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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Having just praised a Kevin Drum post, I have to register a dissent from another one. Reacting to a blogospheric colloquoy, extending to Matt Yglesias and Noam Scheiber, about generational differences in perceptions among Dems that I seem to have sparked with a recent post or two about Lieberman, Kevin scolds us old folks for worrying about the influence of the Left in the Democratic Party at a time when we should all be focused on the opposition:

Why should anyone even moderately left of center spend more than a few minutes a week worrying about a barely detectable liberal drift in the Democratic Party? Will the tut-tutters not be happy until CEOs make 1000x the average wage instead of the mere 400x they make now and the 200x they made during the Reagan years? How much farther to the right do they want Dems to go?….Worrying about lefties in the Democratic Party when the GOP is led by a guy named George Bush is like worrying about the Michigan Militia when a guy named Osama is driving airplanes into your buildings. The fogies need to get real.

Let’s put aside the slur about “fogies” wanting Democrats to move “farther to the right.” I sure as hell don’t, and I don’t think the quite young Noam Scheiber does, either. And I plead innocent as well to the charge, made by Kevin elsewhere in his rather angry post, that Democrats whose formative experiences were in the 1980s and early 1990s are obsessed with the need to play off lefty excesses to establish their mainstream credibility. Maybe Mickey Kaus feels that way; clearly my colleague The Moose–who is not, for the record, even a Democrat–thinks that’s what Democrats should do. But I don’t. And let’s remember why we are having this conversation. It’s not because hysterical centrists are scouring the political landscape looking for lefties to demonize or expel; it’s because there is a large and vocal body of opinion in the Democratic Party, some of it ideologically driven, some of it just partisan, that is deeply wedded to a particular interpretation of how the two parties got to their current condition. This interpretation heavily relies on the belief that in the 1990s and the early years of this century, a centrist, Clintonian Establishment sold out progressive principles, refused to fight against a disciplined Right, happily gave up Congress and a majority of the states, and essentially conceded defeat, in the pursuit of power and comfort, and the praise of David Brooks and David Broder. This is, indeed, a narrative widely shared in the netroots, and it has helped energize netizens to enlist in a conscientious effort to cleanse the Democratic Party of the centrist malefactors who let this happen.To the extent that this narrative is based on “facts” that some of us old fogies find to be empirically wrong, I don’t think we should be blamed for pointing that out. Because in the end, this is really and truly a debate among Democrats about how–not whether–to drive Republicans from power in Washington and elsewhere. I’m happy to “get real” about that, but reality does involve an honest discussion of how we got where we are today.

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