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The Politics of Definition

By Ruy Teixeira

I am in the process of publishing a lengthy paper, The Politics of Definition, co-written with John Halpin, on The American Prospect website. It will be posted in four parts. Part I was posted last Thursday, Part II will be posted this Monday, followed by Part III on Wednesday and Part IV on Friday. Here is Michael Tomasky's editor's note about the series:

Earlier this year, John Halpin of the Center for American Progress Action Fund and Ruy Teixeira of CAP and the Century Foundation (and co-author of The Emerging Democratic Majority) undertook research on the state of the Democratic Party and progressive politics in America. Their chief concern: To get to the bottom of the question of why so many Americans don’t have a firm sense of what progressives and the Democratic Party stand for today.

The result of their efforts is this paper, The Politics of Definition: The Real Third Way. The paper can be read in part as a 2006 answer to The Politics of Evasion, the landmark 1989 study by William Galston and Elaine Kamarck, which described a more centrist politics and helped lay the groundwork for Bill Clinton’s ascendancy (and which they updated last year in The Politics of Polarization). Today, Halpin and Teixeira take a different view, and this work represents the authors’ definitive attempt to burrow into the available data and, from them, reach conclusions about what progressives and Democrats need to do to address what they call the “identity gap.” Without giving away the ending, I’ll just say here that their conclusions are similar to my own in my essay Party in Search of a Notion, from the May issue of the Prospect; Halpin and I discovered, quite accidentally at a conference in late March, that we’d been thinking along similar lines.

TAP Online is excited to publish the 18,000-word paper, which will appear exclusively on our site in four parts over the next few days. Part I gives a general description of the political situation today and describes voting blocs that represent progressive and Democratic strengths. Part II, which will be posted next Monday, will examine progressive and Democratic weaknesses. Part III will appear next Wednesday and will discuss the limits of mobilization and of inoculation. Part IV will appear next Friday and describe the way forward.

Longtime readers of DR will, I think, recognize many of the approaches/themes I have harped on, perhaps obsessively, over the last several years, from the insistence on reasoning from data to the concept that the choice between base mobilization and reaching swing voters is a false one to the belief that Democrats must commit themselves to clear, plausible solutions on big issues like Iraq and health care. I hope you'll check out the entire series on the TAP website and contribute to what we hope will be an ongoing discussion about how to implement a "politics of definition".