Dada is the sun, Dada is the egg. Dada is the Police of the Police.

6/18/2005

Center, left

Neil the Ethical Werewolf wrote a post a while back in response to one I wrote about the rightward drift of the Democratic Party, and I've been meaning to respond to it. Neil wrote:

Dadahead is musing about third parties. If you -- like him -- would like to see the Democrats move left on some issue or another, there's a way you can work to accomplish this. It doesn't involve voting for a third party, however.

You've got to go out there and convince ordinary people that your stance on the issue is the right one. Generate popular support for a measure, and politicians will drift towards you ... remember that your task is first and foremost one of convincing more people that you're right. The voting part is smaller and comes after.

...In most cases, there's no reason to believe that the Democrats will, on purely strategic grounds, move left to appease you, even if you cost them multiple elections by voting third-party. Assuming a normal distribution of voters across each of the political/philosophical axes, moving left puts them at risk of losing the people in the center, and there are way more voters in the center than on the edges.

...any time that there are substantially more people in the center than on your edge, the Democrats won't move left to accommodate you. They do better conceding Nader his 3% than moving left and giving the GOP 10% off the middle. (Also remember that when Democrats lose one of their moderates to the GOP they need 2 votes to make up for it, while losing a lefty to Nader can be made up by one.)


This is a thought-provoking analysis, but I think it relies on some faulty assumptions.

The presupposition behind the claim that the Dems won't 'appease' us because they risk losing more of the center that way? That 'appeasing' us (sorry for the repeated scare quotes, but I can't really think of a better word) necessarily alienates those in the 'center', a.k.a. swing voters - that gaining or shoring up our support costs them the support of moderates who might otherwise vote Republican. While this might be true for some issues - e.g., gay marriage - I don't think it is the case for most core progressive issues. For instance, Ross Perot garnered significant support from 'swing voters' in 1992 in large part because of his opposition to NAFTA - also an important concern of progressives.

Neil is assuming a too-simple picture of the spectrum of political attitudes - he seems to picture it as a zero-sum game, where any votes gained to the left are lost from the other side. This does not accurately reflect reality.

One reason is that people are, to a significant extent, irrational (or at least non-rational) with respect to their voting habits. Most people don't have a well-defined, coherent political outlook. Their support for particular politicians is often based on impressionistic, intangible factors.

Plus, to the extent that people are rational in their political attitudes, there is a large overlap between their policy preferences and those of progressives. There are a couple high-profile 'social' issues where this might not be true - the aforementioned gay marriage issue, and parental consent laws for abortion, which Neil mentions - but on other, more economics-based issues, the overlap can be startling.

Neil writes, "You've got to go out there and convince ordinary people that your stance on the issue is the right one." But the fact is that 'ordinary people' are, by and large, already convinced. To pick just one issue, there is enormous support in the political 'center' for government-guaranteed universal healthcare, a paradigmatically 'progressive' issue. The same goes for rolling back upper-class tax cuts, keeping Social Security, avoiding unnecessary wars, etc. etc. etc. etc. This is, perhaps, the most frustrating thing about the DLC's Sensible Liberals telling us the Democratic Party needs to move further to the 'center' - to a huge extent, moving to the 'center' and moving to the 'left' can be done simultaneously because they're in the same place on the most important issues.

[Note: I don't consider Neil to be one of the 'Vichy Dems'; Neil's argument (assuming I'm reading it correctly) is not that the Dems should move to the center, necessarily, but that progressives should move the center closer to them - which I'm saying has already been done. Neil is a true ally; what I am saying here should by no means be construed as an attack on him. (Neil, feel free to disavow any alliance with me!).]

The real issue, as far as I'm concerned, with the DLC (and the attitude they represent) is that they have demonstrated that they are completely incompetent. Faced with a public that is ideologically sympathetic with their party, they've still managed to lose three elections running. But they are too dumb to see the nature of their failure; they buy the ridiculous right-wing propaganda - that the Democrats have suffered because they're too liberal - hook, line, and sinker, and they prattle on about Michael Moore and Howard Dean, oblivious to their own ineptitude.

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