September 16, 2005

How the Democrats can (theoretically) win an election

Once again, DKos is in a turmoil. This time, Kos called environmentalism a pet issue. medigirl has some thoughts:

Voting Rights are moral. Protecting young women's lives is moral. Standing up for what's right even if it is not popular is moral. Equal protection and marriage rights for Gays are moral issues. Our morality - a kind, caring, compassionate morality that is consistent with every great philosopher/'savior' in history.

Now we may disagree on the fine points, but we ARE on the side of the angels. We've read the Constitution and understood it. We embrace diversity, we march for civil rights, and we have room for Atheists and Pagans and Christians and Muslims and everybody else who is doing their best to get by and get along. We embrace science because WE Love TRUTH.

We're acting as if the party of greed, graft and a vengeful 'God' has something we need to emulate or imitate. Bullshit. We need to stand up, stamp it out, get behind the poor and the sick and the elderly and every neglected minority and good people everywhere because the majority of people fall in to one or more of those categories.

I'm from the Women's Studies set, a war-hating hippy and an LGBT and I've got news for the boys - I AM the Democratic Party - or I should be. If they keep kissing elephant ass, I'll soon be Green, which is the wave of the future anyway if the Dems don't find their spines.

Just stop playing politics and do what you know is right. There is no acceptable alternative. Not for a Progressive.

It's a great polemic, a wonderful progressive rally cry. Sadly, the people who rise to the top of the Democratic party never seem to hear it. I remember the first time I read something like this. It was ten years ago, in Michael Moore's first book. The second edition of Michael Moore's first book. The second edition, which was already a couple years old. This is not a new idea: if Democrats show themselves to be strong advocates for actual liberalism, they'll garner the support of the vast majority of Americans, who think such radical thoughts as 'HMOs are a really dumb way of getting people health care' and 'maybe we should try to do something about pollution' and 'abortion makes me nervous, but it's better than coathangars'.

And then the Democratic party jettisons any serious consideration of these in favour of pursuing batshit insane 'values voters'. Never mind the values held by the vast majority of sane Americans.


Unknown said...

I see know reason to think that the Greens would be any more effective than the Democrats. In fact, I see no reason to think that they won't continue to be far, far, far less effective than the Dems, as they've always been. It's not about issues. It's about politics.

It doesn't matter that the majority of people are more liberal on social justice issues than the GOP when the GOP starts screaming about guns. Rural southern voters happily vote for the party with a proven track record of endless economic failure because they think Democrats will take their guns.

I'm a vocal critic of the Democratic Party, but joining the Greens won't help anyone except the Republicans. We have to make the Dems better. That's the only option other than twenty more years of conservative domination.

Unknown said...

Hang on, I didn't explain that well. The gun issue is an example of what beats the Dems. The Republicans know that they don't represent the voters true opinions, but they know the buttons to push to convince people to vote for them anyway. They did this is 2000 with tax cuts, in 2002 with Iraq, and in 2004 with more Iraq. They didn't run on dismantling Social Security, and they won't in 2006 either.

How will the Greens fight this more effectively than the Dems? Not that it's a high bar, but I can't see it.

Noumena said...

I think she brings up the Greens to suggest that, if the Democratic Party keeps marginalizing progressive ideals, eventually progressives will coalesce into a political party that really will be more appealing to most Americans than either the Republican Party or the Republican Party II. If you take a broad, optimistic reading of what mediagirl's saying here, this political party could easily be a newly populist Democratic Party; and given the way our electoral system works, I would agree that's preferable to building up the Green Party. I'm reminded once again of Michael Moore's first book, where he encourages progressives to do to the Democratic Party what movement conservatives did to the Republican Party.

Colleen, a polemic is any intentionally controversial piece of rhetoric. It needn't give a fully rigorous argument to be a good, stirring call to action.

Your quotation of Drew is inaccurate; he said the majority of people disagree with the GOP on social justice and economic issues, not on all issues, and explained the 'gap' by suggesting that party uses emotional rhetoric, not rationally-presented policy platforms, to attract voters. Drew used the example of crying that Democrats are 'going to take away our guns!' My mom's boyfriend is a member of the NRA, and this is precisely why he voted for Bush last Fall: in every single issue of the NRA magazine that I saw in the year leading up to the election, there was an article or editorial claiming (speciously) that Kerry would put some kind of onerous restrictions on gun ownership. Another well-known GOP tactic is the 'Southern Strategy', in which GOP strategists play up racist prejudices in the South to attract white voters.

Noumena said...

I went to an interesting talk about Gadamer (a prominent Continental philosopher), Davidson (a prominent Analytic philosopher), and the theory of interpretation. There was an interesting parallel in the work of the two philosophers, despite their different traditions: both believed in a Principle of Charity, that in order to critique a text you first had to engage it on its own terms.

Colleen, all you've succeeded in convincing me thus far is that you refuse to try to understand any liberal or progressive point of view at all. Taking into account the above Principle, can you explain to me why I should bother reading any critique you might want to make of liberal ideas?

Noumena said...

So, I should bother paying attention to your tilting at windmills because you're smarter than me? Somehow, I'm still not convinced.

You're welcome to share your point of view. But don't expect me to respond to your criticisms unless they're directed at beliefs held by actual people under discussion. I don't have time to defend strawmen.

MosBen said...

Well, I suppose I should say something or other here before this gets too far down the page.
Since I get to talk with Drew and Dan a lot anyway, I'll be mostly addressing the points Colleen makes.

1. "Is this what passes for a great polemic?"

Well, I guess the effect it has on its target audience would play a big part in whether or not it is a great polemic. This piece obviously isn't targetted to people like you Colleen. It's goal is not to convince you of the rightness of our positions, it's purpose is to energize the party into action. So again, whether or not it's a good polemic would be measured by whether it succeeds in engizing the portion of its targetted audience that reads it, and since you're obviously not a part of its target audience, the fact that you're unimpressed is neither surprising or important.

2. "Our morality" Well, obviously it's impossible to prove the Truth of a particular set of morals, but from a political perspective, different groups quite obviously present different views of morality like they present their substantive issues platform. You may not agree with the correctness of that platform, but that's not the point.

3. "Every great philosopher/savior" Well, since we're both fans of parsing words closely, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that your argument relies on a particular definition of "great" which might not have been shared by the person writing. I mean, I might think that Bill Gates is a great philosopher, but if I point out that he doesn't agree with what this person is arguing it's not exactly a crushing argument because they weren't talking about him when they used their "great philosophers" shorthand.

Still, more substantively to you point, whether or not the philosophies espoused by those great philosophers is compatible with gay marriage is far from the clear case you paint it as. Firstly, there's simply the matter of interpreting what they said so we can decide if they actually did stand in opposition to gay rights and given the inconsistencies in the writings of most of those guys that's not question with a clear answer. More importantly, though, is not whether the men themselves supported gay rights, but whether gay rights is compatible with their philosophies. Kant didn't think much of women himself, but that was a blindspot born of the time in which he lived. Looking back, the opinions of women he held are pretty incompatible with the categorical imperative. Great philosophies should be studied and debated, but it's crazy to think we should be bound to think about things only as they did when they were alive. What would are conceptions of the cosmos be if we were bound to what Aristotle thought about it? As to which particular philosophers agree with our position, again, as a polemic it's goal wasn't to convince Pat Robertson that Jesus liked gay rights, it's to get people that already think it's the case to assert it. Whether a far right Republican disagrees is kind of beside the point.

3. "Categories" Republicans win because for over a decade they've been better at packaging their platform as one which includes the most people. The Democratic platform has a been a schizophrenic mishmash of ideologies and, as we saw in the last election people just didn't get it, and really, that's the point of this piece. It's saying that the Dems need to set themselves up as the new populist party; the party that cares about the various disenfranchised groups; the party of justice, equality, and freedom. Again, you may not agree with the substantive platform, but you've struck me as a died in the wool conservative here, so again your disagreement really isn't surprising or the point. Feel free to correct me if my impression of you is incorrect and I'll happily appologize, but I think my point about the target and intent of the polemic is clear.

And dropping comments like "liberal insanity" really isn't going to engage people in conversation.

4. "People don't agree with the GOP" In poll after poll the majority of people are shown to hold liberal positions. The Republicans win because, again, for the last ten years they've been better at politics than the Democrats. The Republicans spent decades putting together a dynamite, and frankly really impressive, infrastructure to their party that is increadibly efficient at presenting thier platform in the best possible light to the public. The Democrats have been sloppy and disorganized and it's really bitten them in the ass.

5. "Splinter off into little parties" The point of the polemic is that we've been splintered and we need to reform the Democratic party into a unified vision of freedom.

6. "Southern Strategy" Race baiting or outright disenfranchisement may not have happened where you live, but that's hardly a refutation. Nor is pointing out that we have a super old southern man in the party that was once a member of the KKK in a time when KKK membership was pretty ubiquitous for southern politics. But beyond that, do you seriously want to have a discussion about which party has racists in it? The party that got Strom Thurmond after the Republicans took a position in opposition to civil rights? The party that has a man who, just a few years ago, voiced tacit support for Thurmond's segregationist run for President? I'm not saying that all Republicans are racists or that racism is somehow an integral part of the platform, but if we're headcounting which party has more people that hold racist beliefs the Republicans are going to come out poorly.

7. "the word liberal" Again, we both seem perfectly capable at parsing words, so this really baffled me. "Liberal", much like "facist" actually, can have many meanings, and just because you're an economic liberal doesn't mean that can be the only legitimate use of the word. I won't spend any more time on this because I think you're smarter than that.

MosBen said...

More generally, I would like to say a couple things about the piece itself. First, the statement that "we embrace science because we love truth" reminded me of this quote from Indiana Jones, "Archaeology is the search for fact... not truth. If it's truth you're looking for, Dr. Tyree's philosophy class is right down the hall." I know, it's a rather nitpicky point, but still, it's a pet peeve of mine.

Secondly, while I agree the Democrats need to quit chasing people clearly on the right and focus on presenting a strong liberal platform of morals and issues, one of the most dangerous things people on the farther left can believe is that "they" should be the party. Though the party needs a clear ideology, parties win by being a big tent. Far too many lefties that I've read/known take the position that they'll run to the Greens if the party doesn't push their beliefs 100%. I mean, yeah, polls indicate that people are far more liberal in their ideologies than is represented in the voting, but people should also realize that they're still on the minority left when they are. Should they stop pushing their pet issues? Hell no. Lobby the party and fight for your issue. Too many liberals seem unable to get around the fact that politics is compromise. Is reproductive rights the issue you most care about? Realize that people have wildly different ideas about that issue and whatever policies get adopted are almost certain to please approximately no one involved. Is it possible to compromise too much? Yeah, of course, but small steps in the right direction are better than running leaps in the wrong direction.

MosBen said...

Many thanks for the compliments, but I don't want to seem like I'm saying the Dems should move to the Right. While I'm certainly willing to criticize some on the Left for being too unflexible in accepting compromises, I think the party has been running from the Left so long that they don't know what the core ideology of the party is. Instead of playing faux-Republicans the party should embrace the Left's ideal, but be willing to compromise in order to get voters and then get things done when they're in power. The people on the Left just need to be willing to accept that they should support the party during elections and accept that compromises need to be made once the party wins.

MosBen said...

Also, I don't mean to say that the far Right are somehow more willing to compromise, but they still vote Republican. The problem is that the people on the Left that are uncompromising vote Green or some such nonsense.