Here at TDS, we do not deny there are plenty of debatable differences of opinion among Democrats but do like to explode the phony “struggles for the soul of the party” that grow like mushrooms in poor light. And there was a big one published today by the New York Times Magazine. I took it on at some length at Washington Monthly:
The New York Times Magazine‘s’ Robert Draper, who last drew major attention for speculating that Rand Paul’s presidential campaign might create a “libertarian moment,” swings for the fences again in a “Democrats in Disarray” piece for the ages. I don’t know if his essay completely justifies the headline: “The Great Democratic Crack-Up of 2016”. But he sure does show that if you look at the 2014 elections strictly from the perspective of Democrats who want to make apocalyptic claims about the plight of the party and then refuse to acknowledge any alternative explanation, then yeah, it looks pretty bad.
Maybe I’m prejudiced because I wrote a whole book–not a long book, but still a book–about 2014 without once considering the argument that Democrats lost because they were in the grip of mad lefty hippies, or because they had sold their souls to Wall Street.
Yes, I was aware there was a sizable and vocal group of people who subscribed to each proposition, but let myself be seduced by political scientists and other dispassionate people that things like turnout patterns, the economy, the electoral landscape, and the long history of second-term midterm disasters for the party controlling the White House, probably mattered more than the struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party some have been waging for decades.
Robert Draper sure didn’t go that way. He treats 2014 as an inscrutable disaster probably attributable to Democratic divisions and/or to the people on the wrong (i.e., left) side of the Democratic barricades being too much in charge. And then he plunges on into the current cycle, where he treats the Democratic Senate primary in Maryland as a microcosm of the party’s irrepressible conflicts and the suicidal impulses of progressives. Throughout the essay, the intra-Democratic debate is described as though the Progressive Change Campaign and Third Way speak for everybody.
Like any healthy political party, Democrats have a lot to debate on policy, political tactics and strategy, and occasionally, basic goals and values. Part of what bugs me most about the Draper piece is that it indirectly suggests that debate invites political disaster. It can, if divisions are taken too far. But 2016 is about as likely to become the occasion of a “Great Democratic Crack-Up” as it is of a “libertarian moment:” not much at all.