Saturday, March 05, 2005

The War Among Democrats

I'm sure all of you know this by now, so I won't bother with links and examples and will just deal with the general issue here, which is that there's a battle going on within the Democratic party at the moment that is entirely counter-productive.

On one hand, you have and their idealogical ilk. These are the folks who maybe voted for Nader when we were all safely assured that Clinton would smash Dole anyway. Or, the folks like me who voted for Nader in exchange for a Gore vote in Florida in 2000. This camp, which I am kind of a part of, would be the old school left camp, the folks who think that FDR's New Deal and Johnson's Great Society are the reasons that American living standards rose so quickly in the 20th century and who want to preserve those ideas in the 21st.

On the other side, you have the Democratic Leadership Council, also known as "New Democrats." They're not to be derided, as they're very smart. And, they brought us Clinton who, for all his faults and foibles, was a great president. These folks are well educated, savvy in the financial markets and support rolling back some big government programs, though not to the extent that Republicans want. They're not "conservative," though they sometimes appear to be.

I have problems with both groups. I'm a social libertarian and neither faction really satisfies me on that front. I believe that the New Deal is still necessary, so I side with the Moveon crowd there. But, I also want to be effective and the DLC takes the edge there, big time. The DLC gave us 8 years of Clinton. Moveon was formed to stop Clinton's impeachment (it failed) and then it supported Gore (who failed) and then it grudgingly supported Kerry (who failed). The only victory Moveon has to its credit is getting Howard Dean named as president of the Democratic party. That's it.

But, I don't want to rag on Moveon too much. We need them. And, the DLC has major problems. Social Security privatization? They're against it now but it was one of their ideas back in 1995. A free and open society full of fun and free expression? Nah, these are the Tipper Gore "warning labels on records" folk. These are the folk who really like Joe Lieberman, who is kind of a Republican in Democrat clothing on social issues. A peaceful foreign policy? Nah, these folks read "The New Republic" as their Bible (so do I, actually, it's a great magazine but I temper it with the New York Review of Books) and The New Republic supported the war in Iraq (as did Lieberman, as did Kerry).

The whole "New Democrat" movement is what Bush tried to emulate with his "Compassionate Conservatism." The very notion, and it's very persuasive because it is so exceedinly modern, is that markets are effective but some people need help to succeed in them.

It's also a litle false. See, what the New Dems forget is that markets only work because there are winners and losers. You buy a stock because you think it's worth more than the price you're paying. Somebody sold it to you because they think it's not worth the price anymore. Somebody's right and somebody's wrong. You think you got a great deal on that car? Somebody thinks they got a great deal selling it to you at that price. Somebody's right and somebody's wrong. Markets are ruthless. I follow them, I write about them, and I'm skeptical of them. I'm not "against" them. They're a great tool for our society. But they're markets and markets can be hard on people.

And yet, turning back to Moveon... you can't just ignore the market. You can't trat them as an "evil" because, there are winners and losers. Having winners is important. And, on foreign policy, though I was against the Iraq war and though, looking back, I think every military intervention we've made, since World War II, under President's of both parties, has been a mistake... oh, wait... I supported the war in Afghanistan. That was the right thing to do. See? This is where Moveon and Michael Moore get it wrong. You can't just be a knee-jerk pacifist -- not if you want to deal with reality as it is.

In the end, the New Democrats are too willing to go to war and are too willing to trust markets and are too socially conservative. Moveon is too militantly pacifist, too supportive of big government programs that most people resent and, though I think they're not sociall permissive enough, they're too arrogant about the social liberalism that they do support.

This war, though, is not a problem. What the New Democrats need to realize is that when the Republicans were out of power, they spent their time building some pretty far right wing groups (Focus on the Family, the Promisekeepers, the Cato Institute...) and while none of those groups have mainstream appeal, they did mobilize Republican voters. Moveon isn't mainstream. The DLC is mainstream to a fault. But I'd argue this -- most Republicans don't really believe that the Apocalypse will occur within the next 40 years and that they're going to be raptured to heaven before the tribulation. But, they do know that they need the votes of people who DO believe that.

And the DLC has to realize that it needs the votes of people who will oppose every single war and who will campaign for the rights of homosexuals to marry, even when it's politically inconvenient.

There's a war going on among Democrats right now. Both sides are basically calling each other "out of touch elites." Howard Dean's job, as president of the party, is to end this war because it's counter-productive. I suggest that the Dems not compromise on social rights issues like gay marriage because it's always embarassing to look back into history and realize your party supported something akin to racism. But they could compromise on foreign policy and at least make it clear that no attack on Americans will go unanswered. They could also compromise on economic matters, as Clinton did, by making sure that the social safety nets of Social Security and Medicare are preserved while still encouraging the financial markets to operate and drive our economy. The New Democrats have to face the fact that they moved too quickly and that they left the traditional base of the party, the environmentalists, the union members and he middle class in general behind. That's why so many smart people voted for Nader before they lost the White House and realized that the stakes are now just too high for that sort of thing.

They're going to have to reach a compromise before 2008, if they expect to win. And shoving Hillary on us, as she veers towards the right, is not the answer.


At 9:24 PM , Blogger tifanie said...

Incredibly well put, and apt.


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