As Obama goes, so goes the Democratic party? Maybe. I’ve beat this drum before, for all the good it’s done, but decided to lay off when it became clear to me that it wasn’t going to do much good. It seems like the Democratic party (and the Democratic/progressive netroots) have pretty much decided on a strategy, and one that seems to be working well towards the ends they have in mind. It may have helped the Democrats win Congress, and may yet help them take the White House. Beyond regaining or retaining power, what that mean for the Democratic party — and what it means for long standing constituent groups in the party — remains to be seen. But what I’ve seen thus far makes me think I wasn’t hallucinating when I saw the writing on the wall last June.
BooMan wrote earlier that in a recent poll Obama beats every Republican presidential candidate currently in the field, and by a wider margin than any other Democratic candidate currently in the field. Part of me thinks that may be because thus far the presidential hopefuls from both parties are pretty lackluster. But maybe it’s becuse there’s at least enough shine on Obama to draw Republican voters to support him.
DISILLUSIONED supporters of President George W Bush are defecting to Barack Obama, the Democratic senator for Illinois, as the White House candidate with the best chance of uniting a divided nation.
Tom Bernstein went to Yale University with Bush and co-owned the Texas Rangers baseball team with him. In 2004 he donated the maximum $2,000 to the president’s reelection campaign and gave $50,000 to the Republican National Committee. This year he is switching his support to Obama. He is one of many former Bush admirers who find the Democrat newcomer appealing.
…The current issue of the New Yorker contains a profile of Obama, which highlights his appeal to conservatives.
For his optimism about the future, Obama has been dubbed the “black Ronald Reagan”. He frequently challenges the black community to support two-parent families and encourage school students, instead of criticising them for “acting white”.
From the New Yorker.
There are three things that Democratic political candidates tend to do when talking with constituents: they display an impressive grasp of the minutiae of their constituents’ problems, particularly money problems; they rouse indignation by explaining how those problems are caused by powerful groups getting rich on the backs of ordinary people; and they present well-worked-out policy proposals that, if passed, would solve the problems and put the powerful groups in their place. Obama seldom does any of these things. He tends to underplay his knowledge, acting less informed than he is. He rarely accuses, preferring to talk about problems in the passive voice, as things that are amiss with us rather than as wrongs that have been perpetrated by them.
…Obama’s voting record is one of the most liberal in the Senate, but he has always appealed to Republicans, perhaps because he speaks about liberal goals in conservative language. When he talks about poverty, he tends not to talk about gorging plutocrats and unjust tax breaks; he says that we are our brother’s keeper, that caring for the poor is one of our traditions. Asked whether he has changed his mind about anything in the past twenty years, he says, “I’m probably more humble now about the speed with which government programs can solve every problem. For example, I think the impact of parents and communities is at least as significant as the amount of money that’s put into education.” Obama encourages his crossover appeal. He doesn’t often criticize the Bush Administration directly; in New Hampshire recently, he told his audience, “I’m a Democrat. I’m considered a progressive Democrat. But if a Republican or a Conservative or a libertarian or a free-marketer has a better idea, I am happy to steal ideas from anybody and in that sense I’m agnostic.” “The number of conservatives who’ve called me—roommates of mine, relatives who are Republicans—who’ve said, ‘He’s the one Democrat I could support, not because he agrees with me, because he doesn’t, but because I at least think he’ll take my point of view into account,’ ” Michael Froman, a law-school friend who worked in the Clinton Administration and is now involved in Obama’s campaign, says. “That’s a big thing, mainstream Americans feeling like Northeast liberals look down on them.”
After Obama’s Convention speech, Republican bloggers rushed to claim him, under headings such as “Right Speech, Wrong Convention” and “Barack Obama: A Republican Soul Trapped Inside a Democrat’s Body.” The Convention speech was uncharacteristically Reaganesque for Obama, being almost uniformly sunny about America, which he called a “magical place”; these days, he tends to be more sombre. Even so, Republicans continue to find him congenial, especially those who opposed the war on much the same conservative grounds that he did. Some of Bush’s top fund-raisers are contributing to Obama’s campaign. In his election to the U.S. Senate, Obama won forty per cent of the Republican vote; now there is a group called Republicans for Obama, founded by John Martin, a law student and Navy reservist shortly to be posted to Afghanistan, which has chapters in six states
I was immediately reminded of what I wrote back in June, on Obama and the party’s outreach to “red Democrats.”
And if you look at it that way, it’s pretty clear Democratic leadership is following the example of the folks they’re trying to court now. From a practical point of view, I guess I understand it. There are more of them than there are gay people or gay families, and we’re not likely to be able to hand anyone an election. So, priorities.
But you don’t have to look much further than the Republican to find out what happens when a political party gets in bed with evangelicals. You come out of it a different party, with different priorities, and a powerful new constituency that you’ll probably have to keep satisfied if you want to stay in power.
And, at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about anyway. Getting power. Keeping power. Period.
…So how do you reach out to people like them as voters when you have longtime constituencies around issues they’re either opposed to or would rather not talk about? It becomes even more challenging if a party’s positions on those two issues has anything to do with its values. You can try talking to those voters about those issues, without offending them or betraying your values on those issues. That’s difficult. Or you can avoid those issues, distancing yourself from them and their related constituencies, at least publicly. That’s easier, and it might get you more of the votes you’re seeking than it will lose you votes that you can pretty much (or at least have always been able to) take for granted. It might work. It might also make you a different party; slightly different or remarkably different remains to be seen.
And it really gelled for me at Yearly Kos, after talking to various netroots activists there.
What I hear from the progressive netroots is pretty much that if Democrats have to put our issues on the back burner, and reach out to more conservative voters, in order to get back into power, we should understand that, and help them win so that they can move those issues forward later. I keep asking how they’re going to do that and stay in power if they have a new, more conservative, conservative constituency that won’t let them do that and stay in power. I keep asking how this doesn’t add up to a more conservative Democratic party.
The answer that I get from the netrootsy types is that it’s “our job” to shift public opinion so that it’s “safe” for Democratic leaders to stand up on those issues. Well, if we’re out and we’re educating our friends, family, and communities about our issues and how they affect our lives, we’re already doing our job. It took me this long to figure out what the netrootsy types were saying: from now on progress on our issues is our job and nobody else’s.
Even more in the days following Yearly Kos.
And then I remembered something I hear a certain A-list blogger (who honestly seems to care about these issues, and keeps asking how Dems should talk about them) say a while back: just getting Democrats elected is not sufficient. Certainly not if they’re going to put their constituents and the convictions in the closet in order to win. A party that believes it has to put its own values on the back burner in order to win must not believe that it can and should win based on its values. It becomes something else entirely, and will find it hard to go back if the trick should work.
Ultimately, if he wins the nomination and the White House, Obama will have to keep “taking into account” the viewpoints of his Republican supporters, and their priorities, and their discomfots. And he’ll have to act accordingly if he wants to hold on to their support, and get another four year lease on that big white house. And so will the Democrats, most likely.
So, there it is. WIth Obama as the apparent front runner, and even Republican support starting to build. If it wins Obama the nomination and even the White House, he and the Dems will have to work to retain that Republican support in order to stay in power. That will inevitably mean backing off of progressive positions on some issues, or at least softening those positions, if not shifting them entirely.
I remain unconvinced that the destination at the end of this road is not a more conservative Democratic party. And, if it’s the job of progressives like myself to keep that from happening, it’s apparent now that we’re may well be at cross purposes with Democratic leadership, Democratic netroots, and a significant number of Republican supporters.
Finally, there’s an incredible irony that, the seance that recently passed as a debate among Republican presidential candidates notwithstanding, the spirit of Ronald Reagan — a man who, symbolically enough, began his presidential campaign in Neshoba, county Mississippi, which was famous for the murders of three civil rights workers in 1964 — may finally be invoked effectively enough to bring “Reagan Democrats” back into the fold along with enough Republicans to amount to critical mass. And by a black man.