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May 31, 2007

Obama's Health Plan: The Best of Incrementalism

As you probably know if you've been following the presidential campaign news, Barack Obama released his long-awaited health care reform proposal earlier this week, and it's getting decidedly mixed reviews from the chattering classes. Two progressive blogger/journalists with pretty good street cred on health care issues, Ezra Klein and Jon Cohn, have published quite similar takes, praising many of the details of the plan but decrying its timidity in challenging the health care status quo--most particularly its failure to provide universal coverage (other than for children). On the positive side, it does indeed seem that Obama's plan represents sort of a greatest hits collection of incremental health care reform ideas. It picks up John Kerry's underappreciated 2004 proposal for federal reinsurance of catastrophic health costs, which could have a big impact on rising insurance premiums. It adopts the federal employee health plan model for a national insurance purchasing pool, which makes abundant good sense substantively and politically. It calls for a federally-driven shift towards prevention and chronic disease management, along with IT investments to help control costs and improve quality, which ought to be a point of agreement among those who may disagree on financing mechanisms and/or the role of public and private sectors. It includes a direct assault on health care industry abuses through federal regulation, instead of treating such abuses as an unavoidable byproduct of for-profit involvement in health care. It does cover all kids, which makes sense if you aren't going to cover everybody. And it provides very robust subsidies to make voluntary health insurance affordable to as broad a segment of the uninsured as possible, along with an employer mandate to avoid erosion of existing coverage. Those are a heap o' positives, but the negatives, most especially the plan's failure to include a universal individual mandate for health insurance, and its complexity, are likely to get more attention, on both substantive and political grounds. Substantively, the plan obviously fails to fundamentally overhaul the current system, with its patchwork of public and private programs, its heavy reliance on economically damaging and arguably regressive employer-based coverage, and its failure to cover everyone. And politically, the plan will reinforce claims that Obama isn't quite the transformative, great-leap-forward progressive so many have seen in him. One particular problem for Obama is that his plan superficially resembles the Massachusetts initiative signed by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, with the crucial exception that Massachusetts did include a universal individual mandate for coverage (underfunded, to be sure, but still in place). Another is that Obama's plan achieves less than universal coverage at a pretty steep price tag, given its lavish subsidies to tempt rather than force individuals into obtaining insurance. Beyond the initial reactions, perceptions of Obama's plan will be crucially influenced by his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination. John Edwards is already in a position to exploit Obama's incrementalism on health care, given his own comprehensive universal plan, which not only embraces an individual mandate for coverage but also provides a stronger Medicare-style public option attractive to Democrats who favor a single-payer system. Given Edwards' competition with Obama for the support of left-leaning Democrats, this could become an important point of distinction between the two candidates, at least among activists. But the other shoe that will soon drop is Hillary Clinton's; she's slowly rolling out a very thorough and comprehensive health care reform proposal, building on her unquestioned expertise in this field. Still under wraps is what she would do to achieve expanded coverage. If she goes for a universal plan (which is quite likely), then Obama will begin to look like an incrementalist outlier among those who care about policy details.

May 30, 2007

Winship Weighs In

It's rare these days to find a blog post by someone calling him or herself a New Democrat, and rarer still when that someone is a member of the post-Clinton generation of political activists and analysts. So I have more than a passing interest in the Table For One guest blogs being posted by Scott Winship (former managing editor of The Democratic Strategist, and now with Third Way) over at TPMCafe. Scott's talking about the need for empiricism among progressives, and secondarily, defending the progressive credentials of what used to be called the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party. I'll be doing a post or two myself in that discussion, but for the time being, Scott is certainly holding his own without reinforcements. Check it out.

The Decline of Conservative Envy

Over at MyDD, Chris Bowers has an important post about one of the most fundamental but insufficiently discussed lessons of the 2006 elections: the collapse of the supposedly invincible Right Wing Machine.

One of the nice side effects from our great electoral success in 2006 is that the tide of books, speeches, and studies by progressives with conservative movement envy has been significantly reduced. No more do we have to hear about how great Republicans are at virtually everything political: language crafting, staying on message, voter identification, GOTV, paid media quality, free media booking, etc. Now that Republicans and the conservative movement have been historically trounced on the electoral front, their political sophistication no longer appears all that profound. We beat them at the height of their fundraising prowess, the height of their early voting programs, the height of their voter contact programs, and basically the height of their everything. Republicans did not lose in 2006 because of mistakes. In fact, their machine was working so well that supposed uber-genius Karl Rove was convinced that Republicans would do just fine in the 2006 elections.
That's all quite true. But I'd go a bit deeper on why the machine crashed, and what progressives should infer not simply about the quality of that machine, but about the seeds of destruction that were inherent in its very nature. The "conservative movement envy" Chris is talking about, and that I've deplored on many occasions, was all about admiration for the unity, discipline, ideological rigor, "base" orientation, and sheer ruthlessness of the conservative apparatus in all its many subelements. Progressives who were convinced that Democrats as a whole were losing elections because they were disunited, ideologically heterodox, disloyal to the "base," and cowardly, looked across the great divide and often expressed a desire to make Democrats more like Republicans in every one of those respects. To put it simply, many progressives reflexively thought that a coalition party like the Democrats was at a permanent disadvantage against an ideological party like the GOP, and moreover, that its coalition character made even electoral victories bittersweet, given the necessity for both internal and external compromise. But as we've seen over the last few years, "machine" politics, particularly of the conservative variety, are largely incompatible, except in very unusual circumstances, with any sort of effective government. When ideology drives policy, and partisan unity is made an end in itself, there's no internal debate, no respect for empirical reality, no interest in genuine persuasion, no flexibility, no room for error, and no feedback mechanism other than the demands of "base" activists and opinion-leaders and the money-lenders who feed the whole beast. And when the ideology in question denies a positive role for government, favors unilateral violence as the sole instrument for American influence in the world, and views half of the U.S. population as complicit in a domestic Holocaust (legalized abortion) and in the destruction of all the norms of western civilization--well, it's not surprising that you wind up with a record of folly, malicious mendacity, incompetence, corruption and authoritarianism like Bush's. It's very important that progressives understand that the results in 2006 were largely dictated by that record, not by strategic or tactical errors in the GOP campaign, or for that matter, by the strategic or tactical brilliance of Democrats. Yes, the expanded playing field and "fighting spirit" adopted by Democrats, and the hard work and enthusiasm evident at the grassroots (and in the netroots) were crucial in exploiting the opportunity created by the GOP "machine," but when you look at the freshman congressional class of 2006, it's clear we are still a coalition party, notwithstanding efforts to describe last year's winners as a new breed of "populists." All this is immediately relevant in view of the anger and despair (and those words are no exaggeration) of many progressive activists over last week's Democratic divisions on Iraq funding. Such divisions are inevitably going to happen in a coalition party, and for all its sometimes maddening disadvantages, it's still better than a party whose unity and ideological rigor can sometimes lead it down the road to perdition, with no road back (viz., a Republican Party still chained to its conservative base and its domestic and international delusions).

May 28, 2007

Memorial Day 2007

I'm just old enough to actually remember a time when large elements of the American male population had died or risked death in uniform, and just young enough to have legally avoided military service myself. I was lucky, while many of my Vietnam-era peers weren't, and part of the emotion properly felt on Memorial Day has to do with the recognition of young men and women who wound up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and paid the ransom for the good luck the rest of us enjoyed. Life and death in modern war are rarely a simple matter of skill or courage; brave individuals often die with no opportunity to actually face their enemies. That was true in the trench warfare of World War I; the Total War of World War II; the jungle war of Vietnam; and the shadow war in Iraq. And that is why in modern war, the System--the government, the generals, the war plans, and the war aims--are so culpable for unnecessary deaths when they occur.So it is entirely appropriate on Memorial Day to remember not only the sacrifices of Americans who died for their country, but to remember the specific reasons they died, and the leadership, good and bad, that sacrificed them, and is sacrificing them today.

May 23, 2007

Why Chris Bowers Should Fraternize With Third Way

Yesterday Chris Bowers of MyDD did a long, interesting post about the Third Way organization, and wondered aloud why he should treat as comrades-in-arms people whose name, he suspects, represents a commitment to extinguish his and his friends' influence over Democratic politics.Here's the key section:

To be perfectly blunt, why would I want to speak to a group that seems to have been created for the purpose of reducing the influence over public policy of those with whom I share like-minded legislative ideals? Even their very name directly implies that I am wrong when it comes to public policy, and must be stopped, as it seems to me that I may very well be one of the two "ways" from which they are overtly, and equally, distancing themselves. However, at the same time, all of their members seem to be Democrats, and the group self-identifies as "progressive." What's going on here?
Now the Third Way folks are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves, and I in no way represent them. But I do know a fair amount about the historical meaning of "the Third Way," and can answer at least parts of Chris' basic question.First of all, the term "Third Way," used most often in the U.S. and in the U.K. to describe the New Democrat movement associated with Bill Clinton, and the New Labour movement associated with Tony Blair, referred not to some middle-point between Left and Right, but to a modernizing and self-consciously progressive effort to create a new Left capable of competing with the New Right of the U.S. conservative movement and of the British neo-liberal ascendancy of the early 1990s. In the U.S., the Third Way was aimed at transcending not the Left per se, but the paleo-liberals of the Democratic establishment of the 1970s and 1980s, who were temperamentally reactionary in that their sole purpose in political life seemed to be the preservation of every legislative and bureaucratic detail of the New Deal/Great Society accomplishment of the distant past, regardless of changing times or perverse outcomes.What really started the "Third Way" movement in the U.S., and led immediately to the creation of the DLC, was Gary Hart's 1984 presidential campaign, which was a direct challenge to "the groups," the vast coalition of single-issue advocacy organizations united behind the candidacy of Walter Mondale. "The groups" were focused almost exclusively on taking the party and the country back to the pre-Reagan 1970s; the proto-Third Wayers thought that progressives needed to stand for something, well, progressive, even if the media insisted on calling any alternative to the prevailing Democratic orthodoxy "moderate" or "centrist" or "neoliberal" or even "conservative" (and yes, some advocates of the alternative went by each of these monnikers, along with just plain "liberal"). Mondale's disastrous general election defeat gave the new movement a lot of momentum.In 1988, Dukakis basically straddled the lines of division in the Democratic Party, but did, it is sometimes forgotten, perform a lot better than Mondale. And in 1992, Clinton campaigned from beginning to end as a "different kind of Democrat," without notably sacrificing any basic progressive principles or for that matter, progressive support.Throughout his presidency, when Clinton talked about "the Third Way," he invariably meant it not as a compromise between Left and Right, but as a pursuit of progressive values and goals focused on legitimate issues often raised by conservatives (e.g., welfare reform or crime reduction), and sometimes using nontraditional means (e.g., markets or state-based initiatives). Just to set one chesnut aside, Clinton (and for that matter, the DLC) never embraced the idea of "triangulation," a deliberate effort to marginalize or even campaign against those in the party (again, mainly the "paleoliberals") who differed from him on policy grounds. That term was the construct of one man, Dick Morris, who had a much-exaggerated effect on one relatively short phase of Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign. And even Morris defined "triangulation" as developing progressive approaches to issues monopolized by conservatives.In Britain, the Third Way referred to the Labour Party's abandonment of some of the shibboleths of the Labour Party past--such as a commitment to nationalization of much of industry--along with a more immediately relevant agenda that dealt with post-industrial social issues in a progressive way, and, emulating Clinton, with progressive approaches to "conservative" issues like crime.While the "Third Way" monniker was very controversial outside the U.S. and U.K., it came to be used by many observers as a shorthand for the center-left revival of the mid-to-late 1990s, which in country after country involved a self-conscious revision--not abandonment--of the social democratic orthodoxy of the Left in much of the twentieth century. And despite the electoral reverses of the Left in the current decade, and the divisions, at least in the U.S. and Europe, created by differences of opinion about how to deal with the corrupto-Right of the Bush administration and its overseas allies--much of the Third Way reform effort has been internalized by the Left.So I would say to Chris: the term Third Way is not aimed at marginalizing you or what you consider to be the contemporary Left. Yes, it does represent the belief that the progressive reform effort of the 1990s is still alive and is still needed. But its main enemy continues to be the Right, and its main goal remains the conversion of progressives to a point of view that transcends base-tending, preservation of old government programs, and reflexive opposition to progressive approaches to "conservative issues." Like that or not, it's a legitimate exercise that cannot be rejected out of hand as somehow apostate. Moreover, genuine Third Wayers, including the organization that has chosen to take that name, are generally open to empirical discussion of the value of their political analysis and policy ideas, and don't get into silly attacks on "liberals" or "the Left." If they basically live up to that standard of intra-party comity and rational discussion, sure, Chris, you should at least talk to them, and compare notes. You should assume you are on the same side, until convinced otherwise.

May 22, 2007

Grass Turning Blue

In a bit of a surprise, former Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Kentucky today, winning just over the 40% of the vote necessary to avoid a runoff. He enters the general election contest as a heavy favorite over scandal-plagued Republican incumbent Ernie Fletcher, who easily beat former U.S. Rep. Anne Northrup for the GOP nomination.Until very recently, Beshear trailed self-funded businessman Bruce Lunsford in most polls, and even after pulling ahead in the stretch run, was expected to face a runoff. The Louisville Courier-Journal credited Beshear's late momentum to his endorsement by State Treasurer Jonathan Miller, who withdrew from the race two weeks ago. (Miller happens to be a friend of mine and a long-time DLC activist. If he couldn't win, I'm glad he made a decisive difference in the race by withdrawing. He's still under 40, and will be heard from in the future, I'm sure). If you've been following the race, you may know that Lunsford's early lead in the polls gave a lot of Democrats heartburn, in no small part because of his endorsement of Fletcher in 2003 after he ended his own campaign that year. Tonight Lunsford endorsed Beshear relatively early in the evening, and said he'd withdraw if Beshear missed the 40% threshold. Beshear's running-mate is Dr. Dan Mongiardo, who nearly upset Republican Sen. Jim Bunning in 2004. Fletcher also won his primary on a burst of late momentum, having trailed Northrup--who was endorsed by Bunning and by Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell--in most early polls. But few observers think he can win the general election, after compiling an ethics record that would embarrass Jack Abramoff. So it's looking good for Kentucky to turn blue this November.

May 21, 2007

Immigration Deal: One Step Forward Onto a Garden Rake

The new immigration deal, which has barely been revealed in its details, survived a simple vote to proceed in the Senate, but amidst signs that it will be buffeted from almost every direction.39 Democrats and 30 Republicans voted for cloture on the motion to proceed on the deal; 5 Democrats and 18 Republicans voted against it. But all over the chamber, senators who voted both yea and nay vowed to change the deal in incompatible ways, as the Washington Post explained:

One of the first Republican amendments, by Sen. James M. Inhofe (Okla.), would seek to make English the official language of the United States.An amendment by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) would impose a hefty surcharge on illegal immigrants granted legal status to help states pay for the medical and educational services such immigrants would claim. Another from Cornyn would allow federal law enforcement agents to use information from visa applications to investigate allegations of fraud in the legalization process.Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) said she wants any immigration legislation to require illegal immigrants to return to their home country to apply for legal status.On the other side of the aisle, the biggest threats revolve around a temporary-worker program that would grant two-year work visas, renewable up to three times, as long as foreign workers leave the country between each two-year stint. Labor unions contend that the program would depress U.S. wages and create an underclass of abused foreign workers. Business groups say the structure of the program is unrealistic, since it guarantees instability in the labor supply.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), with the backing of Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), will move as soon as today to slash in half the number of temporary work visas, to 200,000 a year. Sens. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) will try to strike the program from the bill altogether, and they are likely to pick up support from the Senate's most liberal and most conservative members.

Senate managers of the bill have already given up on earlier plans to race the bill through the chamber before the Memorial Day recess. All hell is likely to break loose during the ensuing debate. And it looks less and less likely that the bill will survive the amendment battles with the 60 votes necessary to break a certain filibuster. And even if all that happens, Speaker Pelosi has made it clear the House is likely to pass a bill that doesn't much resemble the Senate deal.I think we're looking at 2009 for any genuine immigration reform effort.

May 20, 2007

Model Retraction

A couple of days ago, I did an unhappy post lengthily taking issue with something Ezra Klein had to say at TAPPED about polls and Democratic "centrists," and wanted to report that Ezra subsequently apologized for the whole thing, in terms that went far beyond anything necessary to satisfy me or anyone else. I hope that next time I say something that might unintentionally cause offense, I have half the decency and good grace Ezra's showing here.

Times Turns Thumbs Down On Immigration Deal

As a useful summary over at RealClearPolitics shows, initial response to last week's immigration deal in the nation's editorial pages has been relatively positive. But today, the New York Times came out with guns blazing and urged that the deal be rejected if it's not significantly improved, with the vast "guest-worker" program contemplated in the proposal being the major flashpoint. Given the incredibly hostile reaction to the deal among so many Republicans, it won't take many Democratic defections to bring it down in Congress, if not in the Senate, then in the House. So the Times' position could wind up being pretty influential, particularly given the widespread if muted Democratic sentiment that a big Democratic year in 2008 could produce a better deal.

The Romney Surge

It's increasingly obvious that Mitt Romney's "second interview" to become the Conservative Alternative to McCain and Giuliani in the GOP presidential contest is working out a lot better than his first. Having jumped into a lead or strong second place in several recent polls in NH, the Mittster is now moving up fast in Iowa as well. Via TPMCafe's Election Central, we learn that Romney's opened up a surprisingly big lead in the latest Iowa Poll by the Des Moines Register. Among likely caucus-goers, he's at 30%, with McCain at 18%, Giuliani at 17%, and nobody else in double digits (the poll does not include Fred Thompson or Newt Gingrich).In both IA and NH, Romney seems to be benefitting from his recent ad blitz, and from the troubles of his top-tier rivals.On the Democratic side, the Register poll has John Edwards maintaining his lead at 29%, with Obama (23%) edging ahead of Clinton (21%) for second place, and Bill Richardson hitting double digits at 10%. In general, recent polls in Iowa and NH show a relatively stable three-way race among Edwards, Clinton and Obama, with Richardson (whose own recent ads have been well-received) overcoming his questionable debate performances to occupy the second tier by himself.UPDATE: The most immediate threat to Romney's new elevated status remains a Fred Thompson candidacy. And just this weekend, supporters of the Tennessean got a symbolic boost when he trounced the field in a straw poll of 429 delegates held at the Georgia Republican State Convention. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Political Insider blog reports, Thompson pulled 44%, with Gingrich at 18%, Giuliani at 15%, Romney at 9%, and McCain way down at 2%. It's also worth noting that Fred's running even with Romney in recent polls of Florida.

May 19, 2007

Immigration and the GOP: Kaboom!

The immigration deal cut last week by the White House and key Senate leaders will probably have the votes to get through the Senate, unless there's a full-scale Democratic revolt against the size of the obnoxious "guest worker" program. But I tell you what is absolutely clear: this deal is rapidly becoming a toxic, divisive problem for Republicans, potentially as large as divisions over the Iraq War among Democrats in the not-so-distant past. If you don't believe me, go spend some time over at the National Review site, where the deal and its Republican supporters are being savaged in increasingly intemperate terms. Aside from a very angry editorial and several columns, over at The Corner, NR's internal blog, they've been discussing little else from the moment the deal was announced. There we learn that over this weekend, pro-deal Republican senators Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and Saxby Chambliss of GA were lustily booed at Republican Conventions in their states. We read comparisons of pro-deal GOPers to the leaders of Vichy France. And over and over, we're told that the deal will decimate Senate Republican prospects in 2008, and perhaps bring down the whole ticket. NR's not alone in this extreme assessment. In his broadcast yesterday, Rush Limbaugh called the deal the "Comprehensive Destroy the Republican Party Act."In terms of the presidential nominating contest, all this angst is mainly bad news for John McCain, whose support for this deal compounds conservative heartburn over his cosponsorship of the earlier deal that passed the Senate. The only good thing for McCain is that the latest bill is being referred to as "Kennedy-Bush," not "Kennedy-McCain II," though that may be temporary. But the immediate and certain-to-grow exploitation of this issue by McCain's rivals will make immigration front-and-center in Republican politics in a way that the Arizonan probably won't be able to survive. Already, Mitt Romney's running anti-immigration-deal ads. Fred Thompson's done a radio commentary calling for it to be scrapped. The candidate in the most delicate position is probably Rudy Guiliani, who's been trying to reposition himself on immigration by saying he wouldn't support any deal that didn't include a national database of illegal immigrants, but whose long record of pro-immigration comments in New York, arguably to the left of most Democrats, will not go away. Given the fact that even those Democrats who may grudgingly support the immigration deal don't particularly like it, it's almost certain that the growing furor will even further depress Bush's approval ratings, perhaps dramatically. And at the risk of beating a dead horse, that means John McCain will be strongly identified with Bush's two most controversial policies: the Iraq surge, and this immigration deal. If he's not toast at this point, he's surely getting a bit crispy.

May 18, 2007

On Immigration, What He Said

In case anybody is under the misapprehension that my last post reflected disrespect towards Ezra Klein (which wasn't my intention, though I do think he showed some disrepect to "centrists" in the subject of my unhappy response), let me say his three (so far) TAPPED posts on the immigration "deal" are the best immediate reactions I've seen: a good analysis of the pros and cons of the deal itself, and some real information on where it all might go next. Check them all out.

About Those Poll-Driven Centrists

In his contribution to the TAPPED/Third Way colloquoy on the 2006 elections (see my last post), Ezra Klein goes off into a digression about the alleged "obsession" of centrist groups with polling, adding this unhelpful "hunch" about its origins:

My hunch is that both liberals and conservative intuitively understand that their philosophies have a certain instinctual resonance with the broader public, while the DLC-types are similarly aware that nobody-but-nobody wakes up in the morning yearning for a ruling class of reflexively cautious technocrats, and so they spend endless time trying to prove their support among voter's heads because they know they're not in sync with their guts.
This being a broadly-held and (to me) maddening stereotype of "centrist" Democrats, I'm going to try to go through this real calm-like.First of all, there's a big difference in importance and reliability between "polls" and "exit polls," since the former are subject to all sorts of hidden agendas, differential methodologies, questioning techniques, and timing issues, while the latter, while hardly flawless, provide a common factual base for discussion about how and why people have actually voted. The Third Way report is based on exit polls, and whatever you think of it, ought to be debated and critiqued, not dismissed as representing some sort of invidious attempt to cook the books and justify the unjustifiable.Second of all, Ezra's impressions notwithstanding, it's just not true that "DLC-types," as he calls them, spend "endless time" conducting and analyzing polls while those good, principled liberals wouldn't descend to such pedantry. Looking around the blogosphere, I see endless discussion of polls and endless assertions about electoral trends; there's a reason so many progressive bloggers can claim to be far more interested in winning elections than in any liberal ideology. Meanwhile, the DLC has conducted exactly one poll in the last four years. It was on attitudes towards globalization and it produced results that didn't nicely reinforce any "centrist" point of view. And third of all, the whole invidious head/gut distinction Ezra cites is, well, rather obviously anti-intellectual. It reminds me a lot of the debates back in the 1980s over the relevance of the statistical analysis of baseball, with baseball "traditionalists," especially in MLB itself, endlessly dismissing the geeks who hadn't played the game themselves and thus needed their silly statistics to claim a place at the table with the professionals who knew the game in their "gut."As pioneering baseball analyst Bill James often observed at the time, everyone connected to baseball carried around certain assumptions about what mattered in measuring success and failure; the difference was that "traditionalists" valued less-reliable stats like batting averages and RBI, because they knew them to be right in their "gut," while others actually wanted to find other measurements that told a larger and more accurate story, based on empirical evidence.And so it also goes in political analysis. I don't know about Ezra, but in the run-up to the 2006 elections, I must have read fifteen newspaper columns, thirty magazine articles, and maybe 100 blog posts asserting that there were no longer any such thing as "swing voters," and that this would be a "base mobilization" election in which differential turnout patterns, not persuasion, would be critical. With the frequent and honorable exception of MyDD's Chris Bowers, few of these "analysts" bothered to offer much in the way of empirical data for this claim, before or after the election. They apparently knew it in their "gut." I see no reason to assume there's some sort of conflict between having ideological principles and being interested in public opinion research. As for the suggestion that "centrists" are so out of touch with the hearts and values of Democrats that they have to rely on sophistry in an effort to get them to betray their principles--well, it must be nice to just know, in your gut, that you are the values-bearer of the progressive tradition and that others aren't, without having to look at any contrary evidence (e.g., that a sizable majority of Democratic voters, for some perverse reason, persistently identify themselves as "moderate" or "conservative," not "liberal," or that "DLC-type" Bill Clinton is adored by the Democratic base). As it happens, I'm never been happy with the "centrist" label, and don't consider myself squarely in any intra-Democratic "camp." But when anyone in the party comes forward with a fact-based case for a point of view about policy or politics, I'm willing to look at it without immediately deriding their credibility or doubting their motives.

Crunching 2006 Numbers

An extended and rather heated exchange has broken out over at TAPPED regarding Third Way's recent analysis of electoral trends between 2004 and 2006, which, to make a long story short, suggests that Democrats main vote gains last year were in "red" elements of the electorate, especially white men and high earners. The report drew criticism from Tom Schaller, Mark Schmitt and Ezra Klein. Then TAPPED let the Third Way folks respond in a guest blog, and Schaller came back at them once again.For all the fire in these posts, I have to say both sides of the argument have important, legitimate points to make. In particular, Schmitt is right, generally, about the different nature of the electorate in midterm versus general elections (though I don't know that there's much to gain from staring at comparisons of 2006 with 2002, given the anomylous nature of the latter). But Third Way's right that there's something significant about the ability of Democrats to do so well in a less congenial electorate. Schaller's right that looking at percentage performances among different subelements of the electorate shows a different picture than Third Way's, and avoids some of the pitfalls of the "normalization" methodology Third Way used to create its raw vote comparisons. But Third Way's right that comparing percentages is misleading as well, since small gains in large segments of the electorate often produce more votes than large gains in small segments.I do have a couple of observations to add based on my own unpublished, unscientific analysis of 2004 and 2006 House exit polls a few months back. First of all, trends in some of the subgroups of the electorate partially undermine the assumption that Democratic gains among whites, men, marrieds, upscale voters and self-identified independents (all of which definitely occurred) can be interpreted as gains in "red" or "red-leaning" voters. In particular, when you break the electorate down into self-identified liberals, moderates and conservatives, Democrats gained roughly the same percentages across the board, without any significant change in the ideological composition of the electorate.Second of all, and more importantly, the national exit poll trends disguised some very striking regional variations. In the Northeast, Democratic gains strongly reflected the trends Third Way talks about, concentrated among white upscale suburbanites. But ideologically, Democrats gained an amazing 10 points among self-identified liberals, more than twice the gain among moderates. The West, Democrats' second-best region, was like a different country, with gains heavily concentrated among less-educated white men, and in rural areas. In the Midwest, Democrats made no gains among suburbanites, and made surprisingly strong gains among African-Americans. And in the South, Democrats actually lost ground with suburbanites and gained nothing from moderates, while the African-American percentage of the electorate dropped significantly.Topping off all these confusing variations is the fact that the 2006 exit polls showed double-digit Democratic gains among Latinos. But virtually everyone thinks the 2004 exit polls significantly understated the Democratic Latino vote, so it's hard to know how seriously to take that "trend."All in all, probably the safest thing to say is that Democrats' fine year in 2006 owed itself to a variety of national, regional and local factors; that Dems did pretty well in categories of the electorate where they've been struggling recently; and that the single most important trend was the strong showing Democrats made among self-identified independents, who may be "swing" voters but aren't necessarily "moderates." It was neither the base-mobilization election so many people predicted; nor the classic Clintonian seize-the-center election others suggested after the fact.

May 17, 2007

The Immigration Deal

The big news in Washington today is that the White House and Senate leaders have agreed on another version of immigration reform legislation that would supersede the stalled Kennedy-McCain bill, and maybe stand an outside chance of enactment in the House. I'm not inclined to immediately follow Nathan Newman in labeling this a "crappy deal." But there are clearly some problems with it. Personally, I have no inherent objection to a modification of "family unification" as the main principle in immigration preferences; this and every other country should be able to consider its own economic needs in immigration policy, so long as immediate families are able to stay together, and so long as we acknowledge that there's obviously a need for unskilled as well as skilled labor in our workforce. More problematic is the idea, much expanded from Kennedy-McCain, of a vast "guest worker" program that would encourage immigration without any path to citizenship. It's a prescription for officially creating the kind of alienated class of "non-persons" evident in some European countries. And the silly requirement that those obtaining "guest worker" visas have to leave the country and return periodically will simply guarantee noncompliance on an extraordinary scale.Maybe such bad provisions are necessary to get something through Congress that's not simply punitive, but my guess is that the "deal" probably won't fly.

RIP Jerry Falwell

I did a post over at TPMCafe about the death of Jerry Falwell, mainly dealing with my own perceptions of his less-than-titantic domination of his home town of Lynchburg, Virginia. More generally, it's pretty clear that Falwell's national role as anything other than a symbol of, and as an occasional embarassment to, the Christian Right ended a long time ago. Still, he was indeed a pioneer in the fateful decision of far too many evangelical leaders to subordinate their spiritual missions to a largely secular agenda of cultural reaction and Republican factional politics. I hope that like anyone who's died, he rests in peace, but you also can't blame me for hoping that against Falwell's own beliefs, there's such a thing as purgatory, and that he spends some time--no more than a few million years--getting straightened out before getting past the pearly gates.

May 14, 2007

Will GOPers Take a Dive in '08?

Over at The American Prospect, Tom Schaller goes through the various reasons that conservatives are unhappy with the Big Three Republican front-runners for the 2008 presidential nomination--Giuliani, McCain and Romney--and comes up with an interesting suggestion: GOPers could decide it's more important to make a "statement" of conservative principle than to win, and may prove it by uniting behind a second-tier candidate that they, but not general-electorate voters, like.I'm with him on his brisk diagnosis of the problems conservatives have about the Big Three. Giuliani is unacceptable to social conservatives on the issues social conservatives most care about. McCain has accumulated a long record of heresies, concluding with his terrible mispositioning on the emerging hot-button issue of immigration. And Romney's Massachusetts record and Mormon religion are big millstones.But the problem with Schaller's hypothesis is that there's not an obvious vehicle for the let's-take-a-dive-for-conservatism bandwagon. Looking at the GOP field, Tancredo for sure, and probably Brownback, have views too extreme to qualify them for the consensus-conservative mantle.Huckabee and the Thompson Twins could each serve as conservative lighting rods, but they'd probably become viable general election candidates if they got within striking distance of the nomination.The only potential candidate who meets Schaller's congenial-loser profile is Newt Gingrich. And just today, on Good Morning America, the Newtster invited speculation that he may indeed toss his well-worn tinfoil hat into the ring.But in order to emerge as the Good Loser candidate, Gingrich would need to make a big splash in Iowa. He's repeatedly said he won't announce any candidacy before the end of September, and Iowa is the worst possible place for a late start.So Schaller's hypothesis is interesting as an abstract exercise in what a conservative party might do given a not-so-conservative field of front-runners, but perhaps not terribly relevant to the actual conditions of Campaign '08. My own opinion, for what it's worth, is that Fred Thompson's still the New Candidate To Watch. Check out the large, puffy profile of Ol' Fred that recently appeared in The Weekly Standard. Remember that his proto-campaign was first launched in the media by that reliable sounding board for cultural conservatives, Bob Novak. Check out today's report that religious conservatives are active in promoting his candidacy.And remember--particularly if you, like Tom Schaller, believe that Republicans have become the Party of Southern Identity--that Fred Thompson is from the South, and unlike Newt Gingrich, looks and sounds the part.Fred's underwhelming by many measures, but he's not an obvious general-election loser, and he may be the best the Right's got in their spring of discontent.

May 13, 2007

Mandate for Democracy

Washington Post reporter and columnist David Broder has been frequently barbecued in the progressive blogosphere in recent years for epitomizing the Beltway Establishment mindset, and particularly its reflexive support for bipartisanship in an era of Republican-driven polarization. But he's also long harbored a quirk that is decidedly and unfortunately unusual among bigfoot journalists: an abiding interest in political and policy developments in the states. This interest leads Broder periodically to take up state grievances with Washington, and he does so today in a blistering column about pending election reform legislation in Congress, a high priority for House Democrats. Broder lauds the objectives of the Voter Confidence and Increased Accountability Act (cosponsored by Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Rush Holt), particularly its demand for a paper trail for electronic voting systems. But then he touts a variety of state government complaints about the legislation, and gets snarky towards the end in suggesting that House Democrats don't really care if the bill works or not. The headline assigned the column by the Post--"A Paper Trail Towards Chaos?--decisively tilts the piece. It may well be that the bill's deadlines and independent audit requirements need some work, and there will be plenty of time to refine it in the Senate if it gets that far. But it's clear the states', and thus Broder's, main complaint is that Congress will never get around to fully funding the changes the bill's demands. And that's where I think Broder, and his state friends, are missing a very basic point. In our constitutional system, states have an independent and fundamental responsibility to operate elections fairly. If they choose to purchase voting machines that raise questions about the fairness and reliability of vote counts, it is their independent and fundamental responsibility to answer those questions. Lest we forget, state failures to competently administer elections, ensure the right to vote, and ensure that every vote is accurately counted, have for decades forced the federal government into this arena. This isn't one of those government functions where the feds have intervened inappropriately. It's not that I'm unsympathetic to the fiscal concerns of state governments in implementing federal mandates. I've spent a good part of my own career advocating for those concerns, and as it happens, back in the early 1980s, actually drafted a bill, subsequently adopted, creating a point of order against budget amendments that created unfunded mandates on state and local governments. And yes, Congress should fully fund this latest effort at election reform if it wants the reforms to work. But still, this ain't a matter of Washington telling states how to fill potholes. A mandate to require states to fulfill one of their most important constitutional responsibilities is something states should welcome, or at least not carp about, and David Broder, given his credibility with state officials, should remind them of that.

May 12, 2007

Sticks and Stones

One of the perennial issues kicked up in the discussion of Jon Chait's TNR cover article on the netroots was the abusive language frequently encountered in blogs and particularly in comment threads. To summarize a whole lot of posts by a whole lot of people, the theory among some is that MSM types are hostile to the blogosphere because they aren't used to getting criticized up there in their comfortable perches, and/or they resent losing their oligopoly on published opinionating.That may well be true for some MSM folk (though not for Jonathan Chait), but Kevin Drum probably got closer to the more general truth in Political Animal yesterday:

This isn't really apropos of much of anything, but it was prompted by the conversation on a variety of blogs today about why so many mainstream reporters fear and loathe the blogosphere. It was, for my taste, a wee bit disingenuous: bloggers could probably do themselves a favor by stepping back once in a while and trying to understand the impact of being on the receiving end of a hundred furious blog posts, a thousand livid comments, and five thousand enraged emails telling you in very personal terms why you're a corrupt, sniveling, lying sycophant merely because you said something nice about Joe Lieberman or opposed net neutrality or opined that Harry Reid was wrong about the war. It's really not the same thing as mere "blunt criticism."
Exactly. Sure, some journalists and pundits may well be offended that the blogospheric hoipolloi aren't simply meditating on the brilliance of their columns as though internalizing the lessons of a particularly good Sunday sermon. But for the most part, their revulsion towards bloggers is often a reaction to the speed with which their utterances are met with attacks on their character, honesty and motives, not their intelligence or (supposed) credentials. And no, it's not just about blogospheric profanity or "style." As someone who is a blogger, and not really much of a pundit, but who occasionally gets this sort of treatment, I can say it's a lot easier to read that I'm a bleeping idiot, or bleeping ill-informed, than that I am (to quote one recent comment on my fine work) a "Wal-Mart fellator," or to be informed (which has happened many times) by total strangers that I spend my free time attending Georgetown Cocktail Parties and rubbing elbows with David Broder. Having said that, I would ask, just as Kevin Drum did, whether these sort of blogospheric sins are less important than the extraordinary infusion of new voices and new viewpoints enabled by blogs. And the answer, of course, for me as well as for Kevin, is yes, by many miles.As it happens, I'm old enough to remember what it was like in the pre-Internet days when there really wasn't any opportunity for political analysis or expression outside a very small segment of the journalistic guild. In the mid-80s, I was sorta stuck in my federal-state relations and speechwriting careers. I tried to do a lateral transfer into journalism, but was quickly informed my experience and writing ability were worthless without a journalism degree and entry-level apprenticeship. Not having the time or money to start all over, I developed the habit of writing pseudonymous letters to the editor, becoming something of a regular in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, with occasional appearances in places like The New Republic and The Wall Street Journal. It was all good clean fun, but I felt like a crank. And as I've reflected on more than one occasion since then, what I was looking for would have been perfectly and more honestly accomodated by a blog. I am abundantly aware there are many, many people out there blogging and commenting who have more to say, and who express it better, than I did back then, or than I do today, for that matter. Many of them labor in obscurity, but some, including quite a few who are now Big Wheels in the blogosphere, started as nobodies and gained attention purely on the merits, not by climbing the greasy pole of any journalistic or political profession. You don't have to buy into the whole People-Powered Movement idea that the netroots are turning politics upside down to accept that blogs have indeed turned journalism and political discourse generally upside down. And that's unambiguously a good thing, for my money, and worth far more than all the verbal sticks and stones aimed by bloggers and commentors towards thee or me.

May 11, 2007

To Hell With Romney

Via Christopher Orr at The Plank, it was interesting to discover that not all the conservative evangelical Christians who hate Mitt Romney's religion are keeping those views to themselves. Florida televangelist Bill Keller, in an email reportedly sent out to a 2.4 million-member subscription list, made this measured comment, among others, about the consequences of voting for the Mittster:

"Those who follow the false teachings of this cult, believe in the false jesus of the Mormon cult and reject faith in the one true Jesus of the Bible, will die and spend eternity in hell," he charges. "Romney getting elected president will ultimately lead millions of souls to the eternal flames of hell!"
Placing "jesus" in lower-case when referencing the deity of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was a truly original touch, eh?Keller also suggested that Pat Robertson was "out of his mind" for inviting Romney to speak at Regents University.So things ought to get pretty interesting in Christian Right circles between now and next year, what with some leaders endorsing the Mittster, and at least one suggesting he's herding millions of souls straight to hell.UPDATE: Satan seems to have opened up a branch office in New Hampshire recently, if you believe various polls showing His Infernal Majesty's designee, Mitt Romney, surging in the Granite State.UPDATE II: Beware the wiles of the Unholy One. As Garance Franke-Ruta notes at TAPPED, Romney's campaign is circulating a flyer in Iowa that comments extensively on his tall, sturdy bod and much-praised coiff, and concludes: "Women--who will play a critical role in this coming election--have a word for him: hot." Yep. Hot as hell.

Rudy Recalibrates

So: after his disastrous debate performance on the question of abortion, Republican presidential front-runner Rudy Giuliani has apparently decided to recalibrate his position, and will be a sorta-loud, sorta-proud proponent of abortion rights. At the same time, his aides suggest, he may downplay the early-states gauntlet of Iowa, NH, and SC, and stake his candidacy on a smashing win in Florida on January 29 (assuming that state's decision to move that far up survives pressure from the RNC) and in the quasi-national primary on February 5.To the extent that this "new" position is a lot easier to explain and is consistent with his longstanding record in New York, it makes some sense, but it's obviously a big gamble. Sure, anti-abortion activists are stronger in relatively low-turnout contests like the Iowa Caucuses than in, say, a California primary. But no one should underestimate the extent to which this is a litmus test issue for broad swaths of conservative GOP rank-and-file voters in almost every part of the country. And while Paul Waldman at TAPPED is right in suggesting that Rudy won't get much of a pass from social conservatives for whom a politician's position on abortion is essentially a symbolic reflection of their shared belief that American culture is plunging hellwards, Rudy's bigger problem is going to be with the significant number of conservatives who really do think Roe v. Wade initiated an ongoing American Holocaust. They will do anything to deny Giuliani the nomination, up to and including reaching agreement on a single alternative candidate if necessary.A more immediate problem for Rudy is that his recalibrated position supporting abortion rights happened to coincide perfectly with a statement in Mexico by Pope Benedict XVI adding his personal authority to the conservative clerical contention that pro-choice Catholic politicians should be denied communion. And right away, the rector of the parish where Rudy's last church-sanctioned marriage was performed told the New York Daily News that he'd deny Giuliani communion if he happened to show up at the altar rail there.This last news was a bit odd, insofar as it ignored the more obvious reason that Rudy might be denied communion at this particular church, or any other Catholic church: his civil dissolution of the marriage performed there, and his civil remarriage to a woman who had also been married twice previously. I sort of doubt Giuliani is going to be seeking communion anywhere, unless he's pre-arranged it very carefully with a priest who's willing to take an enormous amount of hierarchical heat.The Pope's statement is actually bigger news for the four Catholic Democrats running for president: Richardson, Dodd, Biden and Kucinich. In 2004 John Kerry managed to take communion regularly with only a modicum of church-shopping, despite considerable conservative rumblings about denying him access to the sacrament. That may be a lot dicier for pro-choice Catholic Democrats now, on and off the presidential campaign trail.As for Rudy, putting aside his personal religious convictions, he would be politically smart to just go ahead and leave the Catholic Church under protest. His official Catholicism is very unlikely to survive this campaign. Abjuring it would make him one of millions of American ex-Catholics, without offending the many millions of Catholics who disagree with Church teachings on divorce and abortion but who aren't visible enough in their views to get denied communion.In terms of Giuliani's position on abortion, he's probably waffling his way towards a stance that (1) expresses support for reversal of Roe v. Wade on constitutional grounds, (2) makes it clear he'd appoint federal judges who feel likewise, and (3) suggests that in a post-Roe world, he'd support state-level legislative efforts to protect basic abortion rights, though not from the Oval Office. As a practical matter, reversal of Roe is the major objective of anti-abortion activists, and they'd be happy to take their chances with a technically pro-choice president if that happened. Unfortunately for Rudy, his serpentine path on this subject may have fatally undermined any confidence that anti-choicers could trust him to appoint their kind of Supreme Court justices.

May 10, 2007

Galbraith on Trade

Anyone interested in the intra-progressive debate on trade policy should check out Jamie Galbraith's new piece at the American Prospect site, which takes apart much of the neo-populist argument for trade restrictions or strict bilateral labor and environment conditions on trade agreements as a panacea for the downside of globalization. To make a long story short, Galbraith thinks that it's entirely possible to combine strong domestic wage supports and corporate regulation with a relatively laissez-faire attitude towards overseas labor conditions that we can't really dictate and that only tangentially affect trade patterns to begin with. And in an especially interesting twist, given Galbraith's impeccably liberal background, he argues that globalization has actually made a regimen of dramatic, European-style domestic economic and social improvements possible by all but abolishing inflation. Galbraith also engages in a follow-up exchange with EPI's Jeff Faux, long an advocate of making all trade contingent on vastly higher overseas wage rates--i.e., of massively restricting trade, as an evil in itself.

May 9, 2007

Let's Compromise: Do It My Way

Even as House Democrats prepared to offer George W. Bush the face-saving gesture of a short-term supplemental appropriations bill for Iraq that doesn't impose a deadline and simply requires a report back to Congress on the progress made by the Iraqi government towards a security takeover and a political settlement, the White House is already threatening a veto.And at the bottom of the Post article on the veto threat is a nugget that indicates where the administration may be going next:

Military officials now say it will be several more months before they can determine whether the "surge" in troops authorized by Bush is helping quell sectarian and other violence. In announcing new troop deployments, top commanders said the increased troop levels may need to last until next spring -- a timetable that could clash with congressional sentiment in favor of a quicker troop withdrawal.
If that's the new party line, then Bush will not only insist on a "clean" supplemental appropriations bill through the end of the fiscal year, but will reject any conditions well into next year, the last of his presidency. So not that it's any surprise, this president is going to finish his tenure in office with the same attitude towards "bipartisanship" he began with: Let's compromise: Do it my way.

May 6, 2007

GOP Debate--Not So Clear

Well, I suffered through the first Republican presidential debate last Thursday night, and thought it was revealing if not dispositive. The staging of the event at the Reagan Library made the predictable pandering to the Gipper's heritage seem more natural than it actually should have been, nearly twenty years after the man left office. And though I have never been a Chris Matthews fan, I think he did a pretty good job of cutting off the bloviating, and of following up on answers that begged follow-up questions.The most obvious thing about this debate is that with the exception of libertarian Ron Paul, none of the candidates could bring themselves to dissent from the Bush administration's current policies in Iraq. If Chuck Hagel decides to enter the field, he will be able to fill an important vaccum on that issue.This being a debate among Republicans and all, I recommend the immediate commentary at National Review's The Corner. Their reaction, which most observers have since more or less echoed, is that there was one big loser: Rudy Giuliani. He went into the debate the front-runner in the polls, and somehow managed to terribly flub the questions about his most vulnerable point among Republican conservatives, his position on abortion. For cultural conservatives, the defining moment of the debate was when candidates were asked what they'd think if Roe v. Wade was reversed. One after another, the candidates expressed variations on the theme of "O Happy Day," until Rudy got his turn, and said "It'd be okay." He then said it would be okay if Roe were not overturned, conveying an indifference to the whole topic that is guaranteed to offend people on both sides of the abortion divide.Rudy did an even more complicated and ineffective shuffle in answering a question on public funding of abortions. The fact that he joined John McCain in supporting federal funding of embryonic stem cell research may have pleased Nancy Reagan, the debate's host, but further estranged him from anti-abortion voters.Equally damaging to Rudy, given his effort to make his anti-terrorism bona fides the central point of his campaign, was his answer, both inscrutable and wrong, to the predictable question about the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslisms.Ratings of the performance of the other members of the Big Three, McCain and Romney, seem to depend on preconceptions. I thought McCain looked younger and more energetic than in recent media appearances, and got some style points for quick and honest-sounding reactions on issues ranging from the idea of Tom Tancredo as immigration czar to his belief--modified slightly in a follow-up--in evolution. I also thought Romney looked and acted too slick and slippery, but Romney fans thought he did well.In terms of Everybody Else, Ron Paul won the Dennis Kucinich award for consistently and sometimes eloquently representing views that disqualified him from the nomination race. Duncan Hunter surprised viewers by expressing concerns about global warming; Jim Gilmore tried to trim on abortion; and Tommy Thompson probably blew his first mass media appearance by looking unbelievably saturnine, and talking too much about his record on the 1990s big issue, welfare reform.Two aspirants for the True Conservative Alternative to the Big Three, Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee, got very mixed reviews. Brownback missed a variety of opportunities to distinguish himself from the pack. Huckabee answered a lot of questions flunking Debate Prep 101, by facing the moderator rather than the camera. But he did, out of the blue, offer what was perhaps the entire debate's most interesting answer:

MR. VANDEHEI: Governor Huckabee, this question comes from a reader in New York. In light of the scandals plaguing the current administration and its allies, involving corruption and cronyism, which mistakes have you learned not to repeat?MR. HUCKABEE: The most important thing a president needs to do is to make it clear that we’re not going to continue to see jobs shipped overseas, jobs that are lost by American workers, many in their 50s who for 20 and 30 years have worked to make a company rich, and then watch as a CEO takes a hundred-million-dollar bonus to jettison those American jobs somewhere else. And the worker not only loses his job, but he loses his pension.

That’s criminal. It’s wrong. And if Republicans don’t stop it, we don’t deserve to win in 2008.

That was clearly a planned answer, and indicates that Huckabee is willing to become a conservative populist candidate. He ain't got no money, and ain't got much buzz, but so long as the Republican field is as moribund as it now appears to be, nobody should count him out.

May 2, 2007

Chait on the Netroots

The LA Times' Jonathan Chait has a big cover article in the current New Republic analyzing the netroots as a political phenomenon. I did a post on it over at TPMCafe, and won't go through the whole thing here, other than to say that Chait's piece, despite a few questionable assertions, is a very good introduction to the whole topic of the netroots' role in Democratic politics. That it appeared in The New Republic, a favorite whipping-boy of many netroots activists, will probably negatively pre-dispose more than a few readers. Indeed, it's a token of Chait's excellence as a journalist that a fair number of bloggers have some good things to say about his article, overlooking not only his long association with TNR but his own early effort at blogging, the short-lived but venomous (and often very funny, at least to non-Deaniacs) Diary of a Dean-o-Phobe.If you're interested in other reactions, you can check out Chris Bowers' post at MyDD, or the responses published by TNR by Eric Alterman and Matt Yglesias. The criticism most consistently aimed at Chait is that he overemphasizes the role of a handful of high-profile bloggers in coordinating the netroots "message." I think that's a bit unfair, since the whole piece was about the netroots as a self-conscious political movement, which is obviously what most of its most prominent personalities think it is. Chait might have dwelled a bit more on the inherent tension between the medium's decentralized nature and various effort to make it a unified political force; it's a tension you see every day in the comments threads of most "activist" sites.But still, even with as many words at his disposal as Chait had, you have to generalize somewhat, and I think it's fair to take this movement at its own word as a coherent political faction.I do have one small issue with Chait in his treatment of the DLC as an object of particular opprobrium in the lefty blogosphere.On the one hand, he shoehorns the DLC and TNR together as institutions that haven't really earned the hatred they frequently elicit in the netroots:

When it comes to identifying its adversaries more specifically, the two institutions named most often are the DLC and tnr. Netroots activists speak of these two institutions in stark terms. "This is the modern DLC--an aider and abettor of Right-wing smear attacks against Democrats," wrote Moulitsas, who proceeded to threaten to "make the DLC radioactive." In a posting about tnr, titled "tnr's defection to the Right is now complete," Moulitsas wrote that this magazine "betrayed, once again, that it seeks to destroy the new people-powered movement for the sake of its Lieberman-worshipping neocon owners." Both the DLC and tnr are perpetually described as "dying" or "irrelevant," yet simultaneously possessed of sinister and ubiquitous control over the national discourse.In reality, of course, the DLC is a political enterprise and tnr a journalistic one; each has on its staff individuals who do not always agree with each other; and neither institution exerts total control over every individual on its payroll. While both the DLC and tnr supported the Iraq war, both stridently opposed almost every other element of the Bush agenda. The overwhelming majority of DLC missives and tnr articles are perfectly congenial to mainstream liberalism and perfectly hostile to the Republican Party of George W. Bush. But these sorts of subtleties generally escape the Manichean analysis that pervades the netroots.
That's all completly accurate. though it should be noted that some who deplore the DLC and TNR would argue that being wrong about the Iraq War makes being right about anything else irrelevant (a position that becomes a bit complicated for the many netroots supporters of John Edwards' presidential campaign). But Chait goes on to echo the often-expressed netroots take on the DLC as an organization that led the Democrats into a trap of moving "right" on issues in recent years as an accomodation of the conservative ascendancy:
Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992 in part because he defined himself as "a different kind of Democrat"--one who favored capital punishment, welfare reform, and so on. But, over time, the DLC strategy led to a kind of ideological retrogression. Having reestablished the left pole of the national debate further to the center, the only way for Democrats to maintain their centrist image was to move further right still. By the late '90s, the DLC had abandoned its preference for universal health insurance for small piecemeal reforms and flirted with partial privatization of Social Security.
Now if you happen to believe that the whole Clinton administration was, to use Howard Dean's description, nothing more than an exercise in "damage control"--a rearguard effort to find a way for Democrats to win presidential elections in a conservative climate--then obviously the DLC was complicit in that effort. But the idea that the DLC "moved right" after 1994 just isn't correct. If it ever abandoned its "preference for universal health care," I missed it; like most Democrats, the DLC endorsed "small piecemeal reforms" as better than nothing. The "flirtation" with "partial privatization of Social Security" was in the context of broader social security reforms that would have made the system more progressive, and predated the late 1990s. As even Will Marshall, the PPI president most associated with the "flirtation" Chait's writing about, was a good soldier and probably turned down 200 press inquiries during the fight over Bush's social security proposal, which the DLC formally opposed.In reality, the DLC moved "left" in conventional terms during the late 1990s, and has continued in that direction ever since. During the late 1990s, the DLC, to the discomfort of some of its political allies, came out unambiguously for abortion rights, gay rights, public financing of political campaigns, and efforts to strengthen unions. It loyally supported Gore during the 2000 end-game, and warned against the Bush approach to "bipartisanship." I am particularly aware, having written most of this, that the DLC published about a million words attacking the Bush tax cuts in a particularly hyperbolic way, worthy of a blog if such had existed at that time.Oh well. The broader point is not about the DLC, but about the widespread belief that Democrats lost in 2000 (technically), in 2002 and in 2004 because they were cowards. A lot of things were going on in all these elections, and reducing it all to an unwillingness to "fight" is one of the netroots conceits I really can't share. It's not that surprising that the viscerally pugilistic journalist Jon Chait finds that a point of common ground with the netroots, but for my money, it's brains rather than guts that Democrats have too often lacked.

Stranger Than Fiction

So you're Mitt Romney, and you want to be President of the United States, but you've got this problem: a significant number of Americans think your religion is a weird cult that used to sanction polygamy. A reporter asks you one of those dumb but utterly predictable questions candidates get asked: What's your favorite book? You suppress the impulse to say "The Book of Mormon," but instead tout Battlefield Earth, the mammoth and virtually unreadable sci-fi novel penned by L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology.This is hardly a big moment in the presidential campaign, but you've got to wonder what was going through the Mittster's mind when he pulled this particularly ugly rabbit out of his hat. He might as well make the best of it, and fire off fundraising letters to Tom Cruise and John Travolta.