Friday, November 05, 2004[posted by jaed at 3:44 PM]
The last line of defense
For the last couple of days I've been cruising Democratic blogs, as I did after the 2002 midterm election. Reading the comments, trying to gauge the mood among the party stalwarts. What I'm finding is causing me to think that the party really may be on the verge of becoming irrelevant.
I wondered about this after the spanking the electorate administered in 2002. In that year, for the first time, I voted for all Republicans on the national level. Ordinarily, I think divided government is healthier and vote accordingly, but the Democratic Party's national leadership had managed to convince me that it can't be trusted with governance in wartime. I wasn't alone in thinking that, and the Democrats lost seats when ordinarily they'd have expected the usual midterm gain.
I expected a reappraisal of policy and leadership due to that election. I expected that Terry McAuliffe would be booted out as head of the DNC, for example. I expected the leadership would reconsider their policy of obstructionism. But I didn't see that happen, and the first harbinger of that was blog comments and editorials: we can't let any judges get through. We need to prevent anything supported by Bush from passing.
When your party loses an election, you can respond in any of several ways:
- You can say "We really did win, but the other side cheated (or the rules are wrong, or their application was capricious." This was the majority sentiment in 2000. Jeb Bush somehow changed the results in Florida. Our candidate won the popular vote, so the electoral college should be abolished. The Supreme Court decision was bad and indefensible. We wuz robbed.
In this case, you'll go for more accountability, or changes in the process, or for a larger margin so that it can't happen again. You'll demand changes in voting law, such as provisional ballots and retiring of punchcard voting machines. GOTV activities will be a prominent part of your strategy, to increase your margin of victory. Politically, you will be obstructionist, blocking appointments and policy changes.
- You can say "We would have won, if only we'd gotten our message out. The electorate simply didn't hear it, or didn't understand it." This was a very prominent sentiment in 2002. Fox News isn't spouting our line, and a lot of people watch Fox. Americans don't know anything about foreign countries and need to be educated. Our message isn't boiled down enough for the public to resonate with it.
The tendency if you believe this is to repeat what you've been saying, only louder and slower. You'll fund organizations to get the message out with ads, posters, and web sites. You'll hire spinners. You'll concentrate on the media. Obstruction will again be a part of your approach in the legislature.
- You can decide, "We lost because the voters are evil or stupid." Southerners are all racists, and we're the party of justice, so no wonder we can't win the South. We lost because homophobes turned out for gay-marriage initiatives. They're all Jesus freaks anyway. Can we secede from the rest of the US?
This attitude is the last line of defense against taking a good, hard look at your policies. It's the last line because there really is no strategy to take if this is the situation: if your candidates lose because the electorate is irredeemably bad, there's no point in changing the message or the policies to appeal to it. By definition, policies that appeal to a bad electorate are bad themselves. (The only cure is to remove the electorate and substitute a new one.)
A political movement that finds itself in this position has three choices: move to a more enlightened country in order to be with fellow good people, mount a coup of the good people so that they may rule while ignoring the bad majority, or huddle with one's fellow good people and try to ignore the rest of the country.
The Democratic Party will become what a few people already call it, the party that hates America, and its national politics will be characterized by spitting at most of the country, alternating with invitations to become more like the blue states.
Needless to say, if this happens, the Democratic party will not be a national party any more.