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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Talkin’ ‘Bout Their G-g-g-g-eneration

At TAPPED, Matt Yglesias wrote a typically acute reaction to my post about the very different perceptions among Democrats of Joe Lieberman, the “D.C. Democratic Establishment,” and the Clinton legacy. Matt thinks the disconnect is primarily generational.I agree in part. It has certainly occurred to me before that people coming of political age in recent years have experienced a truly weird series of events: (a) the first impeachment of an American president since 1867; (b) the first presidential election to go into overtime since 1876; (c) the first quasi-military attack on the continental U.S. since 1812; (d) the first successful presidential candidacy since 1948 wherein the winner eschewed the political center and appealed mainly to his ideological base; (e) two consecutive midterm elections that broke all the rules about the performance of presidential parties; (f) the first unsuccessful major U.S. military engagement since Vietnam; and of course, (g) the rise of a whole host of hyper-partisan media outlets, from Fox News to the blogosphere.But I have to dissent in part as well. It’s not the reaction to recent events that gives me pause about the netroots interpretation of political life; it’s the ex post facto take on much older political developments. There are two tenets held fiercely in the netroots that are particularly suspect: (a) the development of the “right-wing noise machine” of conservative think tanks and media outlets was the primary reason for the conservative ascendancy associated with the rise of George W. Bush; and (b) Clintonian “centrism” was primarily responsible for the loss of congressional and state-level Democratic majorities in the 1990s.This is not the time or place to supply a systematic smack-down of these two premises, beyond the observations that (a) both the rise of the GOP and the decline of the Democratic Party in the 1990s were rooted in an ideological realignment of the two parties that favored the Right, and (b) the pre-Clinton Democratic orthodoxy had much more to do with the decline of down-ballot Donkey fortunes than anything Clinton did or did not do.But the big point is that even if you think us old guys don’t get it in terms of the current political climate (as a consistent chronicler of GOP responsibility for polarization, I plead nolo contendere), when it comes to the netroots pre-history of how Democrats got to where they are today, my g-g-g-eneration deserves a hearing.

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