So, the other thread made me think of this, but then I read it and didn't understand what it was about, and now it's a school-reform thread so whatever.
Anyway, one thing I've been thinking about, as someone who lives and works in DC in the world of allegedly progressive politics, is that the Democrats are really shitty at being self-interested. This thread is to discuss (1) why, and (2) what could be done to build a Democratic party capable of grinding Republicans into mulch for decades to come. An exercise in futility and masturbation, maybe, but hopefully an enjoyable one.
Here's my take:
It seems to me that Democrats and Republicans have two very different ways that they respond to a party brand that's in the shitter.
First, I think Republicans' first instinct when they lose is denial. This is because part of their worldview is the idea that there is Right and there is Wrong, and they are Right. And how could that ever legitimately fall out of favor? Their first instinct is the Silent Majority stuff -- their entitlement to power can be stolen from them, but they don't seem to think they are capable of losing fairly.
The result is that they don't abandon their policies, nor (more importantly) their values-based language. They continue to provide a narrative for world events framed in fluent moral and emotional language, because they still believe that everyone, deep down, agrees with them.
Democrats seem to basically agree. I don't know if they've just been so cowed by 40 years of highly effective conservative rhetoric, or just by 40 years of getting fisted in the ass by conservatives at the ballot box, but they seem to believe the conservative line about Democrats -- Democrats seem to think they can only win by hoodwinking people, that this is a center-right country, and that if they speak their values honestly, people won't vote for them.
Where Republicans deny their losses, and stay on-message even when that message falters in persuading voters, Democrats are quick to accept their loss before they even lose, and quick to abandon their message (as they inherently lack faith in it).
Second, as a result of their denial, when the Republican brand sucks, their instinct is to rebuild it. Everyone goes into lock-step in the service of damage control and re-branding. Regardless of your district, you parrot the party line, shut up, or get out -- everyone helps to rebuild a cohesive, values-based narrative to sell to voters.
When the Democratic brand is in trouble, the Democratic instinct seems to be to run from it. Where a Republican says "shit, we need to help the party," a Democrat says "shit, we need to bail from the party." There's a rush to establish distance from the party by voting against the leadership, and the message cohesion is non-existent.
The result is that Democrats are terrible at being self-interested, because they have no concept of party self-interest, only candidate self-interest -- and typically they conceptualize the two as diametrically opposed.
Healthcare is a good example. We know that the bill is unpopular, but all the stuff in the bill is actually very popular. The rational response to this should be "well, we lost the messaging battle, but our policies and values are actually more in line with the public's." The rational self-interested response would be to implement everything as quickly as possible, so that the rhetorical battle we lost would be forgotten in the face of benefits that people like and they could directly attribute to the Democratic Party.
Instead, because Democrats actually seemed to believe the Republican narrative that they were passing this against the will of the people, their idea of self-interest was to water-down many of the popular benefits to make them less popular, and to put off implementation for six years on key popular components. They ran from their own party, their own bill, and their own values, because that's their idea of being self-interested, even when it blatantly contradicts all evidence.
This prohibits them from doing things that would really help them with regards to question (2).
The Democrats have a lot of structural tools they could exploit, but do not, because of their fear and distrust of their own party and their own values.
First, let's look at Big Labor and EFCA. Labor is a suffering movement right now. Membership is declining, which means dues and political power are declining. Again, the Democratic instinct here is to smell death long before anyone's fate is sealed, and to run for the hills. Fuck labor, fuck the working man -- it's a lost cause. Accept defeat and retreat to lose another day.
But, realistically, without Labor, there is no Democratic Party. Have fun trying to counter the efforts of corporate lobbies, the Chamber of Commerce, and other conservative machines with no labor movement. This is one of those beautiful moments where self-interest and values should coincide! Just like when Republicans pass looser campaign finance laws or corporate tax cuts, and serve both their own values and their political self-interest, Democrats should jump at any opportunity to strengthen Labor.
Instead, EFCA died without so much as a floor fight. Sure, Republicans are obstructionist and would filibuster it to the bitter end, but Democrats didn't even bother to wage a messaging war on behalf of the bill. Republicans got out early and tarred it with disingenuous language, and Democrats gave up.
This is a bill that could dramatically boost the fortunes of the labor movement, which right now is posed to lose between 500,000 and 1,000,000 members on the outcome of several key elections this fall.
It's imperative that Democrats start doing their part to rebuild the labor movement and do it fast, or else they'll face a permanent infrastructural and monetary disadvantage against the Republicans. Yes, Labor can't cut you a check as big as the healthcare lobby can -- but if you take that bigger check now, you lose two, four, or six years later when the lobbyists have won their legislative battle and are bankrolling your Republican opponent, or you can pass legislation that gives Labor the ability to write those massive checks in the future.
Second, immigration reform. Republicans have shot themselves in the foot by alienating the fastest-growing demographic in the country -- hispanics. Do Democrats try to amplify this by aggressively pursuing pro-hispanic, pro-immigrant policy that could widen the D/R margin among hispanics? Of course not -- as always, they run from their own values in the belief that they have to sneak in or water down anything they really believe in.
The strategically appropriate thing to do would be to aggressively pursue policies that hispanic voters favor (buh-bye, DREAM act!), and additionally go for as close to amnesty and full citizenship as you can get. That's a potential ~8 million potential voters (which given registration rates and turnout comes down to a lot more like 3 million) who will break 70-30 or more for the Democrats for years to come. And, frankly, Democrats should be pursuing borders as open as they can get away with, as nearly all immigrant groups vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. That's a long-term structural investment that will pay dividends for the party for decades to come. If you're an immigrant of color who's an American citizen or a child of immigrants who came here thanks to Democratic immigration policy, who do you think you're voting for? Basically, the more Democrats can accelerate the decline of the white majority in America, the better for the party.
Finally, jobs and spending. People love spending when it's tangible. People hate spending when it's not. People hate the stimulus, TARP, the healthcare bill (even though it will ultimately cut the deficit), and Cap-and-Trade. They like unemployment benefits, social security, Medicare, and Medicaid. They don't like money spent on schools, science, the environment, or other agencies that deal with, essentially, externalities/problems of collective action. Basically, how much people like spending is directly proportional to how direct the benefits are. A new road in front of their house? Great. $30 billion for a high-speed train they won't see for 20 years? Fuck you.
The point here is that people don't really give a shit about deficits or profligacy -- what they hate is not feeling like they're getting a cut. Democrats should take a page from Keynes and left-wing heterodox economic schools and offer a jobs guarantee; if you're unemployed, the government will give you a job tomorrow that pays $10/hr (adjusted for local COLA, maybe) with moderate benefits, no questions asked, no reservations. Not only would it mesh with progressive values like the stimulus, but unlike the stimulus, the job creation would be direct and visible. People might as well be getting a check in the mail every month that is signed by the Democratic Party. Government workers also tend to favor Democrats, which makes sense because Republicans always pledge to screw them. The more the Democratic party can expand the portion of the labor market that is public-sector, the more people they can have as a voting bulwark against spending cuts. Additionally, public-sector jobs are more easily unionized, being the only part of the labor movement where membership is increasing, so it also benefits the labor movement.
But you won't see that anytime soon, because Democrats are convinced that they need to be deficit hawks, too. Again and again, it comes back to the Democrats running from their own values and their own party, because they believe the conservative meta-narrative about what the public really believes.
-- how the hell do you run a party that believes the opposition's narratives?