Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Why Howard Dean is the Wrong Choice for the DNC

Hi Everyone,

Before I start, I'd like to thank Dr. Strangelove to injecting new vigor into this blog. After the election we kind of got a flat tire.

OK, here is why I think Howard Dean is the wrong choice for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee:

I just saw Howard Dean on what used to be This Week with David Brinkley but is now hosted by George Stephanopolis. Dean was thoughtful, intelligent and correct about the bizarre kind of "embrace your role in the process" culture in Washington, D.C....but wrong about how to get the Democratic party into power. Dean's vision of what the Democrats need to do is give more power to the activists who would then be more willing to do the grass roots organizing the Democrats need to out mobilize the GOP. I have two points of disagreement with Dean.

First, he assumes that the cause of the defeat in 2004 was due to insufficient mobilization. But the Democratic party got more people to the polls than ever before and exceeded all of their goals for mobilization. The problem was that rural, religious conservatives voted in record numbers too and since the electoral college over represents those interests they won. Ultimately the battle for the White House was a battle for the hearts and minds of the suburban residents of Ohio and Florida. The Democrats NARROWLY lost that battle and narrowly lost the White House. Had Kerry won another 2% or 3% of the vote in the suburbs of Columbus or Orlando we'd have a different President right now.

Second, he assumes that giving power to the activists (which means a shift to the left) would increase support for the Democratic Party. He fails to consider that it is likely that such a move would alienate the suburban voters who ultimately decided the 2000 and 2004 elections. A shift to the left is not what is needed. It would be the end of the Democratic party for the next decade. Its the mistake the British Labour Party made in the early 1980s. Its the mistake the Republicans made with Goldwater in 1964.

I've repeatedly suggested on this blog that the Democratic Party should present itself as an alliance of progressives and libertarians against the religious authoritarianism of the Republicans. The vision Dean laid out on TV today (Sunday) would not lead to such a coalition.

OK all you Deaniacs out there, let the debate begin! ;-)

13 comments:

US West said...

I am not a Deaniac, but I think the Democratic party has little to loose. They need to revolt against the Adminsitration and be bold. And if choosing Dean would help do that, so be it. I am sick of Democratic lilly-liveredness. Look at who they chose as Senate Minority leader! Since the democrats have noting to loose, I think they should quit being so damn cautious because it isn't going to win them votes. I am looking for bold, honest leadership now. And I don't see it anywhere. I swear, if Sharpton runs again, I am voting for him. So do I think Dean is on the right track? No. But if stood up tomorrow and said, "the war is wrong, all of Bush's domestice reforms are wrong, and we will have a new contract with America", he'd get my serious attention.

igm said...

As hinted in RxR's post, the key to an election victory is to capture the disproportionately influential rural vote. Southern democratic candidates do this pretty well. Remember that the only Democrats elected to office in the last forty years have been Southerners: LBJ (Texas), Carter (Georgia), and Clinton (Arkansas). Gore, who earned a higher proportion of the popular vote in 2000 than Bush II, is a Tennesseean. Hubert Humphrey (South Dakota), Mondale (Minnesota), Dukakis and Kerry (both from Massachusetts) have been unable to buck this this trend. I have my doubts that Howard Dean (NYC) can.

See Nation's Poor Win Election For Nation's Rich at my blog for more in this vein. Also, go to the BBC for a great historical perspective on the US election by the numbers.

Raised By Republicans said...

I didn't mean to give the impression that the Democrats should appeal to the rural voters. I don't think those voters will ever change party. They are beyond convincing.

But the suburban voters, who are made nervous by Bush's messianic approach to policy both domestically and abroad, vote for Republicans because they fear the excesses of the Democratic party's left wing activists. Suburban Americans in swing states had to swallow a lot of bile to vote for Bush and only did so because of the Sharpton and Kucinich wing of the party in the party who seem to be calling for massive income redistribution. Suburbanites don't trust the Democratic party as a whole not to cave in to its radical elements. And they fear the radical left more than they fear the religious right.

The Democratic party could convince the suburban voters by emphasizing reasonable preservation and reform of the regulatory/welfar structures along with strong emphasis on personal liberty in social policy.

The problem as I see it is that the debate in the Democratic party has degenerated into those who want the Democrats to radicalize (which I see as suicidal) and those that want to Democratic party to try to appeal to the rural voters (which I see as capitulation).

I think what is needed is a recognition that the major dimension of political debate in the country has shifted away from traditional "left and right" and towards issues of liberty and personal freedom on the one hand and tradition and social conformity on the other. To win elections in that context we need to identify who is still "up for grabs" on those issues. It is not the rural voter. It is not the urban voter. It is the suburban voter.

The Law Talking Guy said...

It is rather an old debate after losing an election for a national party to argue whether they failed by: (a) not being true to their roots, or (b)not being enough like the other guy. RbR weighs in for the latter - arguing that Democrats lost by failing to "appeal to the suburban voter." He argues against a shift to the left.

I could not disagree more. The biggest problem Kerry had was that, other than being anti-war (sort of) and anti-Bush nobody knew what he stood for. It is critical for Democrats to announce and fully embrace a broad unified vision of public policy as an expression of our values.

I believe the Democrats lost because of a perceived lack of strength and confidence in vision and values. GWBush kept stressing that he was consistent and strong, and he was right (sort of) that he is perceived that way. Give suburban voters a clear choice and a strong alternative, and they will come over. American voters are socially liberal and economically conservative, which is the modern democratic party. They voted for Bush not because they agreed with him, but because he seemed firm in his convictions.

The socially conservative voters are the minority, to whom Democrats should never, ever, try to appeal. Doing so makes them appear flipfloppy and wishywashy. The charge that Kerry was a flip-flopper stuck because it rang true: the Kerry campaign was all about pretending he wasn't that liberal. The only policy issue he was associated with (raising taxes) was a disaster. He should have said he was (1) anti-deficit, and (2) anti-bigot. He should have portrayed Bush as moving this country too far to the right, away from the true American values of personal liberty and fiscal responsibility that Kerry proudly stood for.

Howard Dean isn't a great candidate, but he's got the right message. He's the guy who can unify the party along socially liberal themes, which is what RbR means.

Bell Curve said...

I don't know what the democratic party needs. But it would be nice to have someone at its head who is well-liked, well-spoken, and gives a consistent set of ideas. If Howard Dean is that guy, why not?

Raised By Republicans said...

"...be more like the other guy..."

I never suggested that the Democratic party should adopt the policies of the Republican party - at least not anything the Repblican party has run on since Teddy Roosevelt! I'm tempted to call a "straw man" foul on that one.

I reject the dichotomous choice LTG lays before the Democratic party faithful. In addition to "going back to the roots" (i.e. shift further to the left) and "being more like the other guy" (i.e. shift further to the right) there is realignment (the kind of thing that happens once every 75 years or so). I believe that American politics has been in the middle of a realignment for some time now and, so far, the Republicans (and the Leibermans and Reids in the Democratic party) have mistaken this for a shift to the right. They are vulnerable to a Democratic candidate who recognizes the situation for what it is and remakes the Democratic party as a new coalition of progressives and libertarians in opposition to the religious populism of the Republcians.

If Dean is that kind of Democrat I haven't seen it yet. LTG is a big fan of Dean's. If he has details on what Dean wants, I'm ready to be convinced.

I listened intently to Dean's interview looking for signs of what his message actually is. And aside from opposition to the war (which we already knew about) his only statement was to advocate handing more control within the party to the activists. That doesn't seem like a signal to reach out to new constituencies who's policy prefernces are also being trampled upon by the Republicans.

Raised By Republicans said...

This morning on NPR I heard a story that applies to this debate. It seems that part of the reason many Democrats are starting to consider a bigger role for anti-choice candidates is because a faction within the anti-war movement is anti-choice Christians. These are that minority of "pro-life" people who at least try to be consistent in their pro-life stance. They are opposed to abortion, the death penalty and war.

By the way, NPR ran a "pro-life voters are people too" story earlier this week. In that story they interviewed a woman who was a feminist activist in college but is now a "pro-life" activist. The interviewee claimed that there is plenty of support for many Democratic issues among the "pro-life" Christians if only that party would change its position on abortion.

The anti-choice/anti-war activists that NPR interviewed all said that they would have voted for Kerry to register their protest against the war except that he was pro-choice and they could never bring themselves to vote pro-choice so they all voted for Bush.

Many in the Democratic party are saying the Democrats should open the party to anti-choice candidates (not Dean so far but he is in tight with the anti-war people so it could come from him too). But if we listen to the interviews with anti-choice/anti-war activists they said that abortion trumps all other issues. Unless the Democratic party is prepared to abandon its commitment to reproductive freedom for women, they cannot convince these people to vote for Democrats. Because of that, Democrats should not compromise in that direction in a futile effort to get them to. That's why I think giving power in the party to people like Mr. Reid of Nevada is ultimately a mistake (although he has said he'll defend social security so at least there's that).

Dr. Strangelove said...

I am in DC checking the blog on my treo (tiny keys) so I won't write much... but I did want to thank RbR for his kind words at the start of his post. It's a pleasure.

Dr. Strangelove said...

RbR says that the great debate in the American body politic is no longer expressed well by the conventional left-right divide; rather, it has become a struggle between those who value more individual choice and freedom versus those who value more conformity to traditional social norms. Though I am not convinced that he has correctly identified the new boundaries, I agree that the once-mighty peaks of the old divide have worn down and recent upheavals have changed the political landscape. I think RbR's insight is very important.

Leaving aside the problems with the Democratic Party itself, I have come to believe that liberalism in this country has lost its way. Liberals had to fight so hard to change society in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, that many have become weary, bitter, and disillusioned. They are so demoralized that they haven't realized that they've already won. The civil rights movement is over. The women's liberation movement is over. The sexual revolution is over. We've won them all.

Now before I get crucified, let me acknowledge that racism, sexism, and oppression certainly still persist in this country. Let me say plainly that there has been a backlash and that there is work yet to do. But though there remain many "mopping up" operations to fight, Sherman has made his March to the Sea and Grant has broken Lee’s Army. Racism, sexism, prejudice, and discrimination have become the ugly exceptions, not the rule. In public life, it is suicide to be caught espousing such beliefs—even indirectly—and in private life, most Americans now share Martin Luther King’s dream. Liberals have succeeded in transforming almost all segments of societies, urban and rural, traditional and progressive, willing and reluctant. We’ve come a long way, baby.

But like bulls chasing after a red cape, liberals charge at the old symbols of oppression, not realizing that our old enemies have been vanquished, and instead what we are trampling are cultural choices and cherished traditions. We see a housewife working in the kitchen and assume she is oppressed; we see a Confederate flag and cry racism; we see a black man voting conservative and call him a sell out; we see a husband drinking beer and watching NASCAR and suspect he beats his wife; we see Baptist churches and think they are full of hatred; we have fallen victim to the same kinds of cultural stereotypes we sought so hard to eradicate. We are no longer making war on oppressors; we are making war on red-state culture.

Because the truth is that times have changed. There are women in Texas who choose to live at home and put big pink ribbons in their daughter’s hair, but who will fight like tigers to make sure their daughters get the best education the can. There are young white fraternity boys who volunteer many hours a week helping the poor and the disabled. Remembering James Watt’s famous remark, we may smile with pleasure that there are now black, crippled, Jewish, female conservatives. And there are proud, bible-thumping, anti-evolution, homophobic evangelists who preach to a congregation comprising all ages, races, and sexes. (OK, so we’re still working on the homophobia part, but that was a latecomer to the civil rights movement anyway. That war isn’t won yet, but the tide is starting to turn.)

It is time for liberals to declare “Mission Accomplished” and take credit for a generation of noble effort. Sure, there are still a lot of insurgents to put down—but major combat operations are over. It is time to fight the next great fight. There is a division in American society that cuts across red/blue boundaries, which Republicans have tapped into better than Democrats. I do not believe that the “values” issue is a matter of catering to so-called “family” values, but rather toward old American values of community, responsibility, charity, and respect. I will describe these in more detail in a forthcoming post, because it will take a while for me to condense my notes. But here is the essence of it:

1. Honesty in public discourse.
2. Respect for your neighbor. “Live and let live.”
3. Sound, responsible budgeting of taxpayer’s money.
4. Investments in our children’s education
5. Safety net in case of emergencies: (unemployment insurance, health insurance, retirement… social insurance).

I think it comes down a fight between the “We” culture and the “Me” culture. “We” people believe, it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. “Me” people believe, “winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” “We” people believe in helping their neighbors and being a good member of their community; “Me” people believe in doing whatever it takes to look out for number one. “We” people believe in waiting their turn; “Me” people cut in line. “We” people believe that society can work together to build roads, educate children, and promote the general welfare. “Me” people don’t want to pay for anyone else’s children to go to school, and don’t think they owe anything to anyone.

It is time to join hands with people of all the different cultures and traditions in this country—New England moms, farmers in the heartland, workers in the industrial Midwest, god-fearing church-goers in the Bible belt, the hip-hop generation, urban intellectuals, jocks, and geeks—to fight for these common values. It’s time for the “We” people to start standing up for what we believe in, speaking the truth, and demanding change.

Raised By Republicans said...

I agree with Dr. Strangelove that there is much reason for progressives to be optimistic. I don't think that the Liberal Democratic revolution has failed (as suggested by LTG in another posting). I do think it is incomplete globally. And I agree with Dr. Strangelove that we've come a long way. Indeed, American society has come further than many other democratic societies on many measures of tolerance and openness. So progressives should admit a large measure of victory and recognize that much of the change in people's political priorities reflects the widespread belief that many of the older debates are largely settled - in favor of the progressives.

But I'm not so optimistic about the prospects of a universal "joining of hands" among everyone. There are real differences between the two sides of the divide in the "Culture War." The conservative Christian house wife in Texas may want a good education for her daughter but her definition of "good" may be radically different from ours. To her "good" may mean teaching creation instead of evolution in biology class. To her "good" may mean teaching sin ed instead of sex ed in health class. To her "good" may mean teaching students that homosexuality is sin and Islam is devil worship. And it is not enough for her to have the option of private Christian schools, she wants Christian content in the public schools. I've seen this agenda first hand in Ohio. Believe me it is not about merely protecting their personal way of life. Its about requiring local minorities to accept the local majority's view.

On many levels, their ideology is about forcing others to conform to a Christian conservative code of behavior - in schools (Christian content to public school curiculum), at home (ban on gay marriage), in churches (witness the recent conflicts within the Episcopal church over gay bishops, witin the Baptist church about the role of women in marriage etc), everywhere. I fear that offering compromise to such people would only lead to their increased control over the lives of others. The only compromise we can offer them is the one offered them in the Constitution - that they may worship in their private lives however they wish but may not use public policy to impose their views on others.

Going off on a bit of an academic tangent, I'm curious about the "me" vs "we" divide. Presumbably, "we" people support social programs and safety nets based on their empathy for others. But where would "we" people fit if the issue were social conformity? I'm thinking that the imposed social conformity of the Christian Conservatives could be seen as a right wing version of the "we" ethic (i.e. we're all in this together so if you are wicked our whole commmunity is wicked). Social libertarianism could be a left wing version of the "me" ethic (i.e. let me live the way I want to).

Politics is certainly more complicated than simply a religious vs secular divide, a left vs right divide or a communitarian ("we") ethic vs an individualist ("me") ethic. There are many combinations of all these beliefs. The question for the Democratic party is which of these combinations are united against it politically and which are potential political allies.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Thanks to RbR for understanding that my post was painted in very broad strokes. RbR's comments on the mapping of the liberty/conformity divide to the "we/me" divide sound about right. Both divisions are about values and they cross current red/blue party lines--which is the main point. Here's a little more about that mapping.

More conservative "we" people believe that conforming to social norms is a sign of respect for one's neighbors. They believe that you should mow your lawn, dress "appropriately," and that one should follow the rules if they were arrived at fairly (i.e., by following the greater rules). They believe that respect for the rule of law--even if sometimes at the expense of equality or justice--is best for society in the long run. They believe that those who hold minority values should yield to the majority values of the community more often than not.

More liberal "we" people believe that tolerance for individual choices is a sign of respect for one's neighbors. They believe in celebrating diversity of lifestyle and dress, and that one should follow the rules if they are fair (i.e., if they are equitable). They believe that respect for equality and justice--even if sometimes at the expense of the rule of law--is best for society in the long run. They believe that the majority values of the community should yield to those who hold minority values more often than not.

So they differ in how they balance liberty/conformity, but what makes them "we" people is how they approach the issues. They want everyone to live together in peace. They will work with each other and resolve disputes by reaching a compromise as a community; they will find common ground that satisfies, more or less, both meanings of "fair." In the end, respect for their neighbors and concern for the well-being of the entire community trump petty disputes.

For comparison, look at how "me" people would approach such disputes. They would engage in lawsuits, intimidation, and would do whatever it took, fair or not, to get what they felt was right (i.e., what they want.) They do not respect their neighbors and are concerned chiefly for their own well-being. As Newt Gingrich--very much a "me" person--explained this philosophy, "I think one of the great problems we have in the Republican Party is that we don't encourage you to be nasty. We encourage you to be neat, obedient, loyal and faithful and all those Boy Scout words, which would be great around a campfire but are lousy in politics."

I think the Republicans are torn over this issue. The Republican party has been taken over by "me" people like Tom Delay and Rumsfeld and that's why McCain, Chaffee, Jeffords, and others to rebel. Even Orrin Hatch and John Warner are voicing concern. But still, Conservatives speak bluntly and grab the headlines, and also receive the grudging admiration of the voters (witness Tom Campbell) even as they loathe the policies.

Likewise, Democrats are torn. They want to do what's right, but are afraid to offend anyone or make a misstep in the game of realpolitik. Kerry famously hedged most of his language and--in what I think damned his campaign--he voted to authorize war in Iraq not because he believed it, but because he thought it was politically unwise to oppose it. But there are those in the Democratic party who think that if they would just stand up strongly for community values, and speak plainly and clearly, the Democrats can recapture the middle.

And that's why Howard Dean would be good for the Democratic party. He speaks plainly and was against the Iraq war from the beginning. He is also a national figure and a strong speaker. He reaches out to the conservatives (remember the "confederate flag on pickup trucks" remark?) and stands for small government.

We don't need to shift to the right. We don't need to pander to the left. We don't need to try to play the game meaner and nastier than Karl Rove. And we sure don't need another mealy-mouthed party hack. We need an icon.

Raised By Republicans said...

I disagree with a lot of the detail of what Dr. Strangelove just said who is a "we" person and who is a "me" person. But I'll leave that for other debates.

I agree that the Democrats need to get tough more than they need to change their policies.

But the Dean question still remains. Was Dean really reaching out to conservatives when he talked about "confederate flags on pick ups?" As I recall that comment went over like a lead baloon with "NASCAR Nation." They aren't fools. They know Dean isn't one of them and since much of their politics is based on identity being one of them is often all that matters.

Dean's repeated comments about giving more power within the party to activists signal strongly the "pandering to the left" strategy rather than the "reaching out" strategy.

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