Wednesday, October 22, 2003

In the New York Times, David Brooks outlines several theories on the decline of Democratic party identification.

Howard Dean argues that the Democratic Party has lost its soul. If it returns to its true fighting self, instead of compromising with Republicans, it will energize new and otherwise disenchanted voters.

There is something to be said about this viewpoint. I argue that George W. Bush and friends are not really part of the Religious Right, but they belong to a faction that masterfully uses the Religious Right as shock troops. The Democratic Party need not embrace the "loony left," but it does need to accomodate them.

Regardless of any Democratic Party vision, it does need to show itself as willing to fight. To much anti-violence crap, gun control, pacifism, and anti-war junk has killed off that fighting spirit, or at least made it impotent.

Dick Gephardt argues that the party has lost touch with the economic interests of working men and women. Instead of offering bread-and-butter benefits to lower-middle-class workers, it endorses free trade policies that destroy job security.

I'm not in the anti-globalization camp, although neither am I for it. I'm willing to embrace it in judo-esque manuever, redirecting the strength of international economic forces to create international laws that lift all boats.

Joe Lieberman argues that the party has become too liberal and too secular. It has lost touch with the values of the great American middle.

Liberman does have a point here. It's not that the party is too liberal or too secular, it is that the party has become anti-religious in its secularism.

John Edwards has the most persuasive theory. He argues that most voters do not place candidates on a neat left-right continuum. But they are really good at sensing who shares their values. They are really good at knowing who respects them and who doesn't. Edwards's theory is that the Democrats' besetting sin over the past few decades has been snobbery.

Edwards also has a point. Most people are not ideologues who examine all the information in making political decisions. Yet, through the use of powerful heuristics, most voters pick the candidates they would have chosen had they full pondered everything.

Brooks is tapping into this feeling that the Democrats are a party of expediency, selecting issues that fulfill instant gratification of special interests with group identities: homosexuals, African-Americans, labor, feminists, Jews. The general thread is a feeling that they are groups that have been held down by "the Establishment."

The thing is, these groups have become "the Establishment." There has been an uneasy liberal social consensus that has become more apparent since it has filtered through to that highly unoriginal conglomerate known as Hollywood and is now pervasive in the media. The allegedly liberal media isn't liberal; it has just bought in to the more left-leaning social values shared by most Americans.

What is needed is a new shared liberal value. Gephardt and Lieberman present dead ends. Edwards shows the need for any nuanced, full blown liberal ethical theory to have a Cliff Notes version. And Dean shows the need to aggressively push the agenda.

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