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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Outbreak of Party Unity!

It’s nice to see the two main factions of the Democratic party–liberals and New Democrats–burying the hatchet, and not in each other. Check out this article “Come Together” by Robert Kuttner and Will Marshall in the new issue of the The American Prospect. Kuttner, of course, is a founder of that magazine and a long-time stalwart of the labor-liberal wing of the party, while Marshall is President of the Progressive Policy Institute, the DLC’s think tank.
Kuttner and Marshall have had some vigorous, not to say bitter, disagreements in the past, as New Democrats and liberals have squared off on topics ranging from economic policy to welfare reform to electoral strategy. But they’re apparently thinking better of one another these days, as evidenced by the first two paragraphs of their article:
If liberals and New Democrats sometimes seem like the Hatfields and McCoys of center-left politics, it’s because we each believe passionately that America’s progressive soul is worth fighting for. For the most part, these debates within the family reflect principled disagreements about the best strategy for achieving both a just society and a progressive majority that embraces it. But though we still may disagree about some details, after years of radically conservative dominance of national politics, we find ourselves in vehement agreement with a simple proposition: The radical right is closing avenues of opportunity to working Americans.
This right-wing dominance, however, has produced a new unity on the progressive side. In this spirit, a group of us has gathered under a flag of truce to work out an alternative to Bushonomics: a progressive growth strategy for expanding the middle class.

The progressive growth strategy they lay out is a good one and, I would think, acceptable to almost anyone who cares to call themselves a Democrat. The four main elements of the strategy are:
1. Return fiscal sanity to Washington;
2. Don’t starve government, feed innovation;
3. Reform the tax code for the benefit of working families; and
4. Expand the economic winners’ circle.
Kuttner and Marshall provide specific ideas in each area that, again, all Democrats should find palatable and useful. By all means, read the article in full and see what you think. And if that whets your appetite for yet more party unity-oriented material, read E.J. Dionne’s article in the same issue of the Prospect on “Democratic Detente”. Dionne observes:
For two decades, the Democratic party has been riven by sharp ideological arguements. Those debates were in some respects necessary and important. But it’s obvious that many of those conflicts are irrelevant to our moment, and say far more about the past than the future. The road to nowhere is paved with rote disputes between center and left.
Amen. Dionne then lists 10 “tired and useless arguments that progressives ought to stop having” along with “10 new ones that they should start making”. Unfortunately, the article is not available online as yet, so you’ll have to snag a copy of the print magazine to check out exactly what those arguments are. But I recommend you do so; it’s worth the effort.

12 comments on “Outbreak of Party Unity!

  1. Jeff on

    I have nothing important to add except this:
    In January 1942, Winston Churchill met with Franklin D. Roosevelt aboard an American battleship in the Atlantic. The topic was allied unity. Churchill agreed to expand Britain’s war against Japan if Roosevelt agreed that the defeat of Germany would be first. Both men agreed that, even though each side had to make some sacrifices, it served both their interests to work together. Therefore, each agreed to the others demands.
    Later when a reporter asked Churchill how the meeting with Roosevelt went, he held up the V sign with his fingers.
    “What does that mean?” The reporter asked.
    “Victory,” Churchill replied.

  2. frankly0 on

    Apparently, Kerry has settled on a campaign theme: ‘Let America be America again’.
    What’s really interesting about the theme is that it is conservative in the true sense of the word. And it so aptly fits our current circumstance, in which a radical administration has taken a dull chainsaw to the carefully built edifice of American institutions and values.

  3. Mencken on

    on a topic closely related to ideological coherence and democratic party commonality, check out Mark Schmitt’s article from the American Prospect:
    The best quote of which:
    “Liberalism is different from conservatism, not its mirror. Liberalism thrives when it has an opportunity to experiment, to debate, to test ideas. And when, in a time of futility, we also cut ourselves off from the historical roots of our ideas, we lose the benefit of the experience and experimentation that has gone before.”

  4. Mencken on

    I’m w/ paleo on this. bush has got to go and I’m willing to strike almost any bargain w/i the democratic party to ensure that.
    but I wonder if what divides dyed-in-the-wool liberals from the DLC is the very reason dems have been on the shit end of the electoral stick for the last 15 years: namely, an utter absence of ideological cohesion.
    true, dems need to entertain differing viewpoints but I think there’s ample evidence that the democratic party is more accurately described as a coalition of interests; the existence of southern democrats argues for that nomenclature.
    I’m not convinced the party can ever meaningfully bridge its own internecine gulf. and maybe for the next 6 months we don’t need to. but after november, particularly if kerry loses, this divide—-however paper-overed it may have temporarily been—will need to be acknowledged, addressed, and redressed in some lasting way. otherwise, it’s deja vu all over again for the often hapless democratic party.
    I’ve got great respect for Dionne, so I’m anxious to read his suggestions.

  5. eric on

    Whatever the divide is and which wing wins is irrrelvant. Let’s have the debate from the cat-bird seat. Let’s have some accomplishments without ideal goals rather than no accomplishments with ideal goals. Let us make it our agenda which will be implemented and we can debate which aspect to focus when in the process of implementing. Ariana Huffington says it well, “when you house is on fire, now is not the time to discuss remodeling.”

  6. Paleo on

    Coach, I don’t agree. I think the Republican party is far more united. When it comes to foreign policy and economic policy, little division. Only when it comes to the social issues is there a split, but they’ve managed to (1) reduce the emphasis of those issues within the party and (2) social liberals represented a smaller and smaller slice of the party.
    While Democrats have general agreement on the social issues, they are far more split on the other two. When it comes to foreign policy, they are split over Iraq and interventionism in general. And a new split is emerging under the surface over the party’s continuing lockstep march with Israel. When it comes to economic policy, the division between the balanced budget/”free trade” wing and the greater spending/fair trade wing is more like a chasm. Should the Democrats get back in power, those divisions will reassert themselves with a vengeance.

  7. MDtoMN on

    There are serious differences in emphasis between the two wings, and these can lead to serious confilt, because one group might get their way while another does not.
    For instance, the DLC is serious about courting investors and the business community. For them, Fiscal sanity is much more important than tax reform that denefits the middle class and working class. For Liberals, who are primarily interested in social justice for the working class and middle class, tax reform that benefits these groups is more important than a return to fiscal sanity.
    Now both groups can agree they want both these things, but they actually are somewhat contradictory (not necessarily, but it would be easier to achieve either one if you didn’t achieve the other). Now, the Liberals have to worry that, because of a Republican House (and probable Republican Senate), the DLC will get what it wants most, a return to fiscal sanity, but the Liberals won’t get what they want most, tax reform benefiting the middle class and working class.
    IF we actually realize the agenda in the article, it would be a huge success, in light of the Republicans desire to stop us from achieving any of it. My fear is that we will have a return of the Clinton years, where the centrists and DLC achieved so many more of their goals than the Liberals. While Clinton was much better than Bush, he was in many ways NOT ideal, and I think in some ways helped laid the groundwork for 2000.

  8. theCoach on

    But paleo, the fundamental differences are strategic or can be resolved empirically. These kinds of debates are healthy in general, if they are thought of that way, and both sides look for ways to productively make their case.
    The goals, though, are very much the same.
    I do not think the same can be said for the splits in the Republican party ( more of a theocracy, more of a libertarian govt.)

  9. Doofus on

    But the “papering over” is the whole point of the piece. If Dems can make nice and stop quarreling long enough to regain the White House (and maybe the Senate), they can resume their internecine quibbles AFTERWARDS. The problem now is: What to do about Ralph Nader, with his long history of undercutting Democratic presidential candidates and a proven (2000) ability to pull aways crucial votes from the party?

  10. Paleo on

    Sorry. But there are fundamental differences between Progressive and DLC Democrats. They might be papered over in an election year. But afterwards, win or lose, they will reemerge. Kuttner’s and Marshall’s fuzzy and lowest common denominator article notwithstanding.


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