Wednesday, October 01, 2003


I absolutely agree with Joe that, all other things being equal, the rational major party politicians will want to tack to the middle, as Clinton, Gore, and Bush did (at least he presented himself that way). I also agree with Joe that this is not necessarily a desirable thing for anyone but the voters in the center. However, I disagree with his choice of remedy. I absolutely maintain that the general election is too late for a voter to do anything beneficial other than help their most preferred viable candidate win. He didn't like the way Gore tacked to the center, so he didn't vote. The result: Bush wins and the country's policy course has been to the right of center (even without Bush turning out to be even worse than he presented himself)--and to the right of Gore. Had Gore won (and he was a little more honest about his intentions during the campaign), we would have had a policy course slightly left of center. I fail to see how that isn't an improvement from the perspective of those on the left.

Plus, the presidency carries with it the opportunity to use the bully pulpit, set the agenda, and use the power of the office to enact many of your pet policies under the radar. Bush is using all of these to drag the country to the right. While this is going on, Democrats sit and bicker amongst themselves about whose fault it is that we're where we are. It is especially ironic that the very people who sat on their hands in 2000 when they had an opportunity to prevent this monstrosity complain the loudest--blaming the party for abandoning them, rather than the other way around. As Vince Lombardi famously said, winning isn't everything. It's the only thing. We are in this state for one reason: the Republicans have grasped this point while the Democrats have not.

The attacks on Clinton from the left are especially unwarranted. He lost Congress in 1994 because he took the unpopular step of raising taxes to fix the economy. Also, because of the point made above; Republicans united behind their candidates, Democrats hesitated and failed to support theirs. This same phenomenon is the real reason the center of political dialogue has shifted to the right. Rather than take on the real enemies on the right in the court of public opinion, those on the left instead turned their fire on Clinton. The internecine war between the factions of the party presented Republicans an open shot at setting the tone. Don't get me wrong, the Republicans have as many divisions as the Democrats but are simply better able to avoid airing all of their dirty laundry in public and shooting themselves in the ass in the process.

As for this theory that something good can ever possibly come from deliberately trying to sabotage your party and hand an election to the opposition to make a point, it is counterintuitive and unsupported by any empirical evidence. All you do is allow the opposition the opportunity to run things and change minds for four years while at the same time enraging the people who you ultimately want to join in your cause by stabbing them in the back. Plus, you establish yourself (and your faction) as unreliable supporters thus making it less likely that the party will move in your direction.

Therefore, I still believe that failing to support your preferred party in a general election is irrational. However, Joe makes a very good point that the voters on the right and left must have some power to prevent their party from running willy-nilly to the center. They must be able to ensure that their party does not become "visionless" and "grasping for an identity."

Fortunately, voters on the left do have those means. As I mentioned in the previous post, these voters can 1) dominate Democratic primaries and ensure that only true believers win, and 2) make concerted efforts to make a united front in presenting the case to the public so as to shift the political center of gravity to the left. #1 will make the previous argument moot, while #2 both makes #1 easier and also makes an ultimate victory easier. The conservative Republicans do both well. The Christian Coalition and the NRA essentially determine primary results in many places, while Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter preach the word to the ignorant masses. This is why we seldom see Republicans commiting electoral hara-kiri as the Democrats did in 2000 and why we even more seldom see anyone describe their party as directionless.

There is no reason why liberals can't do the exact same thing. The only problem is that it is hard work. On the first point, it involves organizing and participating in tedious party-building activities and get-out-the-vote campaigns. On the second, it involves breaking into the conservative media monopoly and pitching your message in lowest-common-denominator terms. It's much easier to vote for Ralph Nader and then bitch about how the party abandoned you.

Incidentally, the turnout in 2000 was 51% of the voting age population--which means that ineligible noncitizens and felons are included--higher than both 1988 and 1996. See

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