Conventional Wisdom Vs. Common Sense

2 comments April 16th, 2007at 07:42am Posted by Eli

Krugman has noticed it too:

Normally, politicians face a difficult tradeoff between taking positions that satisfy their party’s base and appealing to the broader public. You can see that happening right now to the Republicans: to have a chance of winning the party’s nomination, Republican presidential hopefuls have to take far-right positions on Iraq and social issues that will cost them a lot of votes in the general election.

But a funny thing has happened on the Democratic side: the party’s base seems to be more in touch with the mood of the country than many of the party’s leaders. And the result is peculiar: on key issues, reluctant Democratic politicians are being dragged by their base into taking highly popular positions.

Iraq is the most dramatic example. Strange as it may seem, Democratic strategists were initially reluctant to make Iraq a central issue in the midterm election. Even after their stunning victory, which demonstrated that the G.O.P.’s smear-and-fear tactics have stopped working, they were afraid that any attempt to rein in the Bush administration’s expansion of the war would be successfully portrayed as a betrayal of the troops and/or a treasonous undermining of the commander in chief.

Beltway insiders, who still don’t seem to realize how overwhelmingly the public has turned against President Bush, fed that fear. For example, as Democrats began, nervously, to confront the administration over Iraq war funding, David Broder declared that Mr. Bush was “poised for a political comeback.”

It took an angry base to push the Democrats into taking a tough line in the midterm election. And it took further prodding from that base — which was infuriated when Barack Obama seemed to say that he would support a funding bill without a timeline — to push them into confronting Mr. Bush over war funding. (Mr. Obama says that he didn’t mean to suggest that the president be given “carte blanche.”)

But the public hates this war, no longer has any trust in Mr. Bush’s leadership and doesn’t believe anything the administration says. Iraq was a big factor in the Democrats’ midterm victory. And far from being a risky political move, the confrontation over funding has overwhelming popular support: according to a new CBS News poll, only 29 percent of voters believe Congress should allow war funding without a time limit, while 67 percent either want to cut off funding or impose a time limit.


There’s no conflict between catering to the Democratic base and staking out positions that can win in the 2008 election, because the things the base wants — an end to the Iraq war, a guarantee of health insurance for all — are also things that the country as a whole supports. The only risk the party now faces is excessive caution on the part of its politicians. Or, to coin a phrase, the only thing Democrats have to fear is fear itself.

This is an excellent reminder of just how toxic and self-defeating the Democratic leadership’s deference to the DLC and punditocracy is. Those “sensible” centrists want the Democrats to pander, not to the center, but to the right. Look at the polling on almost any issue, and the Independents are already aligned with the Democrats. To capitulate to the Republicans will alienate the oh-so-precious middle just as much as the Democratic base. (I think the importance of the middle is overrated, largely for turnout reasons, but if the Democrats want to appeal to the middle, then they should, y’know, appeal to the middle.)

Entry Filed under: Democrats,Politics


  • 1. Donna  |  April 16th, 2007 at 8:49 am

    I think this was true in 2004 too. It’s hard to rally the people when your positions are wishy washy and that is how people felt about Kerry and yet we had one of the biggest election turn outs ever. Unfortunately it split evenly. I think that Kerry could have gotten more turn out and more independent votes if he had been firm in his political positions and fought back harder.

    I see the next generation of wishy washy Democratic insiders on the blogs. Kos & Company are also centrists afraid to fight for women’s issues, class issues, labor, racial issues, etc. These are the things that will rally disaffected voters and tell Democrats what the party stands for instead of Republican lite.

  • 2. Eli  |  April 16th, 2007 at 9:25 am

    Absolutely. As bad as his passive non-response to the Swifties was, I think Kerry lost the election when he said that if he knew then what he knows now… he *still* would have voted to give Dubya the authority to use force. How could *anyone* take him seriously after that?

    If he had emphatically denounced the war, renounced his AUMF vote as the biggest mistake of the war, and promised to get us out of Iraq ASAP, I think he he would have won handily.

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