s time they woke up and smelled the bitter coffee.
As of this writing, Saccone still hasn’t conceded, despite his cause looking hopeless. But it could be some time before his party recovers from this one.