Since we have determined through the years that we shall have two and only two political parties in this country, the irrationality of one of them is such a grave threat to good governance that the other party has an affirmative obligation to the country to make the irrational party pay such a fearsome price for its indulgent eccentricity that it must reform itself or risk permanent irrelevance. Unfortunately, that task falls to the other creaky vehicle, the Democratic party, which has proven spectacularly ill suited to it.

As conservatism was developing its powerful infrastructure, the Democratic party was still sucking its thumb over what happened to George McGovern in 1972. While conservative millionaires were pouring money into the construction of the network of institutions on the right, the Democrats were throwing themselves, through the creation of the Democratic Leadership Council, in the general direction of the same money. Nothing arose on the left, or around the Democratic party, that remotely resembled the formidable arsenal of opinion that developed on the right, and of which the Republicans took full advantage, not realizing at the time that all of that success was hollowing out their party’s essential intellect until all that is left today is raw, overwhelming id.

The Democrats were powerless against this, and they did not seek to be anything else. They became gifted at defense, surrendering bits of what was once fundamental to their party’s identity as a bulwark against losing it all. This created a perennially discontented, but not mutinous, base because, at bottom, that base had nowhere else to go to exert its power. That is not the case with the Republican base, as we have seen. Armed with the power of its extraparty institutions, there is a strong element within the Republican base that does not care if the party loses one, two, or three elections as long as their ideology remains pure. There is nobody so powerful in politics as influential people who don’t care if they lose. The Republicans have these in abundance. The Democrats don’t have them at all.

This is what keeps the Democrats from being able to make the Republicans pay full price for their party’s departure from reality on so many issues. In 2006, the Republicans were handed a defeat in the midterms every bit as resounding as the one suffered by the Democrats four years later. The difference is that there were so many institutions enabling and validating the Republicans’ outrĂ© ideas that they didn’t see any need to moderate them as a result of the 2006 debacle. They simply rode out the 2008 presidential election and retooled those ideas for the age of Obama. Suddenly, we started hearing about “czars,” and more talk about socialism than you would have heard at Eugene V. Debs’s bachelor party. What were once moderate Republican ideas were now the thin edge of the collectivist wedge. The transformation was complete. And it was remarkable.

The Democratic party has an obligation to beat the Republican party so badly, over and over again, that rationality once again becomes a quality to be desired. It must be done by persuading the country of this simple fact. It cannot be done by reasoning with the Republicans, because the next two generations of them are too far gone. The state legislators now passing all manner of crazy laws represent the next generation of national Republican leaders. They are proudly unknowing. They are certain, because it is impossible.

3 thoughts on “Duty

  1. No one can argue against the fact that the Capitalist 1% aren’t masters at manipulating the masses in their favor. Pierce is right about this “The Democratic Party has an obligation to beat the Republican Party so badly….” etc. That can only be accomplished by voting for Democratic candidates. Not Greens or Socialists or Libertarians or whomever. These insurgents will never wield any power in the “fixed” system under which we operate. And NOT voting is a vote FOR the Capitalist Republican 1%.

  2. All you have to do is look at voter registration totals to realize that the base did have somewhere to go: home.

    That’s the problem for Democrats, and bloggers do them no favors when they regurgitate stale talking points. The electorate is not static. Politicians do not win elections by appealing to a ‘center’. They win elections by getting their supporters to come out and making sure the other party’s supporters stay home.

    And please, Imhotep: at this point, you’re lying by omission. You can scream ‘1% REPUBLICANS!!!’ all you want, it won’t change the fact that everyone knows the only other choice is 1% Democrats. That’s no choice at all. You can either keep blaming your own failures on the voters, or you can buck up and actually do something to push your party in the right direct, at which point the voters might return to you.

  3. I highly recommend the book “Democrats : A critical history” by Lance Selfa. The Democratic party as the party of the proles is a sham. It never was and it never will be. This from a review by Paul Street :
    It is the Democrats’ job to define and embody the constricted left-most parameters of acceptable political debate. For the last century, it has been the Democratic Party’s distinctive assignment to play “the role of shock absorber, trying to head off and co-opt restive [and potentially radical] segments of the electorate” by posing as “the party of the people”(Selfa). The Democrats performed this critical system-preserving, change-containing function in relation to the agrarian populist insurgency of the 1890s and the working-class rebellion of the 1930s and 1940s. They played much the same role in relation to the antiwar, civil rights, anti-poverty, ecology, and feminist movements during and since the 1960s and early 1970s. In every case, the movements that arose to challenge concentrated power and oppression and to reduce inequality were pacified, silenced, and ultimately shut down, their political energies sucked into the corporate and militaristic Democratic Party.

    The standard historic pattern of Democratic Party co-optation and progressive surrender is currently trying to repeat itself amidst epic economic crisis and imperial disruption. Two and a half weeks after Obama’s victory in the 2008 presidential election, David Rothkopf, a former Clinton administration official, commented on the president-elect’s corporatist and militarist transition team and cabinet appointments with a musical analogy. Obama, Rothkopf told the New York Times, was following “the violin model: you hold power with the left hand and you play the music with the right.”

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