The first installment of the inevitable intra-party Democratic debate over what yesterday’s victory means has been stimulated by Fox Newsish claims that Dems took Congress by running conservative candidates who will be at odds with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. And this spin war has converged with a pre-election argument about where Dems should look for a national majority.One Democratic spin on the results has been that the Donkey Party won by consolidating its Blue State strength, snuffing congressional Republicans who had previously survived by pretending to be more moderate than the national GOP leadership.There’s some truth to this take, if only because a national “wave” election tends to take out the Nancy Johnsons and the Jim Leaches who indeed were living on borrowed time.But the results do not provide a good argument for Democrats to write off Enemy Territory and focuse on their Blue State geographical base.15 of the 28 Democratic House gains were in Red States, most of them in Red or Purple Districts.3 of the 6 new Senators are from Red States.3 of the 6 gubernatorial pickups for Democrats were in Red States.About half of the state legislative gains were in Red States.We are beginning to turn Purple States blue, and Red States purple. I can’t imagine why any Democrat would think of this as bad news, but there is clearly a point of view among Democratic intellectuals that messing around with voters in Red State areas, particularly in the South, represents an exposure to ideological contamination.I am beginning to slog my way through Tom Schaller’s recent book, Whistling Past Dixie, that makes the most intellectually credible case I’ve read so far for Democrats to eschew any southern strategy. I will probably review the book somewhere or other, but the bottom line is that Schaller’s worried about the ideological risks involved in any Democratic strategy that involves the weird, religiously-oriented, “backward” South, as opposed to allegedly progressive ground in the Midwest and West.I don’t know how much time ol’ Tom has spent in the Rocky Mountain West, which he posits as a vastly more progressive region than the South, but I have to tell you there are a whole lot of rednecks there, which doesen’t bother me but should bother Schaller. And I’m not sure I understand why it’s okay for Democrats to focus on states like Indiana, which have not gone Democratic since 1964, but not okay to pursue votes in places like Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennesse, Kentucky and Georgia, which have cast their electoral votes for Democrats in the last decade or so.On the more general point of whether it’s a problem for Democrats that their freshman class has some alleged “conservatives” on board, the much-esteemed Mark Schmitt nailed it over at TAPPED:
Unlike Tom Schaller, I have to admit, I wasn’t bothered at all by the spin that the Democrats won because they embraced a lot of candidates with conservative views and backgrounds….[T]he bulk of the Democratic majority came from Northeast, Midwest and Mountain seats where the winners were not conservative.So the spin that the Democrats won because they moved in a more conservative direction is inaccurate. But so what? Consider the alternative spin, which is that Democrats are a bunch of extreme liberals, who will be as far out of touch as the Republicans and who will be destroyed in 2008? I’d rather have a party that’s fairly liberal but has a reputation or image as moderate than one that’s really moderate and over-cautious but has a reputation for being extremely liberal, which was the situation through much of the 19990sThe fact is that the Democratic Party has been a centrist, moderate party for some time, in the sense that on balance the party’s governors, legislators and policy agenda fully represent the center of public opinion. (As shown, for example, by the fact that the viewpoint of independents was very much in line with that of Democrats.) But it was a damaged brand; it needed a remake of its image. This is a chance to do it, by showing that the party has in fact incorporated the center. Highly visible veterans, openly religious candidates, and social conservatives like Casey send a cultural signal, not an ideological one, a signal that this is a party you can be comfortable in. Sometimes you need to seem like you have changed just to make people understand what’s been going on all along.
Truth is, moderate Democratic candidates do pretty well all over the country, given a chance. But if we perversely decide not to compete where such candidates do particularly well, we will handicap our party, just as Karl Rove handicapped Republicans by demanding partisan loyalty to a highly ideological agenda.