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November 8, 2006

Reality check
Posted by Patrick at 12:27 PM * 57 comments

Pundit after pundit agrees: the Democrats won by “moving to the right,” and because of the strategic genius of Rahm Emanuel. Don’t buy the bullshit.

Comments on Reality check:
#1 ::: Adam Rakunas ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 12:48 PM:

Hell, yes. I hope the 110th Congress is ready for the severe prodding they're gonna get from their constituents. I know I've been sharpening my pitchfork for some time now.

#2 ::: Fred ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 12:50 PM:

It's funny, but it seems like the exact opposite to me: the left won last night largely because it's NOT like the right. The country is desperate for change.

#3 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 12:52 PM:

You know, you keep writing these posts that are all, like insightful and correct and precisely what needs to be said and all that, and all I've got to say are variations on "amen", and I feel dumb. Maybe you could throw us "just folks" folks a bone and write something off some time?

But, you know, no rush.

#4 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 01:07 PM:

Hmmm... They now say that we won by moving to the Right. Even as of last week, they were saying that a vote for Democrats was a vote for terrorists. If we assume that these propositions are consistent with each other and aren't contradictions being advanced in the hope that nobody will notice... Does this mean that a move to the Right is to support terrorists?

#5 ::: Adam Rakunas ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 01:10 PM:

Holy shit: Rummy resigns!

#6 ::: retterson ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 01:12 PM:

The Republicans lost because they failed to move even a fraction to the left is what happened. It's called hubris, I think.

#7 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 01:14 PM:

Does this mean Bush is going to try to get his new man through the nomination process before the changeover?

#8 ::: RichM ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 01:14 PM:

I guess the new drapes were not to the Secretary's liking.

#9 ::: retterson ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 01:16 PM:

The Onion says it all:

Politicians Sweep Midterm Elections
Resounding Victories In All States, Counties, Cities, Towns
November 7, 2006 | Issue 42 - 45

WASHINGTON, DC - After months of aggressive campaigning and with nearly 99 percent of ballots counted, politicians were the big winners in Tuesday's midterm election, taking all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, retaining a majority with 100 out of 100 seats in the Senate, and pushing political candidates to victory in each of the 36 gubernatorial races up for grabs. . . .

The rest is at:

#10 ::: Janet Lafler ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 01:24 PM:

It would be nice if the media declared that this election result proves that the Republicans are "out of touch with the American electorate." But that's not part of their master narrative.

#11 ::: Nabil ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 01:40 PM:

Leave it to The Onion to get it exactly right. ;)

Pretty happy about Rumsfeld stepping down. Pretty happy that Santorum is out finally. Pretty happy that we've installed a socialist into the Senate, where hopefully he'll continue to actually look out for the people like he did as the Vermont Representative.

Not so happy that Lieberman made it back in (though possibly for different reasons than most here, namely his anti-video game legislation that utterly ignores constitutional free speech protections... which incidentally is co-authored by Clinton, so I'm not exactly happy to see she made it back either, though in that case it was at least an honest case of lesser of two evils). Would have preferred it if the Senate was a bit more clearly won instead of being in that straddle-the-line squabbling area AGAIN.

All in all, fair enough results, but I'm not holding my breath that this means much of anything. We're exchanging one set of liars for another, using an utterly compromised electoral system. As far as I'm concerned, until we do away with partisan politics, we're never going to see a more honest, fair, representational government. (To be honest, the "vote the party line!" propaganda that's been running in the past few posts, while well intended, made my skin crawl and feel exceedingly unwelcome and uncomfortable. I'm sincerely hoping the political furor will taper back a little bit now that the election is over.)

#12 ::: Fred ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 01:58 PM:

The Democrats regain the House, possibly the Senate, and Rumsfeld resigns? Oh man, now the universe is just messing with us. I may actually cry with happiness here.

#13 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 02:19 PM:

I'm hearing lots of statements from TV talking heads that Iraq was the driving issue in this election. Was it? What about all the other stuff - the PATRIOT Act, the no-fly list, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, torture, habeas corpus ... were those issues unimportant?

#14 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 02:19 PM:

Don't know about "moving to the right," but I can't ignore the fact that Santorum was defeated by an anti-abortion, pro-gun Democrat and that in my Congressional district Patty Wetterling has twice been beaten by very emphatic social-issue conservatives--this last one a real wingnut of the God-has-a-mission-for-me variety. (Though to be fair she speaks pretty well and usually presents herself as a rational person.) Out here in the middle of the country, even people who don't much like the war and don't think the economy is being very good to them have extraordinarily strong feelings about those social issues, and the God-guns-and-gays talk has them voting Republican. I worked the 2004 election, and it was very clear where the socio-political fault lines were--get outside the university-dominated St. Cloud area and it's an electorate run by fear and/or loathing of perverts, terrorists, furriners, city folk, and pointy-headed intellectuals, and the Republicans play 'em like the Philadelphia Orchestra string section. Short of some sort of economic or foreign-war meltdown, Democrats are going to have to figure out how to talk to these folks if they want to regain contact with the grandchildren of the farmers and factory workers who formed my political personality fifty years ago.

#15 ::: steve ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 03:09 PM:

Russell, I agree. "Democrats are going to have to figure out how to talk to these folks if they want to regain contact with the grandchildren of the farmers and factory workers who formed" the party half a century ago.

Sara Robinson ran a great series at Ocinus recently on how to do this. One prerequisite is to treat the people themselves with respect, and to find common ground. I think it is possible. A current Newsweek article argues that 74 percent of evangelicals are very concerned about the environment. And it is wrong to imagine all of them don't care about peace and social justice. Finally, they are happy enough to vote against their own economic self-interest if they understand how it makes the world a better place for everyone. These are attitudes that many Democrats share. There is no hope of getting all the evangelicals, but there is hope of attracting some.

Bush has made most of the issues of the enlightenment Democratic issues. His administration evokes the inquisition, divine rights of kings, the thirty years war.. and so much more. And it seems to me that if we can claim the ideas of the enlightenment, preach them, practice them, advertise them, and get people to buy them, that we might be able to drive some of the demons out of the Republican party itself.

#16 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 03:20 PM:

Nabil (#11), I agree with you 100%.

I don't believe in political parties, and I plan to change back to "unaffiliated" as soon as I can (I signed up Democrat so I could vote for Lamont in the primary in August, and have been skeeved out by the thought ever since). People should be forced to research the issues and think for themselves.

#17 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 03:31 PM:

One of the challenges of having the most liberal representative (now that Sanders is in the Senate) is that it's not realistic to push him further to the left.

Truth be told, Jim McDermott (WA-7) could run as a Socialist and Seattle would still line up to vote for him. Maybe even more than we already do.

I think the Dems won by finding the right issues and the right candidates to suit the local districts. Right now, there are plenty of issues the Dems can use to build unity, like raising the minimum wage and fixing the Medicare drug benefit.

I say that the thanks go to Howard Dean and the DNC, not the repulsive Rahm Emanuel.

#18 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 03:41 PM:

Nabil @ 11, meredith @ 16 - Political parties serve a real purpose. They create a forum where generally like-minded people can join together to advance an agenda. Not everyone in the party will like the entire agenda (that's life) but most party members will agree with most of it.

You are, of course, perfectly free to be an independent. Just don't gripe if you don't like who lands on the ballot on election day, because in most states I's don't get a say in the affairs of R's and D's. In fact, I say that I's shouldn't have a say. I think open primaries are bad, bad, bad.

Non-partisan races just mean that the race consists of a handful of well-funded candidates and a bunch of potential spoilers. There's no way for anyone to work their way up without huge-money backers. It's also harder for the voters. Voting for council in SF was always hard because I really needed to do more legwork to find the Dem in the mix. (It was easy to eliminate Starchild from the list, not so easy to eliminate the others.) The party endorsement gives me an easy shorthand method of finding a list of people I can consider voting for. Note that I said consider. Although this year, I'd have voted for Richard Nixon if he had (D) next to his name and against FDR if he was labeled (R).

#19 ::: Jacob ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 03:57 PM:

I hope, I really do, that with the democrats having gained so much that they will do what needs to be done. I like the idea of Pelosi,but the fact is she has money coming out of her ears...people with the kind of money she has generally want to retain it, and let's be honest, you really can't make that kind of cash without exploiting somebody along the line. I hope that the responsible parties, those responsible for running the last congress into the ground, getting rid of habeas corpus, making marshall law a real possibility, enacting that sham the patriot act, and on and on, are held accountable, and if they aren't, I like what was said in the first comment. I really hope the people of this country take the initiative to do their duty and get rid of what doesn't work before it has time to fester. Again.

#20 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 05:03 PM:
I think the Dems won by finding the right issues and the right candidates to suit the local districts.

The exit polls seemed to suggest otherwise, at least according to CNN. People said they voted on national issues -- against Bush, against the war, and most of all against the Republicans (even popular, moderate, anti-war Lincoln Chafee) -- confounding conventional wisdom.

#21 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 06:20 PM:

Nabil, you're going to get universal non-partisan politics about the time you get universal unambiguous communication. Having some partisan impulses is pretty much the norm for human beings. The point of democracy is that it assimilates and balances partisanship, encourages cooperation and compromise, and gives all of us inclined-to-be-partisan individuals a voice in our own government.

On the other hand, if what you're deploring is the Republicans' enthusiasm for a polarized winner-take-all system, I'm right there with you. Those guys are affronted when the voters decline to elect them. They habitually ignore our laws and Constitution. They've sneered at bipartisanism, and acted like the government and its resources are their own personal preserve. They see themselves as being in control, not as public servants. That's a big change, and a genuinely nasty one.

Meredith, I don't think you understand the point of political parties. They're devices for the organization of political action, the accumulation of power, and the pursuit of coherent long-term policies. They're also an emergent property of our political system. Early in our history there was considerable feeling against the formation of parties, but they formed anyway. Generally we have two of them. Third parties are born and fade away, but they rarely get very big, and only once has a major party disappeared and been replaced by a third party.

There's nothing whatsoever about political parties that prevents people from doing their own research and thinking for themselves. And when they do, those who agree with each other will naturally form political parties.

People who refuse to have anything to do with parties tend to wind up being political roadkill. I'm not saying that they should; I'm saying that they do. Their attitude isn't evil, but it is pointless, and it's doomed to failure. Refusing to work within that structure cedes control of the political sphere to people who are willing to join together, find common ground, agree on shared goals, and work within an organizing structure that includes people who don't necessarily believe exactly the same things they do.

Political maneuvering naturally favors those who make alliances and coordinate actions. Let's say you have a situation where there's one temple, a population of worshippers who are evenly divided in their belief that (pick one) Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday is the holiest day of the week, and a part-time High Priest who has an iron-clad religious obligation to run a crockery shop the rest of the week. Which day do you hold services?

If the Saturday and Sunday factions can come up with a compromise whereby the High Priest holds services for a half-day each on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, worshippers who won't compromise on their One True Holy Day are going to lose out, because the Saturday/Sunday faction is twice as large as any of theirs.

Now say the Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday factions respond with an alternate compromise whereby the celebration of the holy day rotates between their three favored days on a week-by-week basis. (They further agree to refrain from arguing about which of those days transubstantiation happens, and which services just get symbolic representations.) The Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday crowd are now the largest faction, and can stand up to the Saturday/Sunday guys.

The intransigent Monday and Friday holdouts get pushed to the wall. They now have two factions to contend with that are larger than they are, and they've isolated themselves on non-contiguous days. (Elements in both factions belatedly come up with a plan involving half-day services on Monday and Friday, which they argue will more equitably distribute services over the course of the week. However, outlying farmers object to doubling the number of trips they take each week into town, so the proposal is defeated. The joint Monday/Friday action committee breaks up in squabbling and recriminations.)

Who wins out in the end? Perhaps the Saturday/Sunday faction. They're fighting for a system that's guaranteed to give them at least a half-day of worship services on their holy day every week, whereas the Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday crowd only gets one week in three. Or perhaps the people decide that one Really Holy service out of three is sufficient, in which case the combined Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday faction may win out. The two factions can go back and forth on this question for a long time.

What's guaranteed is that the Monday and Friday factions are not going to get what they want. Eventually they give up and start using amateur High Priests for their services, which they hold in rented storefront spaces. The arrangements are cramped and unsatisfactory, their miracles never work, their worshippers keep defecting to the larger sects, and they rake in zero tourist dollars. They're not where it's at, and are verging on irrelevance. That's okay in a religion, but in politics it means you're out of the game. You don't matter.

If you think your political views matter, getting a candidate elected is a really good way to do something about them.

#22 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 06:23 PM:

"I don't believe in political parties, and I plan to change back to 'unaffiliated' as soon as I can (I signed up Democrat so I could vote for Lamont in the primary in August, and have been skeeved out by the thought ever since). People should be forced to research the issues and think for themselves."

Quite right. People who don't have the resources to "research the issues" on every point don't deserve a voice in political affairs. Certainly nobody should be allowed to affiliate themselves with a broad coalition with whose priorities they generally agree. Political decision-making should be limited entirely to autonomous, independent individuals, because life is a big school exam and it's cheating to look at anybody else's paper.

An interesting book could be written on the process by which large numbers of otherwise intelligent Americans, mostly well-educated and bourgeois, became convinced as an article of faith that to be part of a political party is to surrender one's moral and intellectual independence. This belief is rampant in the SF world, which is full of smart, not-very-upwardly-mobile white people with big anxieties about the scary people just below them on the social ladder. I'm just guessing, but I think close examination would discover a strong resemblance to the American middle-class "professional" aversion to unions.

Political parties evolved because they're highly effective force multipliers, and particularly because they give people not part of other elite power structures (aristocracy, the military, organized capital, the church) some negotiating power over the arrangements of society. The reformist impulse to abolish parties almost always results in a diminution of real democracy, which is of course why the wealthy and powerful are always happy to encourage a slighting attitude toward "partisan" political activity.

#23 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 06:35 PM:

TNH #21: That was brilliantly put.

#24 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 06:37 PM:

PNH #22: I believe the term is 'status anxiety'.

#25 ::: Ernie ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 07:20 PM:

Coming home listening to NPR, they were interviewing David Brooks discuss last night's walloping. Not only did Brooks go with the standard line that last night proved that people demand more sensible centrists (there is no Bernie Sanders here - this is not the Bernie Sanders you are looking for), but Brooks knew, in his wisdom, what had the sensible centrists so upset. Last night, it seems, was all about (wait for it) the long-term structural issues surrounding entitlement reform. Needless to say, the interviewer failed to point out that this had to be one of the stupidest things said all day by anyone.

I so wish I could be consistently, insanely incorrect and keep my job. Life would be so much easier.

#26 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 07:31 PM:

This spoof of the Liberal Agenda is hilarious:

#27 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 07:35 PM:

Since my college years, I've gone from a conservative-leaning square to a small-l libertarian, and now to a liberal-bordering-on-socialist... without ever changing a single one of my political opinions. The country moves under me, and my place in the political landscape changes accordingly. I think the same thing may be happening to the two major parties.

What really discourages me is that my friends and I can come up with a dozen killer campaign slogans, soundbites, and talking points without even breaking a sweat. If we can do it, what's wrong with the leadership of the Democratic Party, that they haven't been able to?

#28 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 07:53 PM:

Lee, it's a mystery.

I'm in favor of encouraging politicians to talk like human beings. Anybody noticing how well it works? So why can't they learn to do it before they lose a major election?

#29 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 08:39 PM:

Teresa & Patrick, I agree with your defenses of the political party as an institution.

Nevertheless, it's interesting to note that the anti-party position was, pretty much without exception, the position of the founding fathers... and this was true even after the formation of the first political parties in the 1790's, which were headed by the founding fathers!

There is a wonderful book about how the idea that parties -- in particular, "organized opposition" -- came to be seen as legitimate (indeed, even a criteria for a functioning democracy) by Richard Hofstadter (of "Paranoid Style in American Politics" fame) called The Idea of a Party System: The Rise of Legitimate Opposition in the United States, 1780-1840; it's a great book, highly recommended.

#30 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 11:08 PM:

I think this election is very much like the 1994 midterm election. In that one, Republicans won big, but it seemed to me that they broadly misread a vote against the Democrats of the time as a vote for them and all their ideas. I suspect the same is true here--I don't think this was nearly so much a vote for the Democrats as against the obviously inept and corrupt Republicans. And I think one of the biggest factors was that a lot of the Republicans' natural voters have just lost faith in them. A lot of Republicans stayed home or voted Democrat or voted third party, because they just didn't believe in the people leading the party anymore. Check out the comments on Jerry Pournelle's weblog as an example of this (and a mirror-image of Greg's position).

In my hopeful moments, I think maybe one lesson here was that the slick, nasty, highly effective political techniques that have kept the Republicans in power for six years have lost some of their effectiveness. A year after 9/11, you can get lots of people to believ the terrorists are comign to get them, and they need a strong right-wing hand on the controls of the state to keep them safe. A couple years later, you're in the middle of a war that still looks pretty good, and you can smear anyone who calls it into question as a traitor. Slimy attack ads and nasty rhetoric work. But a couple years after that, people maybe begin to notice that smearing and scaring are all you've got. Most voters don't have a detailed memory of politicians' actions and words (or politicians would be a lot more careful what they said and did!), but they do remember that the last couple elections, they were in danger of being killed by terrorists unless they elected this same batch of people, and the traitors running against them were different.

#31 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2006, 07:34 AM:

Albatross, some voters may have simply been voting against the Republicans, but it's safe to assume that more of them were voting for the Democrats. Otherwise, there'd be no accounting for all those people who vote for Democrats in years in which the citizenry isn't screaming mad at the Republicans.

Indeed, I think it's possible that more of them than usual were voting for the Democrats. The Bush years have been a refresher course in why Democratic values were valued in the first place.

#32 ::: Mac ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2006, 08:26 AM:

Teresa, I sincerely hope you're right.

We've all become accustomed to hearing like a mantra that raising the minimum wage isn't going to improve anyone's quality of life. And everyone who doesn't have health insurance should just work a little harder, and buy their own. Tax cuts and incentives and federal funds going to megacorporations and multi-millionaires really help retirees and minimum-wage workers.

We've had our faces rubbed in the idea that the ends justify the means when it comes to so-called national security, so torture is okay under some circumstances--but women can't be allowed to control their own reproductive systems and queers shouldn't marry, because...well...some stuff is just wrong.

The entire spiel we've heard for six years has gotten really stale. The people I know who voted for W in 2004 but voted for Dems this election all pretty much agreed that, while the abject failure of America in Iraq was a factor in that change, primarily they're tired of the whole Republican package.

More than one person I've talked to said point-blank that they felt like it was important to restore some real checks and balances to our system.

That gives me hope.

#33 ::: Nabil ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2006, 03:14 PM:

I understand the purpose of political parties and why they were created, but that doesn't mean I agree that they are necessary any more. As information becomes increasingly more freely available, it becomes easy enough to pull up information on anyone choosing to run on your own to see how they specifically feel about the issues that are important to you. Considering how bloated and overreaching the current political parties have become, you arguably would end up more likely to be voting for someone that fits your priorities than by voting by party. There's too much of a spectrum within both parties to be remotely representational. Even when it comes down to supposedly core values, at this point you get diametrically opposed views within the same party.

That, to me, suggests it's time to look at trying something new.

Does it mean doing away with the sort of financial backing and support you get with the party system? Yes. I don't feel this is a bad thing, however. The government subsidizes the parties as it stands: what about taking that money and using it to fund an even-playing-field political caucus with full disclosure and profiling of anyone who wishes to present themselves as a candidate?

Oh, and Teresa, I'm aware that I'm looking for something of a white elephant with true non-partisanship, but I never claimed to not be a Don Quixote. I think it's a windmill worth tilting at. :)

#34 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2006, 04:13 PM:

Teresa #31:

How do you explain the big shift in votes? I see basically two explanations that make sense:

a. Voters have changed their underlying beliefs in some substantial way that amounts to moving left.

b. Voters have changed their ideas about which party is more likely to accomplish goals and use means consistent with their beliefs.

I think (a) is an unlikely explanation for the 2006 election. That is, I don't think there's been anything to change peoples' underlying beliefs about how government ought to work, what goals are worth accomplishing, etc. On the other hand, there's been a lot to change peoples' understanding of whether Republicans are the right party to achieve those goals.

If the Democrats govern as though (a) is true when (b) is a better explanation, there will be an opening for the Republicans to come back in 2008. I'm not a Democrat or a Republican, but I'm really hoping that the Republicans pay more for their monumental screw ups and pure evil policies in the last six years than two years out of power.

Specifically, if the Democrats assume this is a mandate for trying to get us out of the disaster in Iraq, cleaning up some of the corruption in Congress, and maybe shifting the target of beneficial legislation somewhat from rich people and corporations toward the poor, this is probably all very sensible. If they assume this is a mandate for, say, expanding affirmative action in education, or passing a federal law recognizing gay marriage, I think they'll get clobbered in 2008. They didn't win the election on those points, and they couldn't have.

#35 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2006, 09:13 PM:

Pundit after pundit agrees: the Democrats won by moving to the right, and because of the strategic genius of Rahm Emanuel. Don't buy the bullshit.

I think it is pretty clear that the victory by the Democratic Party was not because it moved to the right. I also see a great deal of evidence that the Democratic Party DID move to the right. This causes one to ask: why did they move to the right?

I am encouraged by this election. I see it as an opportunity for millions of people to learn the Democratic Party is no better than the Republican Party, break from it for good and all, and, I hope, begin the process of creating an actual opposition movement.

#36 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2006, 09:54 PM:

I also see a great deal of evidence that the Democratic Party DID move to the right.

What evidence? (Asking seriously.) And what's your timeframe?

I would characterize the Democratic Party as generally becoming more populist and more libertarian, but also significantly more socially liberal, mostly as a result of the retirement over the last two decades of Southern Democrats.

Nancy Pelosi is much, much more liberal than Jim Wright was. The new Senators, especially Whitehouse and Brown, are very progressive. I think this Congress is likely to be the most liberal congress ever. Obviously there are plenty of individuals in the party who are fairly conservative on various issues; cf the disappointing pro-torture/pro-surveillance votes of too many Democrats. No argument. But I don't think that's MORE rightist than it used to be; those people were always in the party, but there are fewer today than there were historically.

I'm guessing you mean more economically conservative, becoming more pro-business/pro-corporate. While I think that was true in the 1990s, I think the last six years of being intentionally cut off from lobbyists by Tom Delay has resulted in a much less corporate-friendly party. We'll see how they act once they're in power and the lobbyists back the trucks full of money up to their offices.

#37 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2006, 10:27 PM:


An interesting book could be written on the process by which large numbers of otherwise intelligent Americans, mostly well-educated and bourgeois, became convinced as an article of faith that to be part of a political party is to surrender one's moral and intellectual independence.

That attitude is a quintessentially bourgeois attitude, wouldn't you say?

#38 ::: Avedon ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2006, 11:31 PM:

If people were complaining about cronyism and incompetence - which they were - then they were voting against the conservative movement's ideology and for the liberal ideology of good government.

Liberalism is the mainstream, the center, and the moderate position - and people who think they can vote with conservatives and still claim to be "moderate" or "centrist" are just too brainwashed by the conservatives to know which way Up is.

Normal, mainstream Americans want the government to serve the people. Conservatives want the government to tax ordinary working people and give the money to corporations and rich people. The latter is the ideology Americans just rejected. So they voted for liberalism.

#39 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2006, 11:32 PM:

Alex: I also see a great deal of evidence that the Democratic Party DID move to the right.

What evidence? (Asking seriously.) And what's your timeframe?

I guess the timeframe I was thinking of was after the September 11 attacks, and more specifically since the '04 election. Evidence? Well, the presumptive presidential nominee (Clinton) has come out against gay marriage, while her husband just gave a speech in Detroit bragging about how good his administration was for millionaires and billionaires. Am I mistaken, or didn't the recent Democratic slate include several ex-Republicans? The slate includes anti-abortion Democrats in at least Indiana, Pennsylvania, Florida, New Hampshire, Nebraska, Kentucky and North Carolina.

For Senate, there is Ford in Tennesee, who endorsed Lieberman, and still defends his pro-war vote in 2002. He also opposes abortion, gay marriage, and supports a constitutional ammendment against flag burning. Casey in Pennsylvania is well-known "fiscal conservative" and is notorious for his anti-abortion stance. Webb in Virginia is another Republican-turned-Democrat, who included a blatently anti-semetic flyer to beat his Jewish opponant in the primary.

I think that's enough to make the point.

#40 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2006, 11:38 PM:

Also, all Hungarians are fantasy novelists, which I will convincingly demonstrate by carefully choosing my examples.

#41 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2006, 11:40 PM:

#29: Teresa & Patrick, I agree with your defenses of the political party as an institution.

Nevertheless, it's interesting to note that the anti-party position was, pretty much without exception, the position of the founding fathers [...]

Correct. And the founding fathers were comprehensively wrong on this.

#42 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2006, 11:56 PM:

Patrick: Also, all Hungarians are fantasy novelists, which I will convincingly demonstrate by carefully choosing my examples.

No need to demonstrate such an obvious and well-known fact. Which should have been my answer to Alex, come to think of it.

#43 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 07:32 AM:

Also, all Hungarians are fantasy novelists, which I will convincingly demonstrate by carefully choosing my examples.

Don't forget -- they're all Martians, too.

#44 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 09:09 AM:


There's no question that the Clintons were and are centrists. But that's not evidence that the party is moving to the right; the party always embraced the center. (Bill Clinton was president before 9/11, so surely his term can't be used as evidence of a rightward shift since 9/11.) Yes, Casey is fairly conservative on social issues, but remember that so was his father, the governor of Pennsylvania. That's no change.

There's counter-examples to your examples, of course, and we could go back and forth. I think what happened after 2000 and then 9/11 is that the Republican party moved profoundly to the right and the Democrats did little to stop them. That's not the Democrats moving to the right, that's the Democrats curling in the corner.

What we've seen in the last cycle is Democrats -- even conservative ones like Casey -- becoming willing to take on Republicans. Casey may not be as liberal as I would have liked, but he's a light-year better than Santorum.

For me, here's the bottom line: 2006 is the most definitive proof that we could ask for that a dedicated populace can still shift the country substantially to the left through elections. Karl Rove didn't cast his magic spell; Diebold didn't steal the entire election; the braindead media didn't confuse enough people; disaffected Trotskyites didn't stay home in large enough numbers to throw the election to the Republicans again. The system worked and the country and the world are substantially better off.

How people can use that as evidence that it's worth giving up on the system is beyond me.

#45 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 01:16 PM:

Patrick #41: Actually, that was kind of my point -- it's just interesting to see why they were wrong, and how they were wrong. Hence the Hofstadter book, which traces the change in the public attitude between the generation of the founding fathers and the later ones. Hofstadter makes no bones about the idea that the acceptance of a "legitimate opposition" is an important and positive development; and I, of course, would agree.

The point is, this anti-party attitude is something we've seen before; and it vanished for a reason. It's interesting to see what that was.

#46 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 01:32 PM:

"How people can use that as evidence that it's worth giving up on the system is beyond me."

Hope is more demanding than despair and "the system" never gives us all that we want; it is a device for compromise, and compromises are never completely satisfactory. The US system, it seems to me, is especially poor at providing reasonable choices for the person in the street, except when issues become terrifically clear. Nonetheless, it beats no choices. I say: reform rather than revolution.

#47 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 01:54 PM:

Also, all Hungarians are fantasy novelists

More importantly, all fantasy novelists are secretly Hungarian. Bill Maher will be outing them on national television soon.

-Hatton Kristöfer

#48 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 02:47 PM:



#49 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 03:00 PM:

adamsj: bugger that! :-)

#50 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 05:32 PM:

It seems like the country has broadly moved right on some issues based on experience, but has moved left on others. And that the very meaning of right and left has shifted in weird ways.

For example, there's basically no mainstream disagreement about whether birth control should be legal for adults to buy (the Catholic Church argues that this is immoral to use, but there's no support even among American Catholics for banning it). No mainstream political party or movement argues that women should be legally restricted from voting, owning property, or entering any profession other than those involving militaty combat. (And that restriction is on the way out.) Nobody is arguing for either legal segregation or even a right for states to make their own rules on racial segregation. The whole country has moved massively left on these issues.

On the other side, almost everyone anywhere near power now accepts that free markets are the right way for most of the economy to work, with the left mostly being concerned about how to augment free markets to keep the people at the bottom from getting screwed, or people at the top from accumulating scary amounts of power. There's almost no support anymore for taking a lenient approach to crime and rehabilitating serious criminals, since that basically was a disaster.

And right and left have switched sides on some issues. The left seems to have mostly lost the desire to try grand re-engineering of society to fix problems, in favor of careful small steps toward improving society. The right is much more inclined to do the "no child left behind" and "faith based initiative" and "abstinence education" things, basically trying to redesign society to fix social problems. Similarly, the right seems to be much more in love with "save them from themselves" foreign interventions than the left these days, and I don't think that was true in, say, 1960.

The two-party system tends to force both parties toward the center over time, but the center is defined in terms of the citizens' beliefs. In another couple generations, I expect we'll have right and left still being used as terms, but with the rightists and leftists barely related at all to what we think of with those terms.

#51 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 05:42 PM:

That's history for you. It happens a lot.

#52 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 06:53 PM:

Fair enough. My point (lost somewhere in the shuffle of words) is that both parties have shifted noticably right and left on different issues in the last 20 years, so seeing the Democrats shift a bit right in some areas now isn't anything unusual.

#53 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2006, 06:54 PM:

Patrick @40 -- Igazad van!

#54 ::: Ragnell ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2006, 03:23 AM:

I know, from personal experience, that I used to be a conservative and I've been reacting to the current Republican party by becoming more and more liberal in the past six years.

Also, while Casey's pro-life (with exceptions for rape, incest, and endangered life of the mother) and pro-gun, he's also pro-gay marriage and pro-gay civil rights, and considers Plan B contraception. He's a centrist.

The other "conservative Democrats" still seem to have at least single issue on which they're progressive, like Web's populist economics or Tester's pro-choice stance, and from what I've seen of their campaigns their conservative views are tempered by perspective and reasonable flexibility. Reason hasn't been applied to social conservatism in a while, but it's not quite as scary as it sounds coming from the Repundits.

I think really the big thing everyone in the Party has in common is antiwar, pro-Checks and Balances stance.

#55 ::: Cheryl Cork ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2015, 08:22 AM:

I quite like reading an article that can make men and women think. Also, thank you for allowing for me to comment!

#56 ::: Elliott Mason sees ... spam? ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2015, 08:23 AM:

The link in the name looks a little spammy.

@Cheryl, if you're not spam, please reply!

#57 ::: Mary Aileen sees old maybe-spam ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2018, 04:52 PM:

Cheryl at #55 looks kind of spammy (and did at the time).

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