Quick Hit: Parties

Liberal blogger roy edroso at Alicublog dings me (appropriately) for making predictions that the Democratic Party was headed for civil war – when it is today clearly in the driver’s seat while the GOP is marshalling forces for its internal conflict.

…our old warblogger friend Armed Liberal, who complained in 2004 that an authentic liberal like Jeff Jarvis (!) “gets piled on for being ‘inadequately liberal’. And that’s a pisser. First, and foremost, it once again wraps up the smug ‘I know better than you’ that the Democratic Party has become associated with — and which lots of people, including me, find amazingly offensive.” He predicted that the Taliban Democrats “are going to lose a lot of political power.”

He’s right to bust me (my predictions were wrong) …and he deserves his moment of glory.

But…he ought to savor it while he’s got it.

Because while it’s obvious that the Republicans are snapping at each other’s heels – see this post from local blog Mayor Sam:

I was talking with a friend the other day who is a high-level figure in the Republican Party here in California. I discussed with him my theory that there is a Civil War brewing inside the Party. Two election cycles of defeats have made the party meetings and discussions very rancorous. Moderates and Conservatives have been wrestling for control of the party, and in the end, only one side can win.

“It’s too late” he said, “the war is already here.”

Which all depends on where ‘here’ is:

There was an article in The Hill the other day about Rep. Jane Harman’s plight:
Tangled in wiretap, opposed by left, Harman could face tough primary

Anti-war forces and liberal bloggers have despised Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) for years, and now they smell blood in the water.

Harman has taken plenty of heat from her left flank over the years for supporting the Iraq war and President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program. And now that she’s in some political trouble for allegedly offering favors on a federal wiretap, her detractors might just have the ammo they need.

Already, 2006 primary opponent Marcy Winograd has opened an exploratory committee and others are also making their interest known. Plus, bloggers are talking about recruiting one of the their own to challenge Harman.

But that’s not the end of Harman’s troubles…from the same Hill post cited above:

Howie Klein, the Southern California-based author of the DownWithTyranny blog, said the new revelations could help change that.

“When Marcy ran the first time, it was a really tough road for her, because people didn’t understand,” Klein said. “Even on a really great website like Daily Kos, there were a lot of people that didn’t understand.”

Klein said a group of bloggers met earlier this year to discuss challenging Harman in a primary, weeks before the recent revelations. He said many in the blogging community would like a fellow blogger, John Amato, to challenge Harman and that Amato is considering it.

Winograd said that she would step aside for the right candidate, and that she’s taking up the mantle at least for now.

“I don’t know who else will answer the call, if not me,” she said. “People with great name recognition and track records in public office are not going to take her on.”

What’s clear is that not everybody is ready to go with Winograd again. And, in the heavily Democratic district, the Dem nominee is the likely winner. While Klein praised Winograd, other activists want to look elsewhere.

“There is a general sense that she would not be supported,” said a prominent activist focused on mounting a primary against Harman.

And the upshot, from John Amato:

I wanted to confirm to my readers that I am considering running for Jane Harman’s seat. I’ve had meetings with bloggers and activists way before this story broke and they have urged me on. I’ve also been contacted by established campaign managers who have won elections which included huge upsets in the past that have expressed a serious interest in managing my campaign. This is a very important step in the process. At this point I am considering it, but haven’t made a decision yet. I’m going to take my time before I decide, but I thought I owed it to you to confirm this report.

Sounds like a strange version of ‘Peace and Tranquility’ to me…it will actually be interesting to see if Obama campaigns for Harman or not. So far he has been an extraordinarily unifying figure for the party (and to an extent for the nation), and his position on this will be telling.

And here’s what really matters…from Pew Research:

Over the first four months of 2009, the Republican Party has continued to lose adherents. Interviews with over 7,000 respondents nationwide so far this year found fewer than a quarter (23%) of the combined total identifying themselves as Republicans. This is down from 25% in 2008, and from 30% in 2004. In total, the GOP has lost roughly a quarter of its base over the past five years.

But these Republican losses have not translated into substantial Democratic gains. So far in 2009, 35% of adults nationwide identify as Democrats, about the same as in 2008 (36%). While GOP identification has fallen seven points since 2004, the Democrats have gained only two points over that period. Instead, a growing number of Americans describe themselves as independents, 36% in 2009 compared with just 32% in 2008 and 30% in 2004.

Or, even clearer in pictures:


I don’t know a lot about the Republican Party compared to the Democratic one, but this suggests that there’s a long-term structural problem there…Andrew Breitbart has a lot to say about it, and it’s sensible. But today, what we have is a large minority of Democrats, a smaller minority of Republicans, and a larger minority of independents – some of them people who, like Jeff Jarvis felt drummed out of the Democratic Party, and who are – as I’ve been saying all along – vital to the electoral success of either party.

Imagine for a moment that Hillary had been the Democratic nominee – someone far less skilled at reaching out than Obama – how would the Democrats have done with those independents?

The reality is that political parties are the equivalent of record companies, movie studios, book publishers, and large law, accounting, and consulting firms – middlemen in an age of disintermediation. They will continue to be powerful brands, but they will not be the only powerful brands, and talent will be less and less controlled by and beholden to the intermediary. They just matter less.


15 thoughts on “Quick Hit: Parties”

  1. “Democratic Party was headed for civil war – when it is today clearly in the driver’s seat ”

    and being in the driver’s seat means?

    I recall the folks who ended up in the driver’s seat after the French Revolution then proceeded to purge from their ranks those they deemed lacking in Revolutionary Purity.

    That did not happen after the American Revolution, it would seem American reactions are different than European, and the Far Left at least to me sounds more in line with European poltical philosophy than American

  2. Good quick analysis, AL.

    Frankly, party is mattering less, and ideology more. Used to be the Congresscritters could meet with the rubes from West DFW (full disclosure, I live in DFW), tell them he was doing his best, and get their continued support.

    Now, for all that the remaining problems drive us nuts, the system IS remarkably more transparent. So we have, what?

    Dems: “New Left, ch.2″ (anti-war leftists, I know it’s not a perfect matchup) vs. “The Machine”
    Reps: “Tea Party” (tax protests plus p.o.’d grassroots) vs. “The Machine.”

    In both cases, The Machine is surviving b/c you can’t get into office with pretty speeches — sooner or later, you’ve got to have, to paraphrase Plunkitt, a thousand voters who’ll follow you come thick or thin.

    The Democrats’ blogging experience gives them that. I strongly suspect that the Republicans would simply die like the Whigs did, if the “libertarian right” blogosphere ever got its act together and learned how politics works.

  3. Never happen, Russ. There’s a difference between not knowing, and not wanting to know, and knowing but not wanting to do.

    The libertarian right falls into category 2 on “how politics works,” and category 3 on “getting its act together” for collective action.

    So long as the GOP exists as a somewhat responsive institution, it will remain the default channel if and as the libertarian right feels threatened enough to take political action beyond blogging. What this means is a waxing and waning of their influence within the party, but almost no chance of creating another venue, or or taking over the party (there are very large interests beyond them who could not be pushed out).

    The far left does not have these handicaps, and could create a viable party – or force many Democrats into Independent or even GOP status. Their traditional counterweight was the unions. That’s no longer the case, as the unions have abandoned that role.

    The main brake on the far left is the large role that personal gain and political patronage plays among their professionals. Two things that would be sharply reduced as a 3rd party.


    bq. “I strongly suspect that the Republicans would simply die like the Whigs did, if the “libertarian right” blogosphere ever got its act together and learned how politics works.”

  4. Look, Jane Harman is pretty much a special case, with the wiretap stuff. Maybe that will be all gone by 2010—or maybe it will look very bad.

    I also don’t see why Dems should be so upset that people are leaving the GOP for Independent and not (yet) going all the way to Dem. That hardly augurs well for the GOP. As Benedict Zell Arnold Miller said, “A National Party No More”. Just he had the wrong party.

  5. Libertarians and Conservatives are alike in their distaste for politics.

    Unfortunately they are up against a Democratic Party which has adopted total politicism. They don’t just like politics; it’s their life, their religion, their moral philosophy, and their metaphysics.

    Libertarians and Conservatives like to show themselves above this pettiness by hating each other. And this is the party of reason …

  6. Since the independents don’t really have anyplace to go, with the GOP safely out of the picture, what do they matter? Say they stand on the sidelines and don’t vote – the Democratic partisans dominate the GOP partisans on numbers, and have the demographic trends on their side so that that gap should just open wider with time.

    I suspect we may be on the verge of repeating what happened in the California Democratic Party on a national level, where they were able to safely rid the party of their moderates and still control the legislature and other keys to power with no consequences. In an environment of a “permanent Democratic majority”:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/13/pemanent-democratic-major_n_186257.html, its the _moderates_ who need to “learn their place and get on board the progressive bandwagon”:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/05/04/dean-carville-warn-specte_n_196033.html, or get left in the dust with the GOP. Lets not forget: Obama was elected on a _progressive_ platform, not a moderate one. Both Clinton and McCain lost trying to push a more middle-of-the-road vision than Obama’s: clearly the voters weren’t interested.

  7. tagryn,

    It’s a possibility, except for the small, niggling problem of events. California is pushing itself into serious problems with that approach, and that doesn’t continue forever without consequences. On the foreign policy front, the looming consequences are likely to be beyond anything we have ever seen as a country.

    The USA has structured itself in such a way that it is very likely to remain a 2 party system. I suspect that even a fracture to 3 parties would be temporary, on the road to a restoration of 2 parties (possibly not the same 2, though).

    In that environment, the GOP has a coalition to rebuild. Step 1 is deciding, or finding out what that coalition is. Alienation of moderates on the Democratic side, and/or major policy missteps, simply widens the pool of independents, and hence possible members of a restored coalition. None of which will do the party much good if it doesn’t restore 2 things. One is the connections between the party and the members, and their communities, which is perhaps the party’s most troubled asset at the moment. The other is the party’s intellectual firepower/ compass, which is also stressed and fractured.

    Ultimately, politicism breeds equally severe counter-movements – and if unchecked, that’s the sort of thing that can start civil wars. There’s still a lot of buffer in the system, but it is fraying, on both sides, and there are structural reasons that are making the phenomenon worse.

    What I believe, is that there’s a tremendous amount of stuff moving toward “up in the air” status. That’s normal when Winter comes. The question is whether it snaps back into a new structure, or breaks, and what that structure might look like. I’m inclined to say that conversations that are not aimed at that question have short-term value, but no long-term value.

    Carville, of course, has never lived in anything other than the short term. He’s exactly the guy I would NOT talk to about any of this. Nor Rove.

  8. Ah, yes, “demographic trends”. Because, of course, anyone with black or brown skin will inevitably vote Democrat! (But they’ll only be voting for their class interest… which will still correspond to a Democrat vote, because prosperity will never reach them, despite all those Democrats winning elections…)

    To the extent that Democratic policies are successful in bringing minority voters out of poverty and into the prosperous middle class, the same minorities are less likely to vote with their demographics and more likely to vote with their social class.

    The GOP is in disarray right now because, indeed, on several issues the electorate has shifted. Abortion’s not really on the national table anymore. GOP majorities haven’t really delivered anything tangible – no progress (if you call it that) on the social front, and economic behavior that was outright irresponsible (and would be worthy of harsher languages were the Obama administration not showing us what real fiscal irresponsibility looks like). There’s a great deal of enthusiasm for fiscal conservatism, but practically nobody in the party leadership who’s credible on the issue – it’s no good to excoriate pork spending when the slop from the trough is still smeared on your own snout, after all.

    There’s going to have to be turnover in the party leadership before the GOP’s ready for another shot at the polls, assuming the Democrats don’t drop the ball in spectacular fashion. But that’s not the GOP dying out, just getting a renewal it needs pretty badly.

  9. Weren’t we having this same discussion over the dissolution of the democratic party about 7 years ago?

    Republicans actually have a much simpler task than is imagined, but the simple things are always hard. Obama was elected because he promised (and convinced) the country that all of the Utopian programs like free health care (call a spade a spade) and green energy that the Dems have been pushing for years can be done successfully just by making the top 1% of wage earners pay for it.

    That is a complete fantasy in every facet. All the republicans need to do is continue to oppose those policies, predict their failure, overspending, and taxation accompanying them, and when the nation begins to see the real bill they will flock to the fiscally responsible.

    Now of course the trick is to BE fiscally responsible, something the current republican leadership class has failed at completely. They are not conservatives, they have been corrupted by DC and lost their way. Republicans right now need to be throwing out the baby and the bathwater, bringing in libertarians and independents, and basically play the backbench bomb thrower role that Gingrich played in the early 90s. Obama’s policies, for all his personal glamor, are old, stogy, and dis proven long ago. Limited government, federalism, balanced budgets, term limits- these ideas are NEW again. Do they look familiar? Dig up that old Contract with America that the Reps ran on in 94 and promptly forget. That’s your blueprint. Obama’s policies are doomed by sheer reality. Simply set yourself up to explain why that is so and why your ideas are better. Ideas! I know, its so crazy it just might work.

  10. I thought there was ample enthusiasm for Obama on the Democrats’ left wing. Just how many people were beating the pavement for Kucinich? Indeed. I’m not sure Obama is so much bipartisan as he is respectful and tolerant of opposing points of view—a refreshing change from the Karl Rove technique of demonizing the opponents as traitorous or perverse.

    The most qualified candidate for governor appears to be Tom Campbell. He isn’t any more likely to make it out of the GOP primary this time as last time, though.

  11. As I recall, Obama was posting diaries to DailyKos before he was a candidate for president. Not exactly “disdain” from the left when a candidate gets invited to participate there.

    I think moderate Democrats and independents who believed they were electing one of their own in Obama were engaging in wishful thinking, rather than considering his actual voting record which demonstrated that he is solidly with the progressive wing of the party; see “here”:http://www.majorityrules.org/blog/2007/03/senator-barack-obama-more-liberal-than.html and “here”:http://nj.nationaljournal.com/voteratings/sen/lib_cons.htm?o1=lib_composite&o2=desc#results. So I don’t see it as ‘rewriting history,’ just acknowledging the mandate under which POTUS was elected. He’s not a moderate, and we should give the voters credit that they knew that when they voted for him; therefore, since he wasn’t elected as a moderate, why should folks be surprised when he acts like a progressive? He was voted in under those terms, after all.

    I didn’t particularly _like_ the outcome, not being a progressive myself, but at the same time I recognize that it was the will of the voters to put a progressive/liberal candidate into the Presidency, and accept it as such. I just hope that either Obama’s policies work out for the best, or that the GOP gets its act together so they can provide a viable alternative down the road.

  12. _”I’m not sure Obama is so much bipartisan as he is respectful and tolerant of opposing points of view”_

    Sure, like when he accused republicans of being entirely obstructionist when they questioned decisions in the spending in his stimulus bill. That was respectful.

    Having a few republicans over to watch football isn’t tolerance, its a sop. It seems to me that Obama has very little patience for any disagreement and goes straight for the jugular (witness Chrysler bond holders). As a politician, I can’t argue with the results, but please lets not pretend we’re in a new era of cooperation and respect.

  13. tagryn, what?

    Obama was elected as a progrssive, not a moderate? Way to rewrite history!!

    The Netroots disdained Obama until he emerged as the frontrunner because he was perceived as so moderate and dangerously bipartisan.

    And California has two conditions that are unlikely to be replicated nationally – 1) massive gerrymandering which polarizes our legislature; and 2) activist public sector unions which can swing local and regional elections. Note who’s been elcted governor every term for the last decade or so – see any true progressives?

    Gavin Newsome is the most progressive candidate in this statewide contest, and he is going to get spanked…


  14. Tagryn, you need to refine your recollection; in 2005, armando (AFAIK later booted from Kos and “Big Tent Democrat” at Talk Left) invited him to post and explain why he supported Roberts SC nomination, and Obama was excoriated in the comments.

    “Not exactly a lovefest”:http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/9/30/153069/-Tone,-Truth,-and-the-Democratic-Party

    Go back and read Kos’ posts in 07 and early 08 (I did); until Obama started winning, he wasn’t a house favorite.


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