May 09, 2007
More on the Democratic Split

There’ve been more comments on my last post on Obama than any previous post received. (Admittedly, nearly a third of the comments are mine, but that’s because people keep bringing up good points in the discussion.)

For example, one comment showed that one of my facts was wrong. My impression was that Obama had voted for the bankruptcy bill. In fact, he voted against it in the end, but he also voted against an amendment that would have capped interest rates at 30 percent. Previously, he had voted for a class-action “reform” bill that the financial firms, Obama’s second biggest donor bloc, wanted very much. As Jerry said, Barack split the difference. In my day they called that triangulation, which I equate, perhaps wrongly, with centrists. (Or perhaps it depends on where you think the endpoints are.)

Another commenter, Saintperle, outlined a scenario in which Democrats, externalizing their own doubts, would end up picking the only white male in the race. I think that scenario makes sense in the context of the general election. That is, if Americans were voting among the current candidates, a lot of them would vote for a white Southern male before a woman or a black man, while denying any race or gender bias.

The context of the Democratic primary is, I think, a bit more limited. As Tom Edsall describes in Building Red America, the current Democratic party doesn’t look much like FDR’s coalition: most of the middle class has moved to the Republican party. Why? Interesting question. Edsall doesn’t buy Thomas Frank’s argument, in What’s the Matter With Kansas?, that the Democrats refuse to argue the economic issues, where they’d win, leaving people to choose on social concerns, where they lose. (I, on the other hand, do buy it.)

Instead, Edsall says (with copious statistical backup), the party now consists of a larger chunk of the top third of the economic ladder than in FDR’s time, a much smaller chunk of the middle third, and the vast majority of the bottom third. Thus one group of Democrats cares about things like jobs and immigration law, while the other is mainly interested in social liberty issues such as abortion and gay rights. The first group is much larger, but much poorer, and doesn’t vote in large percentages. The second is small but well off, and educated for power, so it tends to control the agenda in official party business.

The result is that the Democrats put together a mish-mash of programs aimed at interest groups who get along okay but have little in common. Then they nominate a standard-bearer.

Where’s the real power in the party? Well, which of the groups nominated Clinton, Gore, and Kerry? That group wants Hillary, would settle for Barack, and hates Edwards. That’s why, as Saintperle says, they keep savaging Edwards in the media for things like the haircut. He’s not within spec for a corporate-style candidate.

I think it’ll come down to the DLC versus the Democratic wing. The former has won all recent nomination battles, to the chagrin of the party. At this point, though, they know they’re in trouble; they supported the war, they compromised away everything they had to a bunch of war criminals, they stood for nothing while the Republicans controlled Congress. They saw the face of change in Howard Dean, despite his obvious centrist credentials. They were probably as spooked by the internet fundraising thing as by his anti-war stance, but not spooked enough to take more than one election cycle to get on board. But their control over the party is waning, and they need to reassert the power of the Democratic right flank in 2008 or they’ll begin fading to irrelevance.

Thus I expect a with-your-shield-or-on-it effort from the DLC over the next eighteen months. The only way I can see Edwards winning is if the Democratic wing of the party manages to control the nomination process. It does look to me like the changes in primary dates will help our side, partly by muddying the waters so that the media tricksters have to learn new scams, and partly by listening to states that are larger and more representative of the whole country. States, in other words, with heterogeneous populations, languages, religions, and cultures.

Oh, another way Edwards could win: if Obama and Clinton somehow knock each other out, who would the DLC substitute? I think we can count Gravel and Kucinich out. My guess is they’d prefer Biden, who is probably too hawkish for the moment, or possibly Richardson, to whom they could attach whatever warm-and-fuzzies are left over from the Clinton administration. Plus, he has all those diplomatic trophies on his mantle. They might be able to deal with Dodd, who as much as I like a lot of what he says seems to be in the wooden-speaker mold the DLC treasures. Or maybe I’ve missed his better speeches. The point is, can any of those people outdraw Edwards?

Anyway, I still think the most likely outcome is Obama winning the nomination as a compromise between the DLC-Clinton wing and the Edwards-Dean style. But what I want is for the Democratic wing to rise up and own the party. We need a revolution in party structure on the scale of the one that came with McGovern. The old power structure is not leading where we want to go.

I certainly don’t think Edwards is a messiah. JFK wasn’t a savior either; in practice, he screwed up mightily and often. Still, he embodied a new time and a new spirit, and a particular version of the American dream. If we elected Edwards, he would embody his time, just as Shrub has.

What’s Edwards focused on since the last election? Poverty issues, his two-Americas thing. If as President his predilictions affected policy as much as Bush’s have, the US would be spending its wealth on feeding everyone and making a green revolution. My guess is, that prospect has certain parts of the power structure on high alert.

But if we did it — actually worked to eliminate poverty, like some European and Scandinavian countries have, and applied our famous ingenuity to the problems of living sustainably — we could quickly be a country the world looked up to again.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at May 09, 2007 11:01 PM
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I think the earlier primaries are intended to help the DLC wing. They have an established operation, and the progressive blogs are still not quite large enough of a force to overwhelm them. As time goes on, the blogs are gaining at a geometric rate, and so moving up the dates heads us off unless we can organize even faster.

Who would you like to see become the nominee?

Posted by: whig on May 10, 2007 12:41 AM

I'm not yet prepared to endorse John Edwards, due to his past support for the DOJ arresting medical marijuana patients in California. I understand time has passed, new research exists and he has admitted making a mistake in authorizing the invasion of Iraq. He has apologized for that mistake, and I accept that he is sincere. He has done many things right in this campaign, but has so far steered away from comment on the issue of medicinal cannabis.

Governor Bill Richardson actually passed medical marijuana legislation in New Mexico, to help people who are suffering use what their doctor recommends and what provides them with relief when no prescription drug can do so effectively.

It's a matter of compassion and humanity, and I think John Edwards will eventually do the right thing, and if he would say something to affirm he has rethought his past position, I would like to endorse him.

As of right now, I can only support Richardson and Dennis Kucinich. (I don't think Kucinich will win, but I cannot doubt his position on most issues that I care about.) Mike Gravel is obviously not capable of being president, even though I think he's a great guy.

Posted by: whig on May 10, 2007 12:54 AM

Certainly the established operations get a big leg up, as do the richer campaigns, though Edwards also has a pretty serious operation (witness the recent polls from Iowa, and, e.g., Craig Crawford's theory that Edwards benefits from the early Florida primary). Candidates will be dropping out earlier in the process, and it will get down to two or three very quickly. After Florida, California, Texas, and New York, I'll be surprised if there are more than three, probably two still-viable Democrats.

At this point in the race, I favor Edwards. Events could change my mind; but he's saying the right things about poverty, the environment, the war, unions, education, and health care, among other things. He's the one who's actually proposed a health care plan and a method of paying for it: repealing the tax cut on people making over $200,000 a year. Whether that's exactly the right number isn't as important; the point is he seems to be focusing on real problems and possible solutions. We don't need someone who knows all the answers, we need someone who's not afraid to ask the real questions.

Some people don't like his health plan because it allows insurance companies a role, a sentiment I agree with in principle. However, it also allows anyone to join the federal single-payer system if they choose. Since we know that Medicare, for example, spends about 2% of its budget on overhead, while corporate medical care spends about 11%, the single-payer system will win in the open market. As Nelson says, Ha ha! Insurance companies will be driven out of the mass market, into high-end and extreme situations, costs will increase much more slowly, and health care in the US will improve. Maybe we'll catch up to Cuba in infant mortality!

I also like the way Edwards is kind of underselling right now. Of course he doesn't have as much money as C and O, but he has some great staffers. You probably saw he recently snared Joe Trippi, who organized Dean's internet campaign. If the various players can get along, some sparks might emerge.

But I could also live with Richardson, and probably Dodd. Of course my views are closest to Gravel's and Kucinich's. In 2004 I re-registered as a Democrat before the primary so I could vote for Kucinich, and was pretty disappointed in what he settled for as a reward for shutting the hell up — basically, it seemed to me, a seat at the table while others debated. But I do admire his life story — how many Representatives have lived in a car? — and his positions.

I'm really hoping the Democrats will nominate someone I can vote for this time.

Posted by: Chuck Dupree (Belisarius) on May 10, 2007 1:47 AM

I support Whig's position on medical marijuana, and it's true that Richardson is the only one who's acted in favor of medical marijuana when he had the chance. I admire him for that, among other things.

But I'd prefer to have Richardson as Secretary of State. We need his diplomatic skills to help us repair our friendships abroad.

I doubt that it's possible to get elected state-wide where Edwards comes from by advocating for medical marijuana. At least not yet. My guess is that Whig is right, Edwards would be pro-MM if put to the test, but he'd avoid the test as long as possible. Given how much I admire other stuff he's done, I could probably still vote for him, as long as he wasn't rabidly anti-MM.

Posted by: Chuck Dupree (Belisarius) on May 10, 2007 2:11 AM

Damn! You guys sure must have it easy if marijuana is tops on the list of your issues... Alright, I take that back. Maybe you guys need it, but I tried that stuff a long time ago and it never did a damn thing for me.

I just want somebody in office who will make medical care and the currently legal drugs affordable.

Personally I think that big business will do everything in it's power to pull out all the stops to ensure that an Edwards candidacy never gets rolling. We'll see.

Posted by: Buck on May 10, 2007 5:51 AM

You want WHAT?

"We need a revolution in party structure on the scale of the one that came with McGovern. "

Are you serious? Remember how that one turned out? We ended up with that turd Nixon for several more tumultuous years. Loads of Democrats walked out on McGovern and went over to the Nixon camp. Surely we can't let that happen again.

Posted by: Garlic Breath on May 10, 2007 9:01 AM

Of course Big Business will do what it can to stop Edwards. That's exactly my point: they'll pick Obama to stop Edwards.

On the McGovern/Nixon front, check out the history of what happened to the power structures in the party. Of course Nixon won; he cheated ("All the President's Men"). He also lied about "light of the end of the tunnel", and lots of other stuff.

There's no reason that I know of to think that if the Democratic party had left the scumbags that ran the party in '68 in charge through '72 that Nixon would have lost. The country was behind the war president, no matter who it was, and people were scared by riots, demonstrations, and the whole '60s thing.

Many of the changes that McGovern's nomination brought to the nominating process are still with us. They helped to democratize the power somewhat. Now we need another round.

Posted by: Chuck Dupree (Belisarius) on May 10, 2007 12:56 PM

Chuck, stop quoting Edsall. He thinks David Broder speaks for the people of America: http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2007/05/09/broder/index.html

Posted by: Joyful Alternative on May 10, 2007 5:24 PM

Great post, Chuck.

Posted by: SPIIDERWEB™ on May 10, 2007 8:56 PM

I refer to Edsall because I've actually read his books. He's respected because his data is solid, and his arguments are completely based on his data. Refute the data or the arguments if you can. If you can, I'm definitely interested. I don't like many of his conclusions; neither does he, and he says so. But facts do exist, and opinion and belief do not controvert them.

Posted by: Chuck Dupree (Belisarius) on May 10, 2007 11:58 PM

Historically, the strength of the Dem Party has been in the lower/working class. In reality, some of our most socially progressive anti-poverty programs came from Republican presidents prior to Reagan, but the Dems were at least perceived as guardians of social and economic justice. President Clinton and the New Democratic Party took an ax to the social safety net, opening the door for the continued raiding of the treasury for the benefit of the richest 1%.

The poor do, indeed, vote when they are presented with a choice. Since Reagan, the two leading contenders in each election have been an anti-poor/working class Republican against an anti-poor/working class Democrat.(We can point out third party candidates, but that is a full length discussion in itself.)

So you tell me---for whom should this rapidly expanding portion of the population vote?
The poor had the greatest chance of climbing out of poverty during the Nixon administration, via both fairly humane benefits accompanied with a range of legitimate education and job training programs for the poor. As a result of Democratic policies (i.e., Clinton's welfare repeal), things are worse for America's poor than they have been at any time since the Great Depression (note: Among industrialized nations, we now have the second-worse level of severe poverty, infant mortality has skyrocketed, and the life expectancy of America's poor is now below that of many Third World nations, all as a result of our "successful welfare reform".)

There is no real difference between the two major parties today. Both have worked to shift the wealth of the nation from the hands of the many into the hands of the few, both have a taste for war/power, both "dance with them that brung 'em"
(i.e., legislate for those of extreme wealth who, in turn, fund their political careers).


Posted by: DHFabian on May 14, 2007 9:41 PM

DHFabian makes several very solid points. I concur on the evaluation of the Clinton destruction of welfare. Clinton was, after all, a Republican in everything he actually did, though a Democrat in most of what he said. (What did he pull out all the stops for? One time. NAFTA.)

I also agree that the poor, like other sections of the electorate, vote in much higher numbers when they have a candidate who seems to be interested in their issues. Tom Edsall in The New Politics of Inequality shows some graphical data that validates this contention, plotting what percentage of the population votes against the number of political parties. The result is a linear increasing function: the more parties, the more voters, because more people can find some party they agree with.

The only thing I don't understand is why DHFabian sees Edwards as joining the other candidates in working "to shift the wealth of the nation from the hands of the many into the hands of the few". I agree that's happening, but it appears to me that Edwards is the one candidate with a chance to win who's deeply engaged in the question of spreading the common wealth, both as a trial lawyer the corporations hate, and a speaker who long ago fastened onto the "two Americas" theme. Sure, his actions are probably politically motivated, but, like Gore, he's chosen morally solid ground on which to plant his political flag. To me, this is as close to class warfare — what we need — as a candidate is likely to get and still have a shot at the nomination.

Personally I've voted for third-party candidates for President for the last four cycles. I'm hoping I can vote for a Democrat this time.

Posted by: Chuck Dupree (Belisarius) on May 14, 2007 11:45 PM
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