Sunday, September 25, 2005

The future of American politics

David Brooks writes an interesting column about a divide within the Democratic Party, characterized perfectly by recent speeches from John Edwards and John Kerry (and yes, it's ironic that they ran for office together).

On one side are the Democrats who think they're losing because they haven't sufficiently made their case or disparaged their opponents. They just need to shout louder and employ more ruthless tactics. The mentally-ill Kerry, who's not so much concerned with analyzing policy as he is enraged by President Bush, falls into this group. Brooks writes:
Kerry began his speech by making the point that Bush and his crew are rotten. He then went on to make the point that Bush and his crew are loathsome. In the third section of the speech, Kerry left the impression that Bush and his crew are evil.

Now we all know people so consumed by hatred for George W. Bush that they haven't had an unpredictable thought in five years, but in Kerry's speech one sees this anger in almost clinical form.

In the first place, not even Karl Rove's worldview is so obsessively Bush-centric as Kerry's....

All reality flows back to Bush. All begins with Bush, ends with Bush, is explained by Bush and is polluted by Bush, cursed be thy name.

one feels this is not a normal speech designed to persuade or inform, but a primitive rite designed to channel group outrage.

(A side note: For all that I've written critical of President Bush on spending and immigration issues, the fact that he garners such hatred from lunatics like Howard Dean and John Kerry always make me feel better about him.)

The other side thinks that maybe the party needs to come up with better ideas. Edwards and any other sane Democrats fall into this group. The problem, though, is that the party's chairman and last two presidential candidates are in the first group.

As to the Democratic Party's future, Brooks concludes, "I have discussions with my Democratic friends over whether the party will snap back to Clintonite centrism after the polarizing Bush leaves town. Some think yes. I suspect no. As Kerry's speech shows, the emotional tenor of the party has changed. The donors are aroused. Bush may end up changing the Democratic Party more than his own."

This is all the more interesting because of the conflict within the Republican Party that I've written about recently (most recently here), as well as low poll numbers and all the bureaucratic bumbling that comes with being the majority party. Who will rule in the near future? Jonah Goldberg writes:
There's a lot of wishful thinking out there that the Republicans are doomed. The voters don'’t trust them, they'’re spending money like Teresa Heinz at a French mall. Bush this, Bush that, Bush the other thing. But I think the truth is more depressing. I think the Republicans will run things for a generation. Sure, there might be some upsets, some shake-ups, a Democratic president here or there. But ultimately I think we'’re still in the beginning phase of a Republican era. As countless commentators have noted before, Bill Clinton was liberalism's Eisenhower. Ike confirmed the New Deal's bipartisan status, Clinton confirmed the Reagan Revolution's bipartisan status.

So America will continue to vote Republican because it retains conservative instincts that are a far cry from the current Democratic Party - plus, "it'’s impossible not to conclude the Democrats are a runt party and will remain one for a while."

Goldberg continues:
...our moderate Republicans are the responsible Democrats. The real Democrats are just back-up singers for guys like Specter and McCain (they let Lieberman do an occasional solo). This is what happens to majority parties (remember the "Boll Weevil Democrats"”?). They become the locus of all politics while the runt party sits like a highwayman, hoping to pounce on the weak stragglers every now and then. And, the GOP as a governing party is becoming bloated, self-absorbed, and lazy. Democrats think this means the GOP will lose control of Congress. I don'’t see it. When the Democrats ran the show, their congressmen lived high on the hog for 40 years, lamenting that the only thing you can'’t buy with free stamps or kited checked are hookers (I suspect AbScam was really just a way to get loose cash to get around this obstacle).

In other words, my real fear is that
this is as good as it gets. Conservatives may have to look forward to years of incremental victories, less-than-incremental setbacks, cronyism, hypocrisy, rent-seeking, and the sort of pragmatic compromise which inevitably grinds down intellectual joy and entrepreneurialism. This isn't because Republicans are worse than Democrats (by any historical measure Democrats have been vastly more corrupt than Republicans -— though Republicans are better at getting caught). It'’s because that's the nature of the beast.

Running things is better than the alternative, but some days that just doesn'’t feel like it'’s good enough.

Politics is just really tough.

Update: This article agrees that the center of American politics is center-right, not center-left. The problem, for Democrats, is that the Democratic Party is controlled by the far left.

Also, David Broder writes about some wise Democrats trying to move the party more toward the center.

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