Dr. Bartlett Diagnoses the Democrats' Dilemma
It is in all of our interest--all those who want to raise the level of the debate, at least--to read, cite, and carefully respond to the writings of Bruce Bartlett, who:
- is smart.
- is thoughtful.
- is brave--braver than all the rest of us who have never managed to get ourselves fired for writing what we believe.
Such bravery should be rewarded with wide-scale intellectual influence, if only to make future bosses hesitant about firing intellectuals who tell political-inconvenient truths. So how about it guys?
Today I want to comment on what Bruce Bartlett thinks is the problem with us Democrats: that we have too few cowardly and cynical careerists in our ranks, willing to say anything to get themselves or their patrons elected:
The Democrats' dilemma -- The Washington Times: By Bruce Bartlett: From what I read on the blogs these days, most Democrats believe that their party's single biggest problem is that it is not tough enough. Their solution is to be ever more shrill and hysterical in attacking Republicans. As a Republican, I think this is wonderful. It just makes Democrats look like kooks, and forces moderates to vote Republican.
Actually, I think the Democrats' biggest problem is simple ineptness -- they just aren't very good at coming up with politically attractive ideas and marketing them effectively.... The fact is that a lot of people who get into politics don't really have any ideology. They could just as easily be Democrats or Republicans, because they don't have anything in particular they want to accomplish in terms of policy. They just like the spotlight, or the thrill of running for office or want a nice line on their resume.
When such people first decide what party to join, they are not concerned about where they would feel most at home philosophically. Rather, their only concern is which party will give them the best chance of winning.... This helped the Democratic Party enormously because those whose only interest is winning tend to be better at it than ideologues.... [T]hose without any ideological baggage will simply tell voters whatever they want to hear and strive to do so in the most engaging way possible.
Ideologues find these people revolting. They are viewed as nothing but prostitutes -- selling their votes to the highest bidder -- who don't believe in anything except winning.... At one time, almost all those who just want to win and don't stand for anything were Democrats.... These people helped the Democrats in various ways. They provided the marginal votes to keep control of Congress, presented a more attractive public face for the party than the dour ideologues and helped shape and craft its program and message in ways that voters responded positively toward for decades....
The prostitutes' switch from the Democratic Party deprived it of potential winners and effective strategists. The party was left only with those who view any deviation from the party line as heresy. Such people don't know how to win and don't really want to. They would rather die for principle than settle for half a loaf. That's the Democrats' problem today.
As one of the very few people in Washington brave enough to get himself fired for saying what he thinks, Bruce Bartlett's views have to be weighted heavily and must be treated with great respect. But I think his diagnosis is wrong. Markos Moulitsas, after all, likes Mark Warner. Mark Warner is Joe Lieberman with a human face--his policy differences with Lieberman aren't that big. (They are, however, important: Lieberman coquettes with Likud's annexationist fantasies, has drunk the koolaid on Iraq, was worse than missing-in-action during the 1995 Social Security debate, and has displayed a pathetic eagerness to help Wall Streeters report phony accounting numbers. Warner doesn't.) Hillary Rodham Clinton hasn't been a liberal ideologue since at least the day in December 1994 that she called Dick Morris and told him to come help her husband.
Democrats face structural problems. Democrats tend to be more urban than Republicans--which means that the natural state of the Senate would be to have about 60 Republicans and 40 Democrats. Democrats' commitment to African-Americans means that they have acquiesced and encouraged a gerrymandering process that tends to create two solid-Republican house seats for each house seat created that is likely to elect an African-American. These cannot be reversed, or at least the Democrats cannot reverse them without losing their soul and ceasing to be real Democrats--just as the Republicans sold their soul to Richard Nixon's southern strategy and are no longer Republicans: certainly Seward, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dewey, and Eisenhower would have a very hard time being Republicans today.
But even with these disadvantages, Democrats are very competitive. And as an attendee at too many meetings of Democrats I can assure Bruce Bartlett that the Democrats' problem is *not* a lack of cowardly and cynical careerists willing to say anything to get elected. No no no no no... That's not our big problem.
Democrats' big problem, I think, springs from the fact that a lot of people have a false image of today's Republican Party. Bruce Bartlett, for example, votes Republican because he still imagines that Republicans are in essence the party of fiscal conservatism and small government. If only we could get him and others to wake up and smell the coffee...