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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Oh, What a Lovely Day for a Purge!

Peter Beinart, editor of the The New Republic, proposes in their latest magazine that Democrats stop all this unity nonsense and get down to what’s really important: purging the party of all those wrong-headed “softs” who don’t have the backbone to stand up (really stand up) to the new totalitarian threat of Islamic fundamentalism. Their failure to “report for duty” (Beinart specifically mentions only MoveOn and Michael Moore but I think his criteria for softness would also implicate most of the liberal blogosphere, most Dean campaign activists, a good chunk of the leadership of the 527s and countless others within the party) cost the Democrats the White House in 2004 and will do so forever until Democrats decisively remove them from power and influence in the party. Yes, it’s purge time in the glorious spirit of the late ’40s actions against Communists and those soft on them within the Democratic party.
Boy, what a great idea: a massive, no-holds-barred faction fight about who’s really tough on terrorism. That may make the blood course in Beinart’s veins, but I guess I’m not entirely convinced it’s necessary.
For one thing, his prescription seems more suited to, say, the Democratic party of the late ’40s than it does to the actually-existing Democratic party of 2004. Noam Scheiber, who is actually quite hawkish himself, makes this point in considerable and, in my view, devestating detail in a comment on Beinart’s piece on the TNR website.
Also on the TNR website, John Judis takes Beinart to task for a political prescription that won’t work and a complete misunderstanding of MoveOn and Democratic-oriented internet activism in general. I couldn’t agree more. Here’s a couple of key paragraphs from Judis’ article but I urge you to read whole piece:

Initiating factional warfare with, or even purging, everyone to the left of Joe Lieberman will not create a viable Democratic Party. Okay, that may be an exaggeration of what Peter prescribes, but there are clear echoes in his essay of Ben Wattenberg’s Coalition for a Democratic Majority, which tried to do something similar after the 1972 Democratic defeat by creating a party centered around Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson. The voters didn’t buy it, and they won’t buy Peter’s party either.
Peter also misunderstands MoveOn.org and the various other Internet-based groups that have sprung up in the last five years. They are not an old-fashioned militant left but part of a college-educated post-industrial center-left politics that was developing under Bill Clinton in the 1990s. One of their big issues was the deficit, hardly a left-wing concern. They became identified with “the left” because they were early and prescient opponents of the Iraq war–a position that can no longer simply be identified with the left and that is not a reason to criticize them. Sure, they shouldn’t have participated in marches with the Workers World Party, but these new movements are organized by people who don’t have long political pedigrees. If anything, they are the best hope for a new moral vision that will animate the Democrats.

19 comments on “Oh, What a Lovely Day for a Purge!

  1. Michael on

    Beinart can push his own version of Bush’s “let’s have a nice little war” all he wants, but there’s a great difference between that and dealing with terrorism. Opposition to our late habit of blithely engaging in military action does not automatically entail being “soft on terrorism”, and Beinart needs to realize that. And he can propose all the purges he cares to, but I doubt that gutting the party is going to prove to be a winning electoral strategy, much less a road to an emerging Democratic majority.
    And Scheiber’s charming proposal that the corporatist wing of the party bide its time until it’s managed to use the rest of us to get into office and then conduct a purge reminds me sickeningly of the popular front tactics of the 30’s CP or the inside-outside tactics of the 20’s NSDAP–do you really expect moderate Democrats to go along with this, Noam? As a “born-to” Democrat, I’ll tell you now: no way.
    The more the DNC looks to these guys, the less credit it has with real Democratic moderates, who like me are increasingly sceptical that their contributions to the national organization are being used for the benefit of the party. Here’s a real touchstone for you: the Democratic party of the state of Washington is paying for a hand recount of the gubernatorial vote, and the state party appealed for funds to do that. Dean (for whom I do hold a brief, in case you ask) appealed to his supporters to send money to the WA party; the DNC asked supporters to send money to . . . the DNC. What does that tell you about who “gets it”?

  2. Steve Sailer on

    I’m a Republican, but I’m an American first, and now that Bush is purging from the Executive Branch everybody who was right about Iraq, the last thing I think my country needs is for the Democrats to purge everybody who was right about Iraq.

  3. Cugel on

    If the Democratic party really wants to purge and get down to about 30% national support and disappear like the Whig party, they’re welcome!
    The Iraq war is going to go on for the next 3 years and will only be a bloodier Vietnam. (Anyone inclined to doubt this should read what the Iraqis REALLY think of us free of the inane self-censorship of the US media: http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com/2004_11_01_riverbendblog_archive.html)
    And we’re not going to leave voluntarily (remember the debates when Kerry mentioned those bases “of a permanent character”? As long as they’re there the war will continue. And Bush isn’t giving them up while it continues.)
    Thus, the defining issue of our times will be: when do we say enough is enough and just get out?
    Suppose that a Democrat in 1966 said that supporting the war was the only acceptable position in the Democratic party and that they needed to purge everyone who disagreed – as some did?
    The purgers might actually want to look and see the majority of people who think Iraq is a mistake already and wasn’t worth it! What will those percentages be by 2008?

  4. CharleyCarp on

    There is a fundamental problem with the whole thesis. The fact is that we HAD a better policy for dealing with Islamic terrorism, and it is readily apparent to anyone paying attention at all that the current Admin’s policy was not serious.
    Yet, nobody believed we were serious, and despite all the evidence to the contrary, they believe that the other guys are.
    There wasn’t really anything wrong with our policy or, so far as I can really tell, with our candidate. What we didn’t do well at was winning over people who are accepting a cartoon version of the threat, and the US response to it.
    No amount of handwringing, or purging, is going to get us over this. Rather, our best shot is to be who we are, play to our strengths, stop whining to reporters about how the candidate is messing everything up, and hope for some good luck.
    [By luck, I have to observe that GWB has something relatively rare going: the Fundamentalists accept him as one of their own, as do the Royalists. About which potential successor can this be said? It wasn’t true of either GHWB or Bob Dole. Look for ther next guy to be overinvested in one camp or the other — and we have a shot. Unless, of course, we commit ourselves to 4 more years of circular firing squads.]

  5. Fran Spragens on

    Stating that the Democratic Party was “soft” on Communism in the 40s and 50s is as silly as stating that MoveOn is “soft” on terrorism. Don’t these people ever listen to anything except the mainstream media and read anything but Ann Coulter. Nothing could be more untrue but it is the picture the far right has painted of Democrats and sold to the country via their contolled media.
    I’m also not impressed by people who call themselves “liberal” but who vote for Republicans such as Reagan and Bush because they believe they are “tough” on Communism/terrorism/ etc. They, too have been sold a bill of goods by the right wing. There is no reason to believe any Democrats will be or is less “tough” on terroism than Bush.
    Plenty of us who oppose the Iraq war also oppose the terrorist policies but we see a difference in being “tough” and simply going off to war half cocked with not enough troops or armaments and continuing into what may be another long, costly war that we’ll be paying for a long time.
    Iraq was not the source of the WTC attacks and we are still not addressing those who were. We are simply pig-headedly fighting an expensive, probably unwinable war in order for Bush to create an image of invincibility and keep himself and the Republicans in office by keeping the nation fearful and deceived.
    Marching with radicals? Well, if you want to protest, and you hold a march, you can’t always screen out everyone who shows up. The important thing is to make clear that you are not responsible for everything that everyone at the march believes. You are just protesting ONE thing – the Iraq War, not all U.S. policy. Differentiate yourself from elements you aren’t aligned with and don’t let the far right connect you to them.
    I haven’t read the article in question, although I’m reading a lot about it, so I can’t comment on it directly but a purge of the Party? I can’t see what that would accomplish except to please Bush and Rove.
    Sure we need to hash out our differences, as was stated. We don’t need a blood bath to do it. If we are really the Party of inclusion and I think we are, we don’t need to engage in DeLay like tactics and we are wrong if we do.
    There is room in the Democratic Party for many different kinds of opinions and it is one of our strengths. If we start demanding that we all believe one thing and adhere to one line we are just like Bush in his demand for strict obedience to his beliefs and his methods. That’s not the kind of Party I want and I don’t think many Democrats do either.
    It may, however, be the kind of Party the majority of the country wants and the kind that some of the “liberals” who voted for Bush and Reagan want. I think those people are in for an unpleasant surprise in a few years when we have only one Party in the country and when Bush is President for Life. Then it will be too late.
    That’s why we need to make it clear we are the only Party that really welcomes diversity and a free exchange of ideas.

  6. Vance on

    Beinert is not calling for the Democrats to be Republican-lite or for a purge of everyone left of Lieberman. He has called for the Democratic party as a whole to realize the great threat posed by Islamic fascism and to develop a clear message for meeting that threat. There is no reason that that message could not include respect for civil liberties, avoiding needless conflicts that only incite extremsism and the greater use of American soft power. But until a clear position for the meeting the threat is articulated the party will be on the outside looking in regardless of the support it has on domestic issues.
    It’s easy to show that the Republicans deserve contempt. What we need to show is that Democrats deserve respect.

  7. davidgmills on

    I am a lawyer and have been a Democrat since the early 70’s, though once or twice since that time, I voted for a Republican president (what was I thinking?).
    I have seen nothing but a march toward the right in the past 35 years. Howard Dean gets it. The notion that we can or should out-Republican the Republicans is the dumbest I have ever heard.
    I have lived in the south all my life. This notion that the south will vote Democratic any time soon is the second dumbest thing I have ever heard.
    It is all right to try to be competitive here but the party should focus first on locking up the more liberal midwest. I can’t tell you how frustrated I am that the Republicans are so competitive in the midwest and seem to have a lock on Indiana. I doubt they won Ohio this time (I think it was stolen, more about that in a minute) but Republicans seem to have been winning off and on in Ohio for some time. Iowa and Wisconsin have been very close of late with the Republicans winning (stealing) Iowa this time as well.
    These states are far more liberal than Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee (where I live), Texas (where I grew up, used to live and went to law school), or North Carolina (where I went to college). Only Florida, (where I went to grad school) might be as liberal but only due to the racial minorities — not the whites.
    If the Democrats want to change strategy, the only strategy that might work for southern and rural white America is to nickname the Democratic party, the Anti-Corporatist party, tagging the Republican party, rightly so, as the corporatist one.
    Even rural and southern white people resent the corporatist control of our government and it is so easily pointed out because they understand corporations control their lives as well.
    I have fought corporations as a lawyer for 25 years. There is a reason that corporations do everything possible to prevent from being a named party in a case. They usually get clobbered by juries when a jury gets to hear a corporation was involved or when a corporation is the party who is going to have to pay.
    Anti-corporatism is a bandwagon almost every one will get on, especially when you give them this quote by Mussolini:
    “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of corporate and governmental power.”
    I can think of no better example of fascism, as Mussoli defined it, than allowing four privately held corporations to count nearly every vote cast on Nov. 2.
    Who wanted this easily defrauded computerized voting system that has no paper trail? The corporatists (Republicans), not the anti-corporatists (Democrats).
    Who wants to merge all the news media into a few huge corporations that control all of what we hear? The corporatists, not the anti-corpoaratists.
    Who wants to have corporate social security? Just guess.
    Who wants to have es-corporate executives running our agencies? Guess again.
    Our founding fathers were really skeptical of government sponsored corporate power; it was the East India Tea Company’s tea that went into Boston Harbor. That was when corporatism was in its infancy.
    What Beinhardt is proposing is that I become a corporatist. He can forget it. I will always be an anti-corporatist and as soon as I hear someone like Beinhardt start talking, I think of Mussolini.

  8. Samuel Knight on

    Bienert’s article was a desperate cry for attention. His magazine can’t get their facts right – repeatedly, has churned our right wingers, and faces steadily decreasing readership. Heh why not just attack one of the biggest Democratic groups? Generate some coverage!
    His analogy is facile. Islamic terrorism just isn’t the threat that Soviets were. No-on outside of the US believes that it is the biggest issue facing the world today. We aren’t leading the free world anymore, because no-one is following.

  9. Stephanie Dray on

    I really resent the lumping together of the “War on Terrorism” and the “Iraq War”.
    I am a centrist Democrat who, in the aftermath of the World Trade Towers, argued that we should not only attack Afghanistan, but occupy it for the near future until we could retool it the way we did with Japan and Germany, so that people in the Middle East could see America with new eyes.
    We had an opportunity to help defeat Islamo-fascism there, by showing the world that America, even when bloodied, could do the right thing with the support of International law. I wanted us to make an impoverished nation better, even after they supported the person who attacked us, so that we could root out the cultural resentments that are behind contemporary fundamentalist terrorism.
    Instead, we diverted almost all our resources and attention to Iraq. I might have even supported it if we went to war with the kind of broad world-wide consensus we did in the Gulf War.
    But instead, we did so without the blessings of International Law. We did so in such a cynical and hypocritical manner as to convince the Middle East once and for all that we were only in it to steal their oil, and we have now reduced world opinion to the point where we don’t have the moral authority to even weigh in on Darfur.
    Seeing the Iraq War as the most collosal blunder in my lifetime has nothing to do with being soft on terrorism and if you’re going to start purging people like me, I’d like to see who exactly the party has left in the aftermath.

  10. demtom on

    I read a comment at some other blog from a former Nader voter. He said, essentially, he’d been blamed for Gore’s 2000 loss, so this time around he played it smart and voted for Kerry — only to find he’s STILL blamed for the loss, simply for existing.
    As Ruy has basically been saying since the election, it’s imbecilic to talk about tearing up the foundations when you’ve lost an election by an eyelash to a wartime incumbent. In 1984 this kind of discussion had validity; now it merely expresses the previously-held prejudices of the writer. (Hey, after 2000, the DLC expounded on where Al Gore went wrong — overlooking the inconvenient fact that he’d received the most votes)
    A few random thoughts on this subject:
    I’m not certain you can claim the purges of the 40s were a complete success — they were followed by the Dems losing the White House and Congress for the first time since 1932. (And, sort of tangential: as I read The Best and the Brightest, it was the purge of all those who actually understood/predicted China’s turn to Communism from the State Department that allowed for the cluelessness over Vietnam)
    There are no doubt super-fringe folk who thought the Afghanistan invasion was utterly immoral (as opposed to those who thought Bush was incompetently planning it), but hardly enough to demand show trials. And, as Ruy says, Beinart seems to implicitly conflate, with this tiny minority, anyone who was smart enough to oppose Iraq from the start. Beinart has been man enough to acknowledge error in supporting Iraq, but he’s still showing certain colors: preferring to excommunicate those who were right about it in the first place (slightly reminiscent of the McCarthy era’s “prematurely anti-fascist” label). It’s as if he’s saying, I was wrong, but somehow I’m not as wrong as the people who were right.
    More to Ruy’s overall point: parties rarely gain anything by denouncing their members. The press loves to cite Sister Souljah as Clinton’s defining moment, but in fact that was a quite singular event (one as much designed to separate him from Jesse Jackson, who had stolen too much of Dukakis’ thunder in the post-primary period four years earlier, as “the left”). On the whole, Clinton did a good job of making progressives feel as if they were “on board”, even when he did things counter to their wishes. The Beinart/From/Lieberman approach, on the other hand, appears to be, insult your base; make them feel totally ignored. Recipe for a serious third party, if you ask me.
    Has the GOP done this? They famously suffered their worst defeat with Goldwater in ’64, but even immediately after, they didn’t feel the need to burn the wingers at the stake. They were unhappy when Reagan managed the nomination, but they dutifully fell in line for him, and, when the Gipper surprisingly triumphed, it was a love fest (“We are all Reaganites now”). Could you imagine Beinart et al. doing the same for a Howard Dean nomination — Dean who’s not remotely as far left as Reagan was right?
    Today the GOP benefits massively from the enthusiasm of the far righties, to the point where GOP elders never dis even the most absurd comments from the mouths of Coulter, Falwell et al. Yet Dems — who benefit equally from ginned-up turnout of its party’s base — spend seemingly more time lambasting Micahel Moore than George Bush. It’s foolishness and wasteful, and I wish they’d just quit it.

  11. Jason Bradfield on

    I suppose it is politically incorrect now to point out that people who view radical Islam as a threat of the same magnitude as Soviet Communism are the real extremists.
    Yes, 911 was very bad. But do you honestly think Al Quaeda is as threatening as having hundreds of nuclear warheads pointed at you?
    Furthermore, what exactly is Beinart suggesting we do other than puffing up his little chest like a 9 y/o boy who is playing army?
    It should be noted that a policy of non-intervention i the Middle East that the Left has endorsed would have prevented anti-US Islamic radicalism from arising in the first place. Instead over the last 40+ years US leaders have constantly gotten the US government entagled in the provincial issues of the Middle East. Why doesn’t Beinart and other gung-ho military enthusiast recognize that?

  12. Marcus Lindroos on

    > Beinart doesn’t suggest the “softs” of the 40s
    > were the “hard left,” but rather they were soft on
    > Communism, the largest threat to democracy at
    > the time.
    I am not going to comment on the current situation vs. Islamism (for now), but as a European I am slightly surprised there was a perceived need in the 1940s/50s to strongly oppose *ALL* forms of Communism. After all, the local Communist parties in France and Italy were quite strong yet they generally supported the local government — not Moscow. Was there really a need to discriminate against all Communist sympathizers in that case? Would a “softer”, “nuanced” strategy against Communism really have been worse? A certain toughness would of course have been required, but I don’t see why a little more principled opposition to the likes of McCarthy or the decision to invade Vietnam would have hurt…

    As for today, I think it would be better if the Democrats worked harder at explaining their current position, as opposed to uncritically embracing a Scoop Jackson/Joe Lieberman like approach.

  13. DemDude on

    Post-election finger-pointing and circular firing squads are venerable Democratic traditions, which Karl Rove and Ralph Reed no doubt find endlessly amusing. But they don’t do a lot for our future prospects. Liberal and conservative Democrats do need to hash out their differences, but it should be done with a modicum of mutual respect so we can work together like grown-ups to create a majority coalition that can actually win political victories.

  14. Catherine on

    I tend to agree with Beinart although I think his conflation of support for the war on terror with support for the war in Iraq is problematic.
    Let me use myself as an example. I’ve always been both an economic and social liberal, but I happily voted for Reagan both times and Bush I in his first term. Why? Because the Democratic Party had no policy for ridding of the world of totalitarian Communism and didn’t recognize that it was a more serious evil than domestic budget cuts for social services.
    The issue of Iraq is more complicated, because you can support getting rid of Hussein as a humanitarian measure and still argue that it was a strategic blunder in the war on terror (see James Fallows’ article in the Atlantic for that case). But the Democratic Party certainly has developed no clear plan for ending Islamic fascism and if the Republicans can convince me that they can run a competant war on terror, they might win my (liberal) vote again.

  15. Eric on

    I think John Judis is mistaken about what MoveOn stands for. It is clearly the central organizing tool for the “softs” of which Beinart is discussing. Beinart doesn’t suggest the “softs” of the 40s were the “hard left,” but rather they were soft on Communism, the largest threat to democracy at the time. Similarly, MoveOn (an organization of which I am a member) is clearly soft on today’s biggest threat, religious terrorism and Islamic fascism.
    In any event, Beinart doesn’t suggest a purge, but a reorientation of priorities. Campaigning on health care, affordable housing, and balanced budgets isn’t going to cut it when the biggest threat facing us today is terrorism and Islamic fascist movements abroad.
    It is unfortunate that liberals can’t see that.

  16. Sid on

    I listened to Peter’s arguments on the Al Franken Show this morning, and I wondered if he was trying to drive a wedge through the party. Alienating the MoveOns, 527s and other organizations would be the end of the party (and perhaps the beginning of a new one?). I have many friends who are not members of MoveOn or any other organization, but they subscribe to the same beliefs. If Peter is simply looking at the membership numbers of these organizations then he’s way off base and he’s asking for trouble.
    I would venture to believe that the grassroots power that has formed in the progressive community over the past several years, has the potential of being much more powerful and effective than the evangelical-Left Behind people could ever dream of.

  17. Chris Woods on

    I read Beinart’s proposition in TNR as well and found it quite historically intriguing, but lacking a common understanding of contemporary liberalism.
    I agree that the War on Terror should be a significant issue in the foreign policy of the United States, however I don’t think the purge that Beinart proposes is the right plan for a Democratic party that suffered a recent defeat. This may just be some post-election blues surfacing in Beinart’s analysis.
    I feel it is more important to take into consideration proposals that Theda Skocpol offers in “Diminished Democracy.” Skocpol offers ways to increase membership and participation in modern voluntary federations in America in an effort to bring back the democratic nature of associations and politics in America.
    Overall, folks like Michael Moore probably aren’t good for Democrats. But let’s not make him the face of Democrats. Let us take the folks who gathered in the grassroots and fought for what they believed in.
    These folks come from across the political spectrum–whether they’re they far left professionals of MoveOn or the folks from Howard Dean’s campaign to those folks who realized the potential of the Internet through John Kerry’s campaign.
    Let us utilize every asset possible to continue building the emerging democratic majority!


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