Fat Steve's Blatherings

Friday, July 01, 2005

What Planet Do Democrats Live on?


      Two good posts (and a new book) illustrate why the Democrats don't win elections: they're disconnected from reality.

  • They really think that if you just explain it properly, and call it something else, a majority will vote for socialism.

  • They're under the impression that Reagan and the Bushes won not because the voters were in favor of their policies, but despite them.

  • They cherry-pick facts to support this, and ignore evidence to the contrary.

At Length:

      I'm a big fan of Rick Perlstein's book Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the unmaking of the American consensus (see my Amazon review).  Well, last year Perlstein published an article on how to make the Democrats competitive again.  He replied to various critics here.  Let's take a look.

      Perlstein starts off sensibly enough.  He thinks the Democrats keep throwing away the future by concentrating on the next election.  He thinks this destroys the health of the party.  He recommends that the Donks stand up and say: 'This is who we are, this is what we stand for, this is what we want to do,' cling to their core principles, and build a movement.  He cites Goldwater, and the alleged takeover of the Republican Party by Conservatives as the model to emulate.

      First, the conservatives of today are not the same as the conservatives who started the movement.  Perlstein, like many lefties, is obsessed with the belief that Republicans and conservatives are racists.  They were once.  One prominent fifties and sixties conservative wanted to back Orville Faubus as the great defender of constitutional government!  But that's dead and gone now.  In a recent straw poll (reference lost, I'm afraid), something like 48% of Republicans backed Condoleeza Rice for President.  And the conservative wing of the party loves Condi.

      Another example: the Democrats kept attacking Republicans as people who'd wreck social security.  Reagan, asked about it on the campaign trail in 1980, said he'd preserve and strengthen SS.  Ron voted for FDR for President four times, and was a big fan till the end of his life.  We are not your grandfather's roll-back-the-New-Deal conservatives.

      Historically, you might also remember the Federalists and Whigs.  When the Federalists dissolved, it was because their anti-democracy position was no longer viable.  When the Whigs formed, they adopted some of the Federalist's positions, but they got rid of the ones that weren't viable.  Similarly, when the Whigs fell apart over the slavery issue, the northern Whigs bit the bullet, took a clear stand against the extension of slavery, and invited Free Soilers and Abolitionists to join them.

      But Perlstein is your grandfather's socialist-who-calls-himself-a-liberal-or-a-social-democrat.  He wants to tax and tax, spend and spend, regulate and regulate.  And he can't take seriously the idea that most people regard that as dubious.

      Perlstein cites some information from Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg, listing the top eight issues in the country.  Perlstein sees them as mostly tending to help Democrats.  The issues, with comments:

    1)  “The state of healthcare in America.”

          I'm sure people are worried about affording health care.  But the big problem in healthcare is that everyone wants expensive health care, and they want someone else to pay for it.  The voters don't believe that the govt. will soak the rich to pay for the health care of the masses, they think it will come out of the middle class's taxes.  They're right about that.  They also think that, for the same level of service we now enjoy, government health care will be much more expensive.  They're probably right about that, too.  These points destroyed Hillarycare, and they'll destroy future Democratic attempts at national health care.

    2)  “Rogue nations, like Iran and North Korea, armed with weapons of mass destruction and working together with global terrorist organizations.”

          Here, the Democrats can't win.  That's because the Michael Moore/MoveOn wing of the Democratic Party is on the side of the terrorists and the rogue nations, and it won't let anyone be nominated who will face the issue squarely.

    3)  “Rapidly rising federal deficits.”

          Perlstein sees this as a tactical problem for Republicans.  It isn't.  For one thing, Perlstein's vision of the future Democratic/liberal/social-justice-oriented/whatever Party/movement is of people who say "Hang the deficits, spend whatever is necessary."  That's a prescription for fast rising deficits.  And if Democrats try to make trouble on the issue, all you have to do is ask them HOW they would cut the deficit.  They won't cut spending, and the voters reject higher taxes.

    4)  “Two-parent families spending 22 or fewer hours with their children every week in order to work and earn enough.”

          So how will the Dems help this? ?  By somehow making the society and economy different, so that “parents” (in honest language, mothers) won't “have” to work as much.  I'd like to see the plan for that, Rick.

    5)  “The state of education in America.”

          And soon we'll be hearing the latest chorus of the ‘we don't spend enough on the public schools’ song.  Fewer and fewer believe that.  But the Dems are so beholden to the teacher’s unions, they can't propose anything else. 

    6)  “The middle class being squeezed, because their incomes are stagnant while prices are skyrocketing for housing, college tuition, and health care, with employers contributing less each year.”

          There, the Dems have a shot.  Most people think the government can ‘do something’ about prices and job security.  But it's thin, real thin.

    7)  “Big corporations having too much influence.”

          Another one where the Dems might have a shot, if it weren't for all the corporate fatcats that back them.  Anything that would really take away corporation's powers won't be done.

    8)  “The growing inequality of income in America.”

          That might be a good issue, but what does it mean?  My sense of the matter is that people worry about getting poorer.  But what Perlstein wants to do is prevent people from getting richer, relative to the rest of the country.

      In short, Perlstein really believes there's a great market for socialism, if you just explain it properly.  I'm fairly sure he's wrong.

      Perlstein also has strange ideas about the politics of the U.S.:
      The conservatives’ original willingness to stake themselves to the long term was reflected in gallows humor: “I think we had better pull in our belts and buckle down to a long period of real impotence.  Hell, the catacombs were good enough for the Christians,” the publisher of the National Review, William Rusher, joked in 1960.

      . . . And this very willingness to commit became the margin of difference that allowed a set of not all that popular ideas to become a winning platform.

      Ronnie, elected in spite of his unpopular ideas?  You got any direct data showing people voted for him saying ‘I disagree with his positions on everything, but at least I know what he stands for.’  This is more of the 'socialism-is-popular' delusion.

      In a very revealing quote, Perlstein says:
The Democrats should aim for clarity, too—not least because economic-populist proposals are popular; also not least because, as Klinkner notes, they are morally imperative.

      Well, maybe in Perlstein's mind, but lots of us think that people have a moral right to keep what they have legally earned.  And while that used to be the position of a very small minority, today it's much more widely endorsed (Ayn Rand, thou did not live in vain).

      In another revealing quote, he says:
      The dominant social reality of recent decades—future historians will judge our era strange for not questioning it more insistently—is increasing economic unfairness. Yet many establishment Democrats still deny a core lesson of history: that economic anxiety (of the sort Stanley Aronowitz and Robert Reich succinctly describe) can be a uniquely galvanizing electoral force.

      Rick buddy, ‘unfairness’ is not the same thing as ‘anxiety.’  And somehow, no matter how much you howl about ‘iantiquety,’ you never do anything about it, directly.  You let the Kennedys, the Soroses, the Buffets, the Gateses get richer and richer, let them dodge taxes, and take big money contributions from them.  Until you're willing to propose a capital levy (a tax on net worth), spare us the unfairness bushwah, please?

      Finally, what on earth are we to make of this?:     
My hope is not particularly small-d democratic, but at least it has the advantage of precedent.  It is that a patrician politician, winning the presidency on a middle-of-the-road platform of balanced budgets in a time of social calamity, saves capitalism from itself by turning his back on the values of Wall Street and bequeaths to his party grand dreams upon which to build a generation of ideological dominance.

      In 1932, it was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  In 2004, let it be John Forbes Kerry.

      This is insane.  In 1932, unemployment was 25%, the Dow Jones was down 90% from its peak, and on the morning of FDR's inauguration, the banks failed.  Today, the Dow is down 13% from it's all time high, unemployment 5% (essentially full employment), and the worries are long term (can GM survive it's idiotic pension and medical plans?).  And whatever else one thinks about FDR, no one ever accused him of being afraid to make a tough decision.  Kerry as heir to Roosevelt?  Get outa town!

      The reaction to Perlstein's article, and his new book, show a lot of Democrats supporting him.  See Henry Farrell and Matthew Yglesias, for instance.  As Jane Galt nails it:     
But even worse are the folks telling the progressives that the only problem is that they are misunderstood. Howard Dean, like a lot of my acquaintances, seems to believe that the only reason Republicans keep winning is that people somehow don't understand what they're up to. On fine regulatory questions, that is undoubtedly true--but I doubt that many voters know what Clinton's telecoms policy was, either. On big questions, such as taxes, the budget, the military, or what have you, the voters have a rough but workable idea of the differences between the two parties, and there is no evidence that there are systematic differences in their misperceptions of their politicians (which is to say, they believe some wrong things about Republicans, but about an equal number of wrong things about Democrats). The problem is not ignorance, or that they've been lied to. It is that they don't like what Democrats stand for.

      Democrats, here's some workable advice.

  • Run the Jew haters out of the party: it's immoral, it's insane, and it's for losers.

  • Run the anti-Americans out of your party.

  • Run the technophobes out of your party.

  • Get over Marxism.

  • Get over your idiotic vision of the glorious future in which every despotic regime on earth is peaceful.

  • Get over your attitude that those who disagree with you are ignorant, stupid, and viscous.

  • Adopt a sensible positions on gun control, abortion, school prayer, and other divisive social issues: ‘Let the states, cities, and counties decide for themselves; the federal government should stay out of it.’

  • Side with USAmerica against the terrorists.

  • Find some government programs that don't work, and promise you'll kill them.

  • And when someone proposes a ‘new’ program, don't even consider it unless you can state, in short simple sentences, what it's supposed to do, how you tell it will work, and why you think it will work.

      Fortunately for GOP me, it will never happen.



  • Steve, one of the reasons I know that economic populism ("socialism," if you insist) can upset the Republicans' electoral apple cart is that powerful republican strategists, when they think they're only speaking amongst themselves, say so. Here's Bill Kristol, in a famous 1993 memo you may have heard of: "Health care is not, in fact, just another Democratic initiative...the plan should not be amended; it should be erased.... It will revive the reputation of the...Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests." I'd say this memo is the skeleton key to understanding modern American politics, if, as a historian, it didn't make me yawn. There's nothing here that's unfamiliar to historians who've read Republican secrets going back 25, 35, even 70 years. You can sum them up in ten words: "If the Democrats succeed in redistributing economic power, we're screwed."

    I respect your moral case, though I disagree with it profoundly. But your political case it pure bush league.

    Rick Perlstein

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:34 AM  

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