Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Devil In The Details

When you bargain with the devil, sometimes you win. Most times, he wins.
You may recall back in '06 when Howard Dean decided to revitalize the party by energizing the machinery in all 50 states, regardless of traditional voting patterns. Everyone thought it was brilliant, because hey, it was Howard Dean. I thought it was idiotic.
But the results of the 2006 and 2008 Congressional and Presidential elections proved me wrong. Sort of.
Unfortunately, it has brought front and center the very wing of the Democratic party that we need to continue to run the country and there's the rub:

Before 2009, most Americans never heard of Sens. Ben Nelson, Max Baucus or Kent Conrad. More have heard of the Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman as a result of his Democratic vice presidential bid in 2000.

Yet now they are the movers and shakers in the Senate. Anyone who follows politics knows exactly who they are. It could not be further from 2005 when Nicholas Confessore in The New York Times wrote that "centrist Democrats today struggle with an unfriendly environment."

Throughout the Senate debate over health care, the centrists repeatedly forced the president's hand by insisting on changes to the legislation that made Obama's liberal base furious and which will constrain the impact of this legislation. Health care was the second major victory for centrists this year. They also were able to cut down the size of the economic stimulus bill back in February 2008.

Despite the poutrage from the liberal community, this is a simple fact: we can't run a 50 state strategy if we're going to lose the Baucuses, Nelsons and Conrads of the nation. How easy would it be to say to a voter in, say, Colorado "See what them libs did to Lieberman" and scare off a potential vote?
Let's turn back to CNN for a moment:

Why is this small group of senators so influential and will this change? The first reason has to do with the nature of the Democratic Party. Democrats have never been as ideologically disciplined as the Republicans, and they have been less successful containing party differences.[...]

The second factor behind the new kings of the hill has to do with the sharpening of the partisan divide on Capitol Hill. The impact of growing party polarization since the 1970s has meant that winning votes from the other party is extraordinarily difficult. Except for rare moments, neither party can count on winning significant blocks of votes from the other side of the aisle.[...]

Finally, institutions matter. The U.S. now has a Senate that operates as a supermajority. The Senate now requires 60 votes on any piece of legislation given that senators are willing to use the filibuster on almost any bill. If the majority party needs 60 votes to pass a bill, and it can't win votes from the other side, a handful of moderates wield tremendous power.

Expanding a voter base is a lot like breaking ground in a garden. You have to work the soil, amend it, fertilize it, then you can seed. Once you can begin growing things, you can thin and weed out the garden, thus insuring a healthier crop.
The basic flaw in the strategy of Karl Rove's attempt at a permanent Republican majority was in underestimating the ground that was shifting underneath him. He believed it was more solid than it was, but in point of fact, the number of solidly blue or red districts (much less states) in the nation is very small. And as CNN points out, generally you can count on 45% of any district to go Democratic, 45% to go Republican, meaning you are scrambling for less than ten percent of the vote.
Unless you can alter your party's image sufficiently that you can peel off voters from the other party who are frustrated with the lack of response from their own party. This is how Obama won in 2008. It wasn't the liberals that got him elected, altho the youth vote was a large factor.
Instead, it was the perception that he was not a radical Muslim liberal hippie pinko commie Volvo driver. Why do you think the radical ight chose the ridiculous tropes they did, day in and day out, to stain the man? 
And it's funny how our side missed that message completely, while the other voters got it almost from day one (and certainly the day after McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate).
So for now, we're stuck with these guys. If you read on in the linked article at CNN, you'll find the three options Obama and the party leadership have for dealing with them. If we as liberals are truly interested in helping this administration, we'll opt for Number Two:

The second option would be to use the power of the bully pulpit, as well as the famous but now forgotten campaign network from 2008, to go into the states of these senators and build grassroots pressure to vote with the party. Thus far, the president has been hesitant to take this path.

What if, rather than waiting for his instruction, we lifted the burden off his shoulders for him? You know, the man's a little busy and right now needs these guys but if we can get underneath their pins and start to push outward, they might decide they need to shift left a little in order to shore up their chances of winning re-election.
After all, ain't that what it all comes down to? It's all fine and dandy to have campaign money flowing in from corporations, but if you have no office, that tap gets shut off faster than beer in a Prohibition raid.
Ay, but then, the devil's in the details. How many of us really care that much?