Tuesday, July 27, 2004
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The future of party politics?
John Harwood's front-pager in today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) covers almost the exact same ground at Matt Bai's New York Times Magazine cover story about the organizational revolution taking place among Democrat-friendly interest groups.
Harwood's story focuses more on what these interest groups and 527 organizations are doing in this election cycle:
Meanwhile, Bai focuses on the long-term strategy of wealthy Democratic backers. Some of the highlights:
What's striking about both stories is that, both in this electoral cycle and in their plans for creating an idea machine, these organizations aren't talking about appealing to centrist voters -- if anything, there's a disdain for the Clintonite policies of the nineties. The goal in the short-term is to motivate those latent voters symapthetic to a liberal/progressive agenda. The goal in the long term is to generate the ideas that will pull the country in a leftward direction.
More power to them -- I like to see a competition in ideas. That said, these stories contradict Noam Scheiber's suggestion from last week that the Republican interest groups are more likely to coordinate than Democratic interest groups, and as a result, "a politician on the left can repeatedly buck various interest groups without triggering an outright rebellion among his base. Politicians on the right enjoy much less leeway in this respect."
Maybe that was true in the past, but it's not going to be true in the future. And while I like to see ideational competition, the moderate in me frets about the long-term implications on policymaking.
UPDATE: Jonathan Cohn has a TNR Online story about Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and a key player in this political transformation. A lot of what Stern says reinforces the stories above:
ANOTHER UPDATE: Kevin Drum picks up on a point that kept nagging me as I was reading the Bai story:
To be fair, Bai describes the ideological orientation of these groups, but Kevin's right -- there was nothing in the story about specific policies, or even a desciption of the underpinnings behind modern-day liberalism.posted by Dan on 07.27.04 at 10:02 AM
Perhaps a look at the Democrat Convention this year would be instructive as to the amount of leeway the party provides.
I've blogged about this for a week now, where the Democrats are clearly trying to muzzle the heart and soul of their party... the far left... so as to be able to sell themselves as center-right. This is manifested in the publicly toning down of the speakers, and uninviting the more strident far leftist bloggers that they originally invited. The message the Democrats are sending is clear, and not new; Lockstep, or step off.
Of the right, it could easily be said that the tentis much larger. Bush is not a conservative, but a centerist, and yet enjoys wide support among Repubicans. Ditto John McCain.
And I'd not work up a sweat about policy making, were I you. The republican party IS at the center, and the Democrats are trying to sell themselves as such, these days. As such, I don't doubt the resulting policy out of this mish-mash will be centerist. Not that I approve of that, mind, but... what it is.posted by: Bithead on 07.27.04 at 10:02 AM [permalink]
You know, ever since the Left discovered money in politics, I've heard far less complaints about it. Harumph. It'd be better if these 527 outfits were out in the open, rather than working a shadowy loophole. Thank you, John McCain.
I wonder how well this is going to work. If the Democrats have got to go farther to the left to ensure funding of their campaigns, it will make it harder to reach out to centrists later. Also, the folks funding this are what used to be called "limosine liberals". They're agnostic or hostile to religion (which makes connecting to afro-americans and hispanics as well as making those moral arguments about social justice a whole lot harder) and mostly impervious to the consequences of the activist government they seek. If these guys were smart, they'd hire Bill Clinton rather than reject him. Because the issues they find important do not resonate in the interest groups that reliably vote Democratic.posted by: Appalled Moderate on 07.27.04 at 10:02 AM [permalink]
I wonder how well this is going to work. If the Democrats have got to go farther to the left to ensure funding of their campaigns, it will make it harder to reach out to centrists later.
A good point, and one I submit is curently under test.
It's been tested before....A few years ago, Mike Dukakas had to reach so far left that reaching back to the center was nigh on impossible, and Reagan, at least partially as a result made hamburger out of him... The Democrats today want nothing to do with him, having shut him out of this years conventon altogehter. (Apparently the memory of what happned the last time a MA liberal ran for President is a memory they don't want the American people to have...)
Kerry certainly had to lean well to the left to make it htrough the primary process...a nd if the speeches last night are of any indication, it's a leaning he can never totally be free of, even when he tries.
The only question now becomes, how much further left is the electorate of today, vs then, and thereby, how many people will he turn off?
I agree with Appalled Moderate. Liberals have some idea that there once existed a golden age of liberalism/progressivism that they are going to bring back. I think that, in fact, the country has rarely embraced a truly liberal agenda except during extreme crises (i.e., the Depression) and even then there was no great enthusiasm for liberal-type programs. The Great Society was bootstrapped by liberals onto a party base that was still dependent on working class support from the New Deal. But in fact the Great Society was not particularly popular with the working class and would likely imploded even without Viet Nam. The idea that there is some latent leftism in the American populace is a myth propagated today largely by rich Democrats (isn't it ironic that it is the wealthy that are embracing the welfare state?. And they are as arrogant as you would expect rich people to be.)
I think the GOP has gone way too far in the other direction and some correction is overdue and is likely. The Democrats need to advance some new ideas other than Republican-lite. But if the liberals keep deluding themselves that the reason for conservative success is better organization and "brainwashing" by bid media (a popular rant by liberals), and they can safely ignore moderates, the Democrats will eventually see a return not to the "good old days" of the 40s and 50s but to the 70s and 80s.posted by: MWS on 07.27.04 at 10:02 AM [permalink]
'Mike Dukakas had to reach so far left that reaching back to the center was nigh on impossible, and Reagan, at least partially as a result made hamburger out of him'
That would be quite some trick, since Dukakis didn't run against Ron.
'But if the liberals keep deluding themselves that the reason for conservative success is better organization and "brainwashing" by bid media (a popular rant by liberals), and they can safely ignore moderates, '
But organization is very, very important. As is money. Part of the reason the Demos lost in 2002 is because of stronger Republican organization on the ground, the 72 hour GOTV campaign etc. We would like to believe that victory goes to the one with better (or at least more popular) ideas. In a country as divided as this, victory goes to tbe better funded, the more scientific etc. We know that a lot of people who could be potentially democratic (at the lower end of the income scale) don't vote, whereas the opposite is the case in India (poor people vote in higher %s than wealthy). Organization and discipline on the ground is important, vastly so. Thats why Dean didn't win the nomination -- he lacked those 2 characterstics.
'If the Democrats have got to go farther to the left to ensure funding of their campaigns, it will make it harder to reach out to centrists later. Also, the folks funding this are what used to be called "limosine liberals'
Because they have the money. A lot of funding for the Repubs comes from conservative businessmen, but they represent only a small part of the Republican base.
I agree with the first part, but not necessarily with the 2nd. Health care, the war in Iraq, better jobs are common themes in the election and they are important themes of the Democrats. Things that groups care strongly about (gay marriage etc.) don't always make it to the general agenda (with the exception of abortion).
As for the comment about the Dems locking the crazies away in the basement, well duh. The Repubs do the same as well. John McCain, Arnue, Guiliani (let alone Bloomberg) are hardly representative of the Republican base.posted by: erg on 07.27.04 at 10:02 AM [permalink]
Where's the "ideational competition" regarding dealing with geometrically increasing health care spending? Or how to deal with the rise of China and India?
The notion that the Democratic Party is now in the grip of the likes of the Service Employees Union, "Emily's List" activists, and Wall Street and Silicon Valley gazillionaires does not reassure one that either of the above issues will receive anything like intelligent attention from the Democrats.
Not that the Republicans are any better, but it's disappointing to see so much effort and money being poured into partisan competition on issues whose importance is dwarfed by the health care debacle and the Asian Century issues.
As for the comment about the Dems locking the crazies away in the basement, well duh. The Repubs do the same as well. John McCain, Arnue, Guiliani (let alone Bloomberg) are hardly representative of the Republican base.
What a sorry spectacle: one party dominated by people who think The Passion is high art, the other by people who consider Michael Moore a sage.
Is it not possible to create a party that believes in separation of Church and State, that expects individuals to take some responsibility for their outcomes, that supports free trade, that will provide less state protection for farmers and businesses and more for children and the elderly and the disabled, and that has a strong foreign policy focus on Asia?
Could not such a party achieve dominance in CA-OR-WA-AZ, also in CO, NY, NJ and New England? Not enough to win the White House, but surely enough to hold the balance of power on the Hill and displace the MelG and Mickey Maroon nutjobs who act as primary constraints on the two parties today.posted by: raymond aron on 07.27.04 at 10:02 AM [permalink]
That would be quite some trick, since Dukakis didn't run against Ron.
Yeah, I caught that after it went out. Ever get one of those you wanted to edit after the fact?(You know the feeling... ohh..poop...) Thanks.posted by: Bithead on 07.27.04 at 10:02 AM [permalink]
It's really mostly about hating our freedoms, raising our taxes, and turning over our sovereignty to faceless bureaucrats in Brussels. Once you understand that, you understand where we're coming from.posted by: praktike on 07.27.04 at 10:02 AM [permalink]
What I hear from Move-On and crew is a lot about Iraq and the Patriot Act and draft dodging or those awful evangelicals, and not a whole lot about actually doing something about health care or jobs for Americans.
I agree Iraq is an important issue for Americans, but it declines in importance when it's not on the nightly news. The other issues register less with the folk who will swing this election than Soros and company think.posted by: Appalled Moderate on 07.27.04 at 10:02 AM [permalink]
You don't hear much about health care because neither party has a clue. Same for handling China, or Iran, or coming attacks on Saudi production facilities.posted by: raymond aron on 07.27.04 at 10:02 AM [permalink]
Healthcare is tough because
1. Americans want everything covered.
2. Americans are used to paying insurance premiums, because the employer has done it.
3. The user is not the buyer.
4. The right to sue for lots of money is more important to powerful people than the right to healthcare.posted by: Appalled Moderate on 07.27.04 at 10:02 AM [permalink]
I've only skimmed the Bai article so forgive me if I'm repeating his point but there is a HUGE difference bewteen the Dean phenomenon and the Democratic 527's.
The Deaniacs were self-organized. They created themesleves via internet. Their impact and ideas bubbled up. Joe Trippi's contribution wasn't in creating that but in listening to it and giving it a voice inside the Dean campaign.
In contrast, the 527's are some of the most hierarchical and top-down political structures I've seen. While they use the internet to communciate and coordiate, it's a one way street. Wealthy people tell you what to do and pay you to do it and that's it. Feedback is welcomed - but in form only, in actuallity it's discarded, not processed or acted on. (This is based on friends' reports of their experiences).
A movement that fused what's best of both types of organizations would be extremely powerful.
But in essence, isn't that what the two parties are supposed to be doing anyway?posted by: Jos Bleau on 07.27.04 at 10:02 AM [permalink]
Kevin Drum just missed what these groups are for. They are for being against Republicans.
The truth is that you don't hear much from the well-organized GOP, for example at the state level, about what Republicans ought to be for either. In California you hear about how great it is that they got rid of Grey Davis; in Georgia they are still congratulating themselves over bringing down King Roy and making Georgia a two-party state after 138 years -- two years after it happened. And at the national level there was a reason Bush's economic agenda didn't change from 1999 (during an historic boom) and 2001 (when a recession loomed); so much effort had gone into campaign mechanics that not very much thought had been left over for policy. But the White House and the RNC are sure that they are against those liberals, and for honor and dignity and all the rest of it.
What we have is the business of getting elected overwhelming the business of government. In low-turnout elections it really does make sense to mobilize your base, because most uncommitted voters end up not voting. The result is that you have an entire political class that defines itself by what it is against, what it is afraid of, and what it dislikes.posted by: Zathras on 07.27.04 at 10:02 AM [permalink]
All this "venture capital" and "entrepreneur" terminology as applied to the big money guys' entry into Dem politics is nauseating. Also highly revealing about the M.O. of these types.
Venture capital, aka vulture capital, is motivated purely and simply by return on investment calculations. These money guys are not passionate about new ideas or new technologies or new anything; their interest is purely and simply to maximize their returns. This is done partly by finding ideas that will win wide favor in the marketplace, partly by buying and turning around businesses whose valuable parts are obscured or buried by much less valuable parts, and partly by deal structuring on terms that are much more favorable to the VC than to the entrepreneurs or operators on the other side of the transaction.
Am I alone in finding this a particularly repellent model for democratic political involvement?posted by: raymond aron on 07.27.04 at 10:02 AM [permalink]
'Venture capital, aka vulture capital, is motivated purely and simply by return on investment calculations. These money guys are not passionate about new ideas or new technologies or new anything; their interest is purely and simply to maximize their returns'
You're wrong. Some VCs are like that, yes, but many others are experienced entrepreneurs, others are experienced technologists. The best VCs are passionate about technology and business success.
I think the VC idea is a great model -- fund projects with small amounts, increase funding based on results.posted by: Jon on 07.27.04 at 10:02 AM [permalink]
I fear that the increased power of special interest groups will not lead to "competition in ideas." The solicitations I receive in the mail tend to be quite disingenous about problems their organization wants to solve with the help of my money. I'm sure that the greater the distortion, the better the chance to be heard above the din of competing interest groups. But if special interest groups cannot be expected to be honest, how can a "competition of ideas" lead to the correct idea prevailing? Or perhaps more importantly for a moderate such as myself, how can the best combination of ideas rise to the top if we become too polarized as to the basic facts?posted by: PD Shaw on 07.27.04 at 10:02 AM [permalink]
If Populism was a great force in American politics, William Jennings Bryan would have been president.posted by: Mike on 07.27.04 at 10:02 AM [permalink]
On Drum's remarks, I think both of you missed the impetus for the current reorganization. The right's success at building such an infastructure -- and when they started -- it doesn't seem clear that there was a coherent message. So although message is important -- the institutions that should be developed shouldn't be built to *deliver* a message -- but should be built to *create* the message. So in that sense, I think what the left has, a set of ideas that are very loosely knit together is sufficient to start with.posted by: Jor on 07.27.04 at 10:02 AM [permalink]
I agree that organization is important. The Democrats have been disorganized for so long that you can only say "it's about time." But my point is that, despite what liberals like to say, it wasn't just organization that won for the Republicans. Their ideas had resonance with a lot of people, whether you like that or not. Liberals assume, I think, that all they have to do is organize and get the message out and the latent liberalism of the American people will come to the fore. I think that's a mistake. Liberals are going to have to take people's concerns seriously. I am shocked at articles I have been reading lately from liberals decrying middle and working classes for voting against their interests when they vote for Republicans. I think that shows incredible arrogance that college professors and journalists think they know what's better for the benighted working class. I think it's sort of ironic, the assumption that liberals seem to make that people should always vote their economic interest. So, that means there should be no wealthy Democrats because they should all vote Republican. As long as liberals refuse to take seriously the notion that people "beneath" them have concerns that transcend simple economic self-interest and that these concerns may not correspond to liberal notions, they are not going to make much headway.posted by: MWS on 07.27.04 at 10:02 AM [permalink]
What I find most interesting in all this is that the liberals who screamed the loudest about big money having outsized influence on politics seem not at all troubled by the sight of fabulously wealthy men like Soros spending freely to influence the election this year. I think maybe we can all agree now that campaign finance "reform" was a failure, it's done nothing to take big money out of politics, and ought to be repealed pronto.posted by: DBL on 07.27.04 at 10:02 AM [permalink]
Generally agree with MWS ... and a few others along similar lines.
Some time before I leave this earth, I would like to see the best of each in Smart Independent Group of Influence equal to a party or as viable third party. Until then with each year it is largely special interest vested interests thinking to stupiditos from either side.posted by: Alex on 07.27.04 at 10:02 AM [permalink]
Am ready willing, and able to assist in starting a viable Smart Independents Group/or Party any time and go any where to do it. [know a great deal and was raised to be in office as family members, but have been too non-partisan all along]
'But my point is that, despite what liberals like to say, it wasn't just organization that won for the Republicans. Their ideas had resonance with a lot of people, whether you like that or not. '
I agree that conservative ideas have appeal to a lot of people, but thats only part of the story. The best ideas in the world languish unless they're directed by money and organization. The Republicans built that up earlier.
Now its the democrats turn. In a closely divided country, organizaton and money will decide the next election, not superior ideas. For governring, successfully, you do need good ideas, but the organization is about putting people in power, not governing.posted by: erg on 07.27.04 at 10:02 AM [permalink]
Appalled Moderate: It'd be better if these 527 outfits were out in the open, rather than working a shadowy loophole. Thank you, John McCain.
What, you prefer the soft money loophole? As I recall, that wasn't exactly in the open, and control of it was a lot more centralized.posted by: fling93 on 07.27.04 at 10:02 AM [permalink]
Re. the VCs, I agree that some are passionate about technology, but I highly doubt that they characterize the sort of people who get involved in politics. And most of the names we've heard, such as George Soros and that insurance gazillionaire from Ohio, are not VCs to begin with.
The likelihood is that most of this money will come from wealthy Manhattan/California culture-war zealots who have a special loathing for the religious right, not nice-guy entrepreneurs with a good-gov't interest in new ideas.
Nothing wrong with taking on the religious right in my book, but the problem I have with letting the bi-coastal big money guys lead the charge is that, like the Kennedy admin's best and brightest, they've never run for office anywhere and most of them are contemptuous of the little people. Their business tactics are ruthless; their political instincts are skewed, to put it mildly.
Do you really think a David Geffen or Soros type is going to effectively appeal to a party whose core consists of deeply religious, lower-income Baptists concentrated in black-majority congressional districts? Think those folks will be on board with legalized pot and gay marriage?
You may be right that a VC approach can bring significant benefits, but the Wall Streeters and the California big money folks don't strike me as the right VCs.
I read the WSJ piece today. There's a July 24th Chicago Tribune piece on Soros that I recommend checking out. It discusses this infrastructure thing as well.
The one thing that stands out to me, something that Drum touches on, is the question I leave myself: What politics other than defeating George Bush does Soros and the SEIU, Emily's List and Moveon.org share? Abortion is the only issue I can think of, though SEIU members may not be as pro-choice as Emily's List would prefer.
Soros and Lewis are about half the money behind this move. When you add Steve Bing and Haim Saban you are at about 60%. If you add the giant 527, previously PAC, money, then you're at about 80%.
Progressives have argued that they have been shut out of much of the debate because of money so now that they appear to have money, something they always had but never was politcally feasible, they can move on. They created a "think tank" in the Center for American Progress to compete with "Republican" think tanks they define as AEI, CATO and Heritage. But these "Republican" think tanks do not have near the political connection that CAP does.
Additionally there is that frequently ignored Progressive bastion known as the college campus. A place where faculties are dominated by progressives and liberals. John Kerry has 200 economists on his economic adivsory panel. Wanna take a wild guess where most of them presently receive paychecks from?posted by: Brennan Stout on 07.27.04 at 10:02 AM [permalink]
'They created a "think tank" in the Center for American Progress to compete with "Republican" think tanks they define as AEI, CATO and Heritage. But these "Republican" think tanks do not have near the political connection that CAP does.'
I have to agree that I'm disappointed with the CAP. The NYTimes Magazine covered it as a liberal think tank to come up with new ideas. They may be doing that, but they're also spending a lot of time just bashng BUsh. AEI, CATO, Heritage (and CATO (which is libertarian, not conservative) spend time thinking on ideas, not specific politicians.
'Additionally there is that frequently ignored Progressive bastion known as the college campus. A place where faculties are dominated by progressives and liberals'
But outside of economics, these don't have the political influence of CATO, Heritage etc. Also, the budget that goes to specific "liberal" research outside of history, women's studies, ethnic studies departments is actually probably less than the budgets of some of these think-tanks.
posted by: Jon Juzlak on 07.27.04 at 10:02 AM [permalink]
Jon Juzlak: What I am getting at is that Heritage, CATO and AEI scholars are paid not with tax payer educational subsidies, but instead through individual contributions of choice. Much of the public university funding comes from state and federal governments.posted by: Brennan Stout on 07.27.04 at 10:02 AM [permalink]
'What I am getting at is that Heritage, CATO and AEI scholars are paid not with tax payer educational subsidies, but instead through individual contributions of choice. Much of the public university funding comes from state and federal governments.'
posted by: Jon JUzlak on 07.27.04 at 10:02 AM [permalink]
Frankly, I wouldn't expect to much from "progressives" in colleges and universities. A fairly large number of these people are in academia because they either cannot or don't want to be somewhere else; their politics are defined less by ideology than by their personal alienation from American life outside the ivory tower. To the extent they are "for" anything they are for the United States becoming more like Europe, which even within the Democratic Party is not an easily salable idea.posted by: Zathras on 07.27.04 at 10:02 AM [permalink]
Brennan Stout wrote:
Progressives have argued that they have been shut out of much of the debate because of money so now that they appear to have money, something they always had but never was politcally feasible, they can move on. They created a "think tank" in the Center for American Progress to compete with "Republican" think tanks they define as AEI, CATO and Heritage. But these "Republican" think tanks do not have near the political connection that CAP does.When has the Left ever not had a series of funded think tanks to promote their preferred policies?
Two more that should be included – the Progressive Policy Institute which is literally an arm of the DLC and the Brookings Institution which (while generally nonpartisan) is pretty left-of-center.
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