Wednesday, November 03, 2004

So Now What? Part I 

Some initial thoughts, the day after:

On Bunkum and its Removal
Hopefully we can now lay to rest the idea that Prester John and his army of progressive young people is out there, lying latent among the American electorate, waiting for someone other than Al Gore to lead them to victory.

The American electorate is just what years of opinion polling have told us: split nearly down the middle on a range of issues. Previous elections' non-voters are either not systematically different from voters in their policy preferences, or progressive non-voters (especially young people) are simply not persuadable to vote.

A more solidly leftist Democratic party or presidential nominee will not bring out the missing progressive vote, because that vote isn't "missing" in the sense of untapped, but "missing" in the sense of being non-existent. This is the left's version of the Laffer curve, and hopefully now it is thoroughly debunked.

I'm not saying that some things aren't worth standing for on principle. But I am saying that Nader's argument circa 2000 (the non-Leninist argument), that establishing a Green Party to drag the Democrats leftward would lead to progressive heaven, was complete and utter bullshit, and now even he and Peter Camejo should know it.

The contrary argument is, as always, that Kerry, by reaching out to independents instead of motivating his base, just didn't manage to wake the slumbering progressive behemoth. I challenge anyone to tell me with a straight face that George W Bush has not motivated the Democratic base as effectively as any leftist standard bearer ever could.

The same Genie of Debunkment will hopefully also be visiting Roy Teixeira and others who purport to see between the lines in the work of more established pollsters. Once again, most of the pollsters turned out to be pretty accurate in their (other than last-minute) predictions. No Copernican revolution in public opinion measurement appears necessary.

On "Moral Values," Gay Rights and Abortion
Early analysis has pegged social issues, particularly gay marriage, as bringing out the Christian Right vote, and costing Kerry the election. My guess is that this is probably a pretty accurate read. Underestimating heartland hostility to gays, especially among older age cohorts, is easy to do: overestimating it is nearly impossible.

Sure, the long-term trends on this look better: younger people across demographic groups are more tolerant than their parents on this issue. But that doesn't mean that clever manipulation of the symbols in this realm won't keep gay rights a winner for rightists for many years to come. This issue needs to be defused, somehow. I don't think that capitulating to bigotry is the right answer. I also don't think that the problem will go away on its own. I don't know how to win this fight though. You?

The "God, gays and guns" formula works over and over again to turn out the Christian Right vote. And that vote, apparently, is at least as large as the lefty vote turned out in reaction to Republican invocations of the unholy trinity, and sufficient to win close elections at the national level and in many states. In the long run, Democrats must alter peoples' preferences on these issues. That's going to be tough work, and it'll take a long time to do, if it is indeed possible. In the short to medium-term, however, what are the alternatives? Suppressing the rightwing vote with tactics like those the GOP uses to suppress minority voting (NOTE: I DO NOT ENDORSE THIS IDEA)? Giving up and adopting the GOP's positions on these issues at a national level (individual Democrats like Brad Carson and Stephanie Herseth who tried to do so in the absence of partywide movement on these issues have seen mixed results, obviously)? There are some obvious reasons to dismiss these strategies out of hand. What's left? I'll have more thoughts tomorrow.

UPDATE: Scott Lemieux has a good post in a similar vein up on his blog.

UDPATE 2: William Saletan has a piece up at Slate with some suggestions for how Democrats can win by talking about values. I agree with him as far as he goes, but my fear is that "God, gays and guns" will consistently beat out the kind of "personal responsiblity" talk Saletan (and jds in the comments to this post) are calling for. A successful Democratic strategy will have to directly address gay rights and abortion somehow.

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