This is another one of my political analyses. Please go elsewhere for tech bloggie goodness.
Clueless Washington analysts feel that the Bush Administration’s fall from grace means we have to sit through years before we’re delivered anything interesting.
The real battle, in fact, starts now.
Democrats today are split much as Republicans were 40 years ago. Back then the split was between the “establishment” party which had fought a rear-guard action against the New Deal for a generation, and a new more aggressive “conservative movement,” symbolized first by Barry Goldwater and, after his defeat, by the actor Ronald Reagan, who had placed him in nomination. (Note that the movement was so far down in 1965 its spokesman wasn’t even an office-holder.)
But the fight on the right was really about money, and how to get it. The “establishment” got its money from Wall Street, and the Fortune 500. The “movement” got its money from individuals – some rich, some more Justin Dart and John Olin, the “New Right” leaned on a new technology, direct mail, and on direct mail’s black magician, “movement” party of the 1960s dealt with issues, because that’s where its money came from. It wasn’t important to win, in fact the issue was more valuable than victory. Rhetoric meant more than results. The issue gave you someone to hate, a focus for your anger. It was the big donors, and their big causes (cut government, kill Communists) who came first.
Back to today. The Democratic “establishment” party is based in Washington, and it, too, gets its money from special interests. Trial lawyers, Hollywood, insurance companies, investment bankers.
Then there is a “movement” party, sometimes called the Netroots, born in the wake of the Iraq conflict around the candidacy of Howard Dean.
To many there aren’t real ideological differences between these parties. That’s the mistake.
As before, the difference starts with money. Dean operates from the bottom up, the “establishment” from the top-down.
And that’s where the establishment is now attacking Dean, through the money issue. Never mind that Dean now chairs the DNC. (Goldwater ran with GOP party chairman William Miller.) Loyalty to faction means more in American politics than loyalty to party. Lobbyist Vic Fazio, a former Congressman, complained to The Washington Post that the Democrats are being out fund-raised 2-1
It would be a valid complaint but for two facts. First, Fazio conflates corporate soft money with hard money figures. Second, Dean’s fund-raising is in fact a record for the party – it’s just that the moneymen of Bush have gone to Caligulan heights lately. (It should also be noted that a million from 10,000 people brings you 10,000 votes, while a million from 1 brings you 1.) The charge, however, resonated throughout the blogosphere.
On “Meet the Press” this week, Dean answered the charge, noting that the party will have operatives in all 50 states next year, that it will have plenty of money, and that the key will be having a message, which he then defined. Rhetoric will be under Dean’s control, just as it was under that of the New Right a generation ago.
Underneath all this is a concerted attempt by the establishment party to shut-out Deanlike candidates. You can see this in Illinois’ 6th Congressional district, where Christine Cigelis, who got 44% of the vote against longtime Republican incumbent Henry Hyde through netroots support last year, suddenly faces a primary challenge from the money party’s Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq veteran.
All this talk about money, however, ignores the real issue differences between the two parties.
You can see that most clearly when you get to issues of technology. The “establishment” party supports industry, the phone and cable companies, Apple Computer, Hollywood. Dean-ocrats are users. They stand for Fair Use, for open source, for WiFi.
Dean-ocrats should not expect a level playing field, if history is any guide.
Let’s go back to 1966 again. Throughout America movement conservatives won races for state legislatures, for school boards, and for other down-ballot offices. But what did the Time cover on the election show? Nearly all the candidates displayed were moderates -- Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, Charles Percy of Illinois among them. Governor-elect Reagan was pushed into a corner.
Even after conservatives won back the White House, the policies of Richard Nixon were strictly leftist. It was Nixon who passed the Clean Air Act, remember, Nixon who appointed Harry Blackmun to the Supreme Court, and Nixon who opened the door to China.
But in the long run it was Nixon’s rhetoric and political attitudes that resonated, because this was the rhetoric, and these were the attitudes, of his followers. The Bush problem in 2005 is that the rhetoric is now so divorced from reality that it doesn’t resonate, just as Lyndon Johnson’s call to the Great Society and Cold War began to fail in 1965.
There are important lessons here. Nixon’s nomination, remember, represented a compromise between the 1968 party’s establishment (Rockefeller) and conservative (Reagan) wings. Even in 1976, Reagan was unable to wrest the nomination from establishment, appointed President Gerald Ford.
But throughout this period, starting in 1966, movement conservatives rose within Republican ranks. Power is never given, it is only seized, even within a political party.
It was 15 years from now, in historical terms, before the New Right really came to power.
Can the Internet accelerate that for the Deanocrats? Can they really wait until 2020?
Personally, I hope not. That’s why the current battles are so important.