Some Interesting News From the Left

OK, here’s an article that explains why I keep reading the New York Times (you’ve seen Okrent’s column this week, right? – and if you don’t want to register, just cut-and paste the URL into Google or use this link):

Wiring the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy, by Matt Bai

I met Rappaport, who is 46, in early June in his firm’s offices on Sand Hill Road, Silicon Valley’s answer to Wall Street. As we talked in a plush conference room flanked by a sunlit terrace on one side and a pool table on the other, events in the world outside seemed to be tilting strongly in the Democrats’ favor. Public support for President Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq was dropping precipitously. The price of oil had shot up to $42 a barrel. Only hours earlier, voters in South Dakota sent a Democratic woman, Stephanie Herseth, to the U.S. House in a special election — a race widely viewed as a potential harbinger for November.

But if all of this made John Kerry a good bet to become the next president, it did nothing, in Rappaport’s view, to solve the Democrats’ underlying problems. When I asked if he was skeptical about the direction of the party, he smiled, then said dryly, ”If you’ve been able to discern a direction on which to be skeptical or optimistic, then you’re doing pretty well.”

In fact, Rappaport was surprisingly downcast about the party’s prospects, which, he said, would not be improved simply by winning back the White House. Though he sat and thought about it, he said he was unable to name a single Democratic leader in the years since Bill Clinton left Washington who he thought was articulating a compelling new direction for the party. ”There is a growing realization among people who take very seriously the importance of progressive politics that the Democratic Party has kind of failed to create a vision for the country that is strongly resonant,” he said. ”And our numbers” — meaning Democrats as a whole — ”are decreasing. Our political power has been diminishing, and it’s become common knowledge that the conservative movement has established a very strong, long-term foundation, whereas we’ve basically allowed our foundation, if not to crumble, to at least fall into a state of disrepair. So there are a lot of people thinking, What can we do about this?”

Actually, Rappaport says he may be on to an answer.

That answer – an effort to build a network of Democratic think tanks, and to try and come up with some kind of a meaningful Democratic ideological core – something other than ‘pro-woman, pro-black, pro-union, pro-trial lawyer’ – may be the best news I’ve seen all month.

Read the whole thing, I’ll be writing up something extensive in response by tomorrow night.

22 thoughts on “Some Interesting News From the Left”

  1. “…and if you don’t want to register, just cut-and paste the URL into Google)”

    I’m completely baffled why you’d say that. Why not just give the proper long-term link, as here?

  2. Good point, Gary – the NYT does have those blog-friendly URLs for that purpose.

    This could prove to be helpful to the Democrats, by catalyzing new policies that go beyond simple orthodox liberalism. As Rappaport notes, those ideas are in retreat and have never really recovered from the conservative intellectual critique of the 70s and 80s. My question: what KIND of policies will Rappaport’s efforts catalyze instead, if they work?

    One of the things wiring one’s base does is amplify existing tendencies within that wired network. Right now, the people Rappaport proposes to wire are the most ideologically leftist section of the Democrat base. This quote from the article lends credence to that view:

    bq. “He talked to donors around the country, like Andy Rappaport, who were angry at the Clintonesque rhetoric that obscured the sharp ideological divide between them and the Rush Limbaugh right; they were desperate for new policy ideas and for a more aggressive, coherent strategy.”

    As surveys have shown, the Democrats’ activist core tend to be very different from the party’s actual voting base. To the point that some have looked at the survey data and said that these look like 2 different parties.

    So, this could be positive if they get genuinely new thinking out of their investment. But it could also be a case of being careful what you ask for, lest you get it.

    bq.. “The first is that the new class of Democratic investors could conceivably end up skewing the party ideologically for years to come. A lot of the political venture capitalists were strong supporters of Dean in the primaries, in the fervent belief that his campaign — which became, in effect, a classic liberal crusade, in the Jerry Brown mold, only with more money — was leading the party back in the right direction. Although several donors described themselves to me as ”pragmatic” in their worldview, the moderate Kerry seemed to elicit in them all the passion of an insurance actuary (Soros labeled him ”acceptable”), and they manifested a pointed distaste for Clintonism as a political philosophy. The way they look at it, centrist Democrats spent a decade appeasing Republicans while the right solidified its occupation of American government. The donors see themselves as the emerging liberal resistance, champions of activist government at home and multilateral cooperation abroad.

    There is, of course, a striking disconnect between the lives of these new Democratic investors and those of the party’s bedrock voters: laborers, racial minorities and immigrants, many of whose faith in sweeping social programs has been badly shaken and who tend to be more culturally conservative than the well-off citizens of New York and Silicon Valley. But if the multimillionaires harbor even the slightest doubts about their qualifications for solving social and geopolitical ills, they don’t express it.”

    p. George Soros’ involvement is NOT a positive sign in this regard, and the whackos at are also held up several times as a leading-edge example here. A.L., unless a bunch of people like you pick up a lot of this money and make it count, I think they’re about to more or less “invest” you out of their party.

    As the article put it:

    bq. “Leftist investors will see their opening — a chance, at last, to swoop in and save the party from empty centrism. The struggle for control in 2008 will begin almost immediately.”

    If I was Trent Telenko, I’d be arguing that this isn’t the revitalization of the Democratic Party – this is the final nail in the coffin. The article itself raises this as a possibility:

    bq. “People like Andy Rappaport and Jonathan Soros might succeed in revitalizing progressive politics — while at the same time destroying what we now call the Democratic Party.”

    Personally, I’m betting that this will be the beginning of an ideological fight in America that will feel, often, akin to civil war. And if that happens, M. Simon’s predictions of both parties splintering starts to look a whole lot more likely.

    Along the way, there ARE useful things that can be done as the money flows, and key ideas that could make a big difference if they are funded. Will the discipline of the venture model filter out the extremists and let good new ideas rise to the surface, or are businesspeople in politics like businessprople with sports teams?

    A significant chunk of America’s future could end up riding on the answer.

  3. I tend to agree with Joe, so don’t have much to write. Except that I think the article pretty heavy on techno-woo-woo, which is always a bad sign. The reason Democrats have a “message problem” is that they’ve drifted so far from core Americanism that they’ve simply left the field to Republicans. And furthermore, this article sounds like a worked-over version of this rather sophomoric think piece by Chris Bowers that I responded to here. Granted, the NYT version sounds a lot more “important.”

    I’ll also say something else, that I think bears on this topic a great deal more than techno-woo-woo, and big Soros money, or NYT nurturing. If the Democrats can’t come up with a viable and effective way to fight and win the War on Totalitarianism they’ll go the way of the Whigs, who couldn’t figure out a viable response to chattel slavery. The Whigs had a very broad “network” and brilliant people (including the greatest orator in US history), but they simply couldn’t come to grips with the critical political/social/cultural issue of the era. They became irrelevant.

    I’m still a Democrat, by the way, but if this movement goes where I think it’s going I’m outta here.

  4. You know, it also occurs to me that all this emphasis on a network of “liberal” policy think tanks ignores the fact that “liberals” have a virtual monopoly on university-based policy research, and produce enough scholarly articles and journals to choke a Trojan Horse. What they need to do is produce less, and better, work.

  5. If the Democratic party must surrender to pragmatic venture capitalists with neo-liberal ideas born in their heads when they used to follow The Dead, the country will be the worse for it. I sincerely hope that leftists wanting to start up a think tank so they may sit around and pow-wow while trying to garner attention in trendy intellectual circles realize that think tanks are all around them: in their workplace, the bar, the schoolhouse (where help is truly needed), and the dining room table.

    No, the Democratic party is not as lockstep as the Republican machine. There are no Prelates dictating their interpretation of scripture to novitiates. Democrats don’t inspire a turn of events on a Saturday and spend all Sunday morning talking about it on television. Democrats are not made men with all the connections and with power in their fists. Who needs that self-righteous, supply-side-pseudo-religeous bullshit? There are still 100 million potential voters in the electorate that typically “do not vote”: 100 million!

    Why do Democrats need to “wire their base” and double time it to the polls like cadets running extra laps for the drill sargeant? If their is a thing that may be called Clintonism (which is highly doubtful since his only real political legacy was survival) it may be simply “build a big tent.” That is, find those voters who think the whole thing is a sham and goad them into voting. Give them a reason they can care about to show up. The whole reason conservatives need to keep zapping their base is that is the only way they can achieve anything as outnumbered as they are.

    And how long before all those good Christian people in the Heartland with their Heartland Values realize how screwed they are? That clock is ticking, ticking. I am originally a farm boy from East Central Indiana and I can say that the place only barely resembles what it used to be. My elementary school turned into a county jail (a profit center as it takes in overflow from other counties); new prisons in broken down towns, farmers scraping by with next to nothing at all; Wal-Mart size churches sprung up everywhere to siphon off what spending money their is left, and rigid doctrines to follow at every step. There are loads of goodies for some boys and girls and perpetual austerity measures for the rest.

    But it is dawning on them that something is’nt quite right. Some of them are going to turn on the Right because of the war. Some of them are going to turn because in four years they have been given nothing while much has been asked. A whole lotta people who never had a mind to vote because they think the whole game is fixed are going to show up out of curiosity’s sake on election day. That is, unless, the Democratic party turns into a bunch of brutal fixers themselves who only inspire cynicism and fear.

    Progressives are not doom and gloom. Progressives are not for blowing the budget on handouts. That is poorly spun myth. Hell, the Progressive era ended in 1914. The New Deal wasn’t some sort of liberal-Socialist wet dream. It was an all out effort to restore economic activity as quickly as possible. Except for Social Security, most of FDR’s programs were temporary in law and in scope. No one was ever even sure they would work, and afterwards is wasn’t clear if they did. Maybe things just changed because another war came along.

    But there is, I think, a new Progressive Era coming along where Populism will restore rights to individuals that have been taken over by ideologues and corporatists. While one may resent the “wackos” at for their wackiness. It started out as simply two people at a dining room table talking and is still only a tiny staff. They won’t hurt you; they’re friendly.

    Democrats do not need to assume the model of the Conservative Right to gain leveredge at the polls. We will build a bigger tent and take pride that it is a big bunch of just about everybody. Union? Yes! (All 8% of the workforce, you) Minorities: “Hell yeahh, word to ya mutha!” Gays? “Loved your wedding, you both looked gorgeous.” Christians? “Praise Jesus! The world’s first liberal.” Big Business? “Just tell Tiny Tim to scoot over and have you a seat right there!” Soldiers? “Our honored guests. Please follow us we have special accommodations for you.” Women? “It’s ladies night!” Skin heads, fascists, bigots, land rapers, and world exploiters? “Go on home now, git!” There’s room and there is enough for most everyone. As Robert Penn Warren once said, “world enough, and time…”

  6. I’d have a heck of lot more faith in Obelus’ prescription for the Dems than I would in the stuff described in the NYT article.

    The only caveat I’d add to this is that the U.S. Democratic Party does need to find a serious security policy, and be seen as standing up for America. This was once so, and perhaps it can be again. Fix that, and much else becomes possible. Leave it broken, and it will become a bigger and bigger problem over time.

  7. I thought the Center for American Progress was supposed to function thusly?

    Not sure whether I can evaluate how well they’re doing. They seem well exposed within the blogosphere, but are they really a think tank or just a media shop? Do they stand for anything other than “George Bush is Bad?” Dubious.

  8. This article suggests that these progressives have their cart before their horse. They want a plan for politcal power, but don’t know what it is that they want to accomplish. What is their philosophy? Is it just to be anti-conservative?

  9. Lurker is correct — the Heritage folk knew the main thing they wanted. Smaller gov’t. They’ve been working on getting it. (Bush kinda poor on this, though — ruling party disease?)

    The Dems booted out big-gov’t pro-life folk, who are now part of the Reps. Most Christians, even Black Christians, are pro-life. But the Dems don’t quite accept pro-life anymore.

    What is the Dem MESSAGE? So far, all I hear different from Kerry is higher taxes … on the rich — PUNISH those greedy suckers, those guys who only create new jobs to get even richer than they need.

    Kerry doesn’t even have the guts to really support higher gas taxes, to reduce the deficit and start pushing towards more fuel economy (slowly, slightly).

    Oh, well, there IS the fact that when Kerry agrees with Bush on personal beliefs, abortion, gay-marriage, Kerry doesn’t vote that way.

  10. Kerry’s got some good ideas on health care, teachers, and the environment, but admittedly he doesn’t have an overaching theme that ties his programs together. Does he need one? Only in the sense that people like a “vision” and a story, I suppose.

  11. Effective change agents of any kind (organizational, political, social) need a clear set of well-articulated principles.

    That’s because the process of creating effective change isn’t one-way .. there are obstacles, unintended side effects and just plain old environmental factors that come out of left field to respond to.

    When hiccups and setbacks happen, or when there’s an opportunity (for good or ill) to compromise for additional support, it’s important to know what is bedrock and what is frills.

    In my experience, people do not follow (over the long haul) those who haven’t got and can’t articlulate that bedrock.

  12. I should add, those comments were not aimed at any particular candidate or party, just a response to what seemed to be praktike’s suggestion that the desire of people for a “theme and story” is supperficial.

    I would argue, after making changes as an executive in 2 small companies, that such a theme and story is what makes lasting change possible because it a) gives it a context and b) allows decisions based on the key central values but flexibility with regard to peripheral concerns.

  13. What is their philosophy? Is it just to be anti-conservative?

    It’s worse than that: as best I can tell, the Democratic nominee is President Not Bush.

    I’m not a Democrat, but it’s a shame to see the party lose it’s sense of self.

  14. I plan on voting for the Dems this year because I think they are going to something about:

    1) Security – by providing resources at the local and regional level, real world anti-terrorism measures may be implemented.

    2) Nourishing the middle class – getting this sector moving again.

    3) Improving health care – this is a serious drain on the resources of the middle class and on seniors.

    4) Improving our foreign policy – we need to repair the damage that unilateralism has caused.

    5) Halt deficit spending – we need to slow the upward redistribution of wealth and lower our dependence on foreign capital to finance our overspending.

  15. Reading that article in the Times magazine reminded me of the Steve Jackson Games “Illuminati.”: Could the Times start believing in conspiracy theories with an awful lot of people in grey? Are parts of the Democratic Party developing traces of an obsessive paranoia?

  16. “Right now, the people Rappaport proposes to wire are the most ideologically leftist section of the Democrat base. ”

    Not the most ideologically leftist. The most vicerally angry. Not at all an identical set.

    “The only caveat I’d add to this is that the U.S. Democratic Party does need to find a serious security policy, and be seen as standing up for America.”

    I’m with you on that.

    “This article suggests that these progressives have their cart before their horse. They want a plan for politcal power, but don’t know what it is that they want to accomplish. What is their philosophy?”

    At worst that wouldn’t make them any different than George H. W. Bush. Or Richard Nixon. But the point here is to decide upon what to accomplish, and how, and embed it in a core philosophy for the 21st century.

  17. These people are trying to revive the “progressive” wing of the party to avoid the “empty centrism”.

    They are right that the party is dead. However they are trying to revive a longer dead horse (socialism) to carry the party forward.

    A fool and his money are soon parted.

    I think this is proof positive that I was correct on 16 May 03. The Democrat Party will be the first to go down. These guys are stupider than rocks.

    Don’t worry the Republicans are aching for a post election purge.

  18. Re: Avoiding empty centrism

    Don’t the geniuses ponying up the money for this know why Pepsi tastes like Coke and what that might mean for politics?

    Dumb as rocks.

    There will be a new party because these guys have nothing to sell but nostalgia for socialism. I don’t think that is a growth market no matter how good the advertising. The product is defective.

  19. A.L.,

    If you are the New Liberal (Roger Simon, myself and many others as well) then you have to start with what we can agree on.

    1. Economics – capitalism has won – every where we let it work its magic it is painful but people become better off. Perhaps a little sandpaper to smooth the edges (we can afford it) but basically let er rip.

    2. The war – well we are all pretty much agreed on that. Fascism is not going to win.

    So far not too different from the Republicans.

    Short side trip. What are the Republicans doing to bring clarity? They are purging gays from the party. They would love to get rid of RINOs too. After the election.

    So what does that leave an honest opposition party? Civil liberties. Like gangbusters. But we are going to get rid of the quota thing and let merit and the market sort stuff out. We are about removing impediments. We can work out our remaining prejudices without government help or interferences.

    Right off we get Hitch, Simon (the other one), Sullivan and many others too numerous to mention.

    BTW I ran down the core of this on 16 May 03. Nothing serous has changed – except the signs are now more obvious. It really is worth a re-read.

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